The Shoemaker's Holiday

The Shoemaker's Holiday

by Thomas Dekker

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'I know the trade: I learned it when I was in Wittenberg'

Thus speaks Lacy, the gentleman who disguises himself as a simple shoemaker in order to win his true love, the grocer's daughter Rose. The Shoemaker's Holiday is one of the most engaging citizen comedies of the 17th century. Written and first performed at much the same time as


'I know the trade: I learned it when I was in Wittenberg'

Thus speaks Lacy, the gentleman who disguises himself as a simple shoemaker in order to win his true love, the grocer's daughter Rose. The Shoemaker's Holiday is one of the most engaging citizen comedies of the 17th century. Written and first performed at much the same time as Hamlet, it has an unexpected affinity with Shakespeare's tragedy: both feature a leading character who has spent time in Wittenberg, where he has learned something that has changed him. But whereas Hamlet's Wittenberg philosophy steers him into the realm of the individuated self, Lacy's Wittenberg trade directs him and his fellows into the world of the collectively crafted commodity. In the process, the play offers fascinating insight into the evolution of fashion and the growth of consumer culture in newly capitalist London.

This new student edition contains a lengthy new Introduction with background on the author, date and sources, the play's major preoccupations, and stage history.

The editor, Jonathan Gil Harris, is Professor of English at George Washington University. he is the author of Foreign Bodies and the Body Politic, Sick Economies, and Untimely Matter in the Time of Shakespeare.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A popular comedy in Shakespeare's day, The Shoemaker's Holiday was temporarily removed from the repertory during the Restoration for being too racy. Here, Bernard Sahlins, a founder of Chicago's acclaimed comedy troupe, the Second City, has updated the text to make it more accessible to modern actors, sans editorial glosses or scholarly apparatus. It's all Dekker, except for about 450 words that have disappeared from the language or changed meaning. The adaptations made by Sahlins are invisible to anyone who is not intimately familiar with the text. For example, he has replaced sundry in the first line with several; later, "I'll o'erreach his policies" becomes "I'll outscheme him." The language of bawdy and insult is mostly untouched. While this is a legitimate effort, this reviewer is unconvinced of its virtue. Wanting to make a 16th-century play available to a general reading public is commendable, but altering the text is part of a dangerous trend that can lead to horrific writing when the original, if played well, is perfectly clear. That this play is intended for adults rather than teens who might have more trouble with the language makes the need for an adaptation all the more questionable. For specialized theater collections only.-Thomas E. Luddy, Salem State Coll., MA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Dekker's is one of the most popular Elizabethan plays. It reveals a vital portrait of Elizabethan London and the interaction of social classes within the city. In addition to the complete text of the play, the editors offer a study of the text, a historical and critical introduction on the play's relationship with contemporary life and drama and its place in Dekker's work, a stage history, a detailed commentary, and a reprint of source materials. Smallwood is deputy director and head of the education department at The Shakespeare Center at Stratford-Upon-Avon. Wells is general editor of . This is a reprint of an edition first published by Manchester University Press in 1979. Distributed by St. Martin's Press. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
New Mermaids
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
3 MB

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Meet the Author

Jonathan Gil Harris is Professor of English at George Washington University, where he teaches Shakespeare, Renaissance Drama, and Critical Theory. He is the author of numerous essays on the drama and culture of Shakespeare and his contemporaries. He has also co-edited, with Natasha Korda, Staged Properties in Early Modern English Drama (Cambridge).
Thomas Dekker was an English Elizabethan dramatist, born in 1572. Possibly of Dutch origin, very little is known of Dekker's early life and education. His career in the theatre began in the mid-1590s but it is unclear how or why Dekker came to write for the stage. By that time he was odd-jobbing for various London theatre companies, including both the Admiral's Men and its rivals the Lord Chamberlain's Men; he probably joined the large team of playwrights, including Shakespeare, who penned the controversial drama Sir Thomas More around this time. Dekker struggled to make ends meet, however, and in 1598 he was imprisoned for debt.

1599 was, by contrast, an annus mirabilis for Dekker. The theatrical entrepreneur and impresario of the Admiral's Men, Philip Henslowe, lists payments to Dekker that year for contributions to no fewer than eleven plays; two of these, Old Fortunatus and The Shoemaker's Holiday, were selected to be performed at Court during the Queen's Christmas festivals. Dekker received royal favour again after the death of Elizabeth and the accession of King James I in 1603 when he was contracted with Ben Jonson to write the ceremonial entertainments for James's coronation procession through London. He was sorely in need of such commissions; the playhouses were closed for much of this year because of a plague outbreak that killed as many as a quarter of London's population.

During the outbreak, he retooled himself as a writer of satires - a genre in which he had acquired some dramatic experience in 1602, when he penned Satiromastix, a play that took aim at Ben Jonson (who had lampooned him the previous year in Poetaster). Dekker's prose satires about the plague year reveal a new skill for gritty reportage and sympathetic attention to the enormous sufferings of the afflicted. He repeatedly returned to this genre when he was prevented, whether by theatre closures or by imprisonment, from writing for the stage.

Like The Shoemaker's Holiday, Dekker's plays in the years of James's reign tend to dramatize the stories of citizens. And they again display a sympathetic fascination with socially marginal characters, often women - a prostitute (The Honest Whore, co-written with Thomas Middleton, 1604), a transvestite (The Roaring Girl, 1611, also co-written with Middleton), and a witch (The Witch of Edmonton, 1621, co-written with John Ford and William Rowley). But Dekker's financial woes continued through these years, and he was once more imprisoned for debt between 1612 and 1619, a harrowing experience that he later claimed turned his hair white. Upon his release, he continued to write plays, citizen pageants, and prose pamphlets, but he never enjoyed the success of his earlier years. He died, leaving his widow no estate except his writings, in 1632.

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