The Dramatic Works of
(1572? – 1632)
This page is brought about by my ongoing interest in the theater of the Elizabethan/Stuart period, right up to the closing of the theaters by the Puritans in 1642. Thomas Dekker was a popular playwright in his time, and was one of the leading writers of the Admiral’s Men (later Prince Henry’s Men). Today, his name, and that of many other capable playwrights, tends to get brushed aside amongst the likes of Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and especially William Shakespeare. But while he may not be their equal, he did have a fairly large output and some of them are not at all bad. Many of his plays have been lost, but a good many still survive.
This is still very much a work in progress. I started it fifteen years ago after finding a similar page devoted to Thomas Middleton, created by Chris Cleary at the University of Virginia. I was inspired to a page devoted to one of the many other playwrights of the period, and chose Dekker. Alas, I had no clue as to how to create a web site, and after I typed two plays, the friend who was going to help me backed out due to lack of time. I decided to continue preparing the plays on Microsoft Word anyway until I found someone else to help me. Eventually I did, but then that friend backed out due to the tremendous amount of work involved. Finally, I happened to mention my on again-off again project to a friend of mine during a visit to Ontario, and she suggested that Word Press would the perfect outlet, since very little work would be needed.
As you can see from the play list below, I still have quite a ways to go, but it won’t take another fifteen years to complete, now that I’m finally online.
The majority of these plays are only available in old spelling (“olde” for “old” for example). I am converting to modern spelling and puncuation as I prepare them, and any errors are most likely my own.
Current project: Preparing the text of the apocryphal play Look About You.
For a brief biography of Dekker, click here.
The Shoemaker’s Holiday – 1599
Dekker’s best loved play. The merry doings of shoemaker Simon Eyre and his apprentices, and of the disguised gentleman among them who loves Rose, the Lord Mayor’s daughter.
Old Fortunatus – 1599
Fortunatus is given a purse that will always contain gold. Will he and his sons use it wisely? Or are they destined to be the pawns in a contest of Virtue versus Vice?
Patient Grissil (with Henry Chettle and William Haughton) – 1600
Peasant girl Grissil becomes married to the local Marquess. Her husband’s closest lords don’t approve of her lowness, so the Marquess proceeds to test her worthiness and patience by taking everything away from her and casting her from the court.
Satiromastix, or the Untrussing of the Humourous Poet (possibly with John Marston) – 1601
Love and intrigue in the court of William Rufus, King of England. And meanwhile Horace’s fellow poets have had just about enough of his habits and plot their revenge! This is Dekker’s contribution to the War of the Theaters.
Sir Thomas Wyatt (with John Webster) – 1602
The Honest Whore, part one (with Thomas Middleton) – 1604
Prostitute Bellafront is “rescued” by Hippolito, who himself is in love with the Duke’s daughter Infelice. Will people accept the change in Bellafront, or will she forever be known by her former profession? We also meet Candido, the amazingly patient linen-draper, whose friends and wife attempt to see if it is possible for him to lose his temper.
The Honest Whore, part two – 1605
Some years have passed, and Bellafront is married to Matheo, who is falling on hard times. Hippolito, the man who once convinced her to leave her former profession, now attempts to woo her into sin again. Meanwhile, her estranged father Orlando disguises himself as a servant to see if she truly has changed. Also, more of Candido, the patient man.
Westward Ho (with John Webster) – 1604
Three respected wives suddenly set off to nearby Brainford to meet three suitors. Their husbands set off after them. What will happen?
Northward Ho (with John Webster) – 1605
Mayberry is convinced by Featherstone and Greenshield that his wife has been unfaithful. Assisted by Bellamont, he learns that this is not so. Together they plot a proper comeuppance for the two rogues.
The Family of Love (with Thomas Middleton) – 1605?
The Whore of Babylon – 1605-7
In Dekker’s controversial anti-Catholic play, Babylon stands for Rome, while Fairy Land stands for England. The Empress of Babylon wants Fairy Land under her control, but the Fairy Queen has other ideas.
