Thomas Dekker (15701632). The Shoemakers Holiday. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
THOMAS DEKKERS career is an extreme instance of the hazardous life led by the professional author in the time of Shakespeare. Born in London about 1570, Dekker first appears certainly as a dramatist about 1598, when we find him working on plays in collaboration with other dramatists in the pay of the manager, Henslowe. He wrote, in partnership or alone, many dramas; and when the market for these was dull he turned to the writing of entertainments, occasional verses, and prose pamphlets on a great variety of subjects. But all his activity seems to have failed to supply a decent livelihood, for he was often in prison for debt, at one time for a period of three years; and most of the biographical details about him which have come down to us are connected with borrowing money or getting into jail or out of it. He disappears from view in the thirties of the seventeenth century.
The Shoemakers Holiday, first acted in 1599, is a good example of Dekkers work in the drama. The story is taken from Thomas Deloneys Gentle Craft, and gives an opportunity for a picture of life among the trades-people of London at a period when the frequency in the drama of Italian Dukes and Cardinals is liable to make us forget that, in spite of vice and frivolity in high places, the world was still kept going by decent work-people who attended to their business. The play is full of an atmosphere of pleasant mirth, varied with characteristic touches of pathos; and it contains in the figure of Simon Eyre a creation of marked individuality and hilarious humor. It is striking that the most high-spirited picture of London life in the time of Elizabeth should come from the pen of the author who seems to have been more hardly treated by fortune than any of his contemporaries.