The Shoemaker’s Holiday – Introduction

The Shoemaker’s Holiday was perhaps Dekker’s most popular play in its time as indicated by the six quartos printed in the Elizabethan/Jacobean period.  The play is occasionally performed in modern times.

The first quarto – 1599

The legend of Simon Eyre, the shoemaker and his rise to the post of Lord Mayor of London was well known in Dekker’s day.  Only a year or so before the play was written, a book by Thomas Deloney called The Gentle Craft, had entertained readers.  This book, dealing with three stores relating to shoemakers had renewed interest in the Eyre story, and Dekker’s play therefore capitalized on the popularity.

Simon Eyre, it should be noted, is based on a historical person who, like the Eyre of the play, eventually became Lord Mayor.  That being said, it should be noted that the play is not a history.  For one thing, the historical Eyre wasn’t a shoemaker by trade, but an upholsterer.  At some point between his time in the early 15th century, the facts became altered in the popular mindset, changing his vocation.  As well, the king who appears in the fifth act has no accurate historical counterpart.  The ongoing war with France suggests that it is Henry V, whose success at Agincourt was still a popular patriotic topic, but Eyre became mayor during the early years of the next king’s reign.  That, of course, would be Henry VI, who would still be a young boy at the time; but the king in the play is certainly not as young as that.  No other character in the play has a historical counterpart.

The character of Lacy has presented problems to some critics.  How is he to be classified?  He has all the requirements to be considered a romantic hero, but his rather despicable action in the first act taints our consideration of him.  When Simon Eyre appeals to him to rescind the draft order that would send Ralph off to the war in France, Lacy flatly denies him, even though Ralph is a new made bride groom.  Yet Lacy does not go to war himself, but rather disguises himself as a Dutch shoemaker and becomes apprenticed to Eyre, all so that he can stay in England to be near Rose, his own love!  Ralph later returns from the war permanently crippled.  At the play’s conclusion, there is ample opportunity to make amends.  The war is still raging, and the king has mentioned that men are still needed.  Lacy is now about to be married himself.  But Dekker merely leaves it at that.  No mention is made of forcing Lacy to go to war to make up for his earlier action, nor does Lacy volunteer his services.  We are left with the impression that he will immediately go off with Rose and live happily ever after.

Yet despite this problem, the play is exceptionally enjoyable.  There are three plots: (1) Simon Eyre’s rise in position, (2) The Lacy/Rose romantic plot, and (3) the Ralph/Jane romance.  All three are expertly intertwined (partly described above in the discussion of the Lacy “problem.”)  The closest character to a villain is Hammon, who plays a part in both of the romance plots.   Yet it is difficult to consider him as one as on both occasions, he backs down very easily upon discovering that each women’s heart is elsewhere.  Binding the entire play together are the frolicking, comical plots and clever jesting of the apprentice shoemakers, Hodge, Firk, and Hans (Lacy’s Dutch name), as well as those of Eyre and his wife.  The general atmosphere is one of robust revelling.

Contents

Dramatis Personæ, plus the salutation to the reader, and two songs.

Prologue
Act One, scene one
Act One, scene two
Act One, scene three
Act One, scene four
Act Two, scene one
Act Two, scene two
Act Two, scene three
Act Two, scene four
Act Three, scene one
Act Three, scene two
Act Three, scene three
Act Three, scene four
Act Four, scene one
Act Four, scene two
Act Four, scene three
Act Four, scene four
Act Five, scene one
Act Five, scene two
Act Five, scene three
Act Five, scene four
Act Five, scend five

Return to Dekker page

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