The Roaring Girl (with Thomas Middleton) – 1610
A humorous and bawdy tale of Mary Frith, known as Moll Cutpurse. Although the story in the play is fictitious, this is one of the few known plays of the Elizabethan/Jacobean era to depict a still living real person.
The Devil is concerned that not enough people are sinning. He sends his best demons to a king’s court, to a monestary, and to a merchant in order to drum up business. Will they succeed?
Match Me in London – 1611
Tormiella has just eloped with Cordolente, but she catches the eye of the King who decides to make her his personal courtesan. The Queen is not happy.
The Virgin Martyr (with Philip Massinger) – 1620
The Christian legend of Saint Dorothea who refuses to yield her body to her Roman captors even under threat of death.
The Witch of Edmonton (with William Rowley and John Ford) – 1621
The Sun’s Darling (with John Ford) – 1624
The Noble Spanish Soldier – 1631
After he has had a brief affair with Onælia, the Spanish king discards her and makes Paulina his queen. Balthazar, the Spanish soldier, tries to persuade him to take back his former love. And so begins a power struggle between the supporters of both ladies.
The Welsh Embassador (possibly with John Ford)
A reworking of the plot of The Noble Spanish Soldier in a more comic style, with the addition of three noblemen, including the king’s brothers, impersonating visitors from both Wales and Ireland.
Sir Thomas More (with Anthony Munday, Henry Chettle, Thomas Heywood, and allegedly William Shakespeare)
One of only a few handwritten play manuscripts from the era. Based on the true history of Thomas More, but with some comedy scenes thrown in. Only a small fragment of this one is by Dekker, but since his inclusion is not seriously doubted, I shall include it here.
Blurt, Master Constable (possibly written by Middleton)
The Spanish Gypsy – 1621-2 (possibly written with Middleton, William Rowley, and/or John Ford)
The Wonder of a Kingdom – 1623
Lust’s Dominion – 1600?
The Moor Eleazar has the Queen wrapped around his finger, and soon gains control of the throne of Spain. A revenge drama in which life is very cheap.
An adventure in the French countryside. The King goes away, leaving two lords in charge. But one of them is the evil power-hungry Mercury, setting off a chain of events that involves two disguised couples, and a long-lost child.
The Dekker Apocrypha
The following plays are almost certainly not Dekker’s. But at least one major scholar at one time or another attributed them to him, and therefore I will present them as well.
The Phoenix (1603-4) – (with Thomas Middleton)
The Bloody Banquet – 1608-9?
Captain Thomas Stukely – 1596
Based on an old legend concerning the famed French Emperor and a magic ring. As well, there is court intrigue aplenty among the members of his inner circle, and not everyone will come out of it alive.
The Merry Devil of Edmonton – 1600-4
A retelling of the Biblical story of the prodigal son, set in contemporary London. Young Flowerdale squanders all the money he borrows from his uncle, then marries a girl under the pretense of great wealth. What will happen when the truth of his situation is apparent? This was also once considered to be a Shakespeare play.
Look About You
Swetnam, The Woman-Hater (1615-20)
Lisandro has a secret romance with Princess Leonida, but when they are discovered together, her angry father condemns them both to death; but each claims to be the seducer and the other innocent. With their judges unable to assign blame, it is decreed that a trial will be held to decide whether men or women are morally weaker. Speaking for the women is Atlanta, an Amazon warrior who is not what she seems; and for the men Misogynos (a.k.a. Joseph Swetnam) who has published an essay blaming women for all the ills of the world.
Perkin Warbeck – 1629-34 (actually John Ford’s play)
Sources: My primary source for the plays of Thomas Dekker are the four volumes of The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, edited by Fredson Bowers. He provides texts for the majority of the above plays in the old style spelling. For this web site, I am modernizing the spelling. A few of the plays in the four volumes are, as indicated above, now not considered to be Dekker’s work, which Bowers acknowledges. For the “apocrypha” section I have used other sources, mainly the Malone Society Reprint editions.