"The Shoemakers' Holiday, or the Gentle Craft,"
- Critic: James H. Conover
- Source: Thomas Dekker: An Analysis of Dramatic Structure, Mouton, 1969, pp. 18-50.
THE SHOEMAKER'S HOLIDAY
[(essay date 1969) In the essay below, Conover analyzes the various plots of The Shoemaker's Holiday, concluding that "the individual actions [of the play] are well articulated and ... skillful devices have been employed to link the various actions and characters in a meaningful, coherent whole."]
If a critic were attempting to develop the thesis that Dekker's skills and techniques gradually developed over a period of years that critic would face great difficulties with The Shoemakers' Holiday, or The Gentle Craft. Although it is the earliest of Dekker's extant plays, it is very nearly the best of the whole body of work. As will be seen, the playwright has taken three contrasting sets of incidents and has interwoven them to produce an almost inseparable whole.
This play, like Old Fortunatus and If It Be Not Good, is in part based upon a known source. It is a commonplace that Elizabethan dramatists--even the greatest--drew regularly upon both dramatic and non-dramatic literature for plot ideas. When such a source is known or suspected then it is profitable to investigate the playwright's use of the earlier work. It has been generally accepted that Shoemaker's Holiday is based upon Thomas Deloney's prose narrative, The Gentle Craft, which apparently was first registered in 1597,1 although the earliest edition now in existence is dated 1637.2 This work is made up of three tales concerning, respectively, Saint Hugh, Crispin and Crispianus, and Simon Eyre. The three tales all involve shoemakers but are not related in any other way. For his play Dekker selected incidents and characters from the second and third stories, and recombined them to produce what is in all respects an entirely new work. The procedure was not that of translating a narrative work directly into dramatic form, but of selection, combination, and expansion or compression. Only a few incidents, for example, are taken from the second tale, and those used are divided among several characters in the Dekker play. In the Deloney story two brothers who are princes are forced to hide, disguising themselves as shoemakers. One meets, woos, and secretly marries a princess. The other is called into the army and so distinguishes himself that eventually he can reveal his and his brother's identity. Dekker uses the disguise situation and the war context; he transforms the warrior prince into Rafe, a real, not pretended, shoemaker who is impressed and wounded in battle. In the Deloney story the disguises are assumed to save the lives of the princes, and the prince meets his wife-to-be after assuming the disguise; in the play, however, the disguise is employed by Lacy in order to further a love affair already in progress. Deloney's tale about Simon Eyre begins with Eyre as a youth and goes into considerable detail regarding the device by which the shoemaker makes his fortune. The story also includes a fairly elaborate minor action concerning a competition for the hand of a servant girl in the Eyre household. Dekker's play begins quite late in Eyre's career and only sketchily recounts the shoemaker's rise to fame. The servant girl in the narrative becomes Jane in the play and the competition for her hand is between a lowly shoemaker and a man of rank. As will be seen, Dekker's changes are extensive. Most significant is the way in which Deloney's entirely separate tales are fused into one play. The changes in social rank are also significant. Deloney's two young princes become in the play a noble and a shoemaker who are contrasted. The lower-class suitors for the maid become in the play a noble suitor and a shoemaker suitor. The importance of these competitions and contrasts between social rank will become more apparent in the detailed discussion of the play.
The Lacy-Rose Action
I.i The Earl of Lincoln and Sir Otley, Lord Mayor of London, discuss the romance between the Earl's nephew, Lacy, and Otley's daughter, Rose. The two men voice to one another their mutual objections to the union, and reveal in asides other objections not so mutual. To separate the couple, Otley has sent Rose out of London to his country estate where Lacy cannot visit undetected, and Lincoln has secured from the King an army command for Lacy in the wars in France. Lacy and his cousin enter, and the older men wish them good fortune in the wars and exit. Lacy, however, arranges to have his cousin take over the army command until he, Lacy, can once more meet with Rose