Faculty Research at Morehead State University


Jacks in the Boxes: The Comic Potential of the Chest Scenes in Boccaccio, Shakespeare, and Joanot Martorell

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Act II, Scene ii of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline presents a disturbing sequence in which the villain, Jachimo, emerges from a chest that has been smuggled into the bedroom of the unsuspecting Imogen. Although he does not touch her, his very presence is a violation, and he uses the opportunity to make notes about her person and her room, which he uses later to pretend that he has seduced her. Although this scene, like the similar episode in a tale from Boccaccio’s Decameron on which it is based, does not initially seem likely to provoke laughter, a closer look reveals considerable comic potential. Another chest scene, in the Catalan romance Tirant lo Blanc, fully develops the humorous possibilities. In this paper, I analyze the three scenes, and reflect on how essentially the same material can be given a comic or a tragic twist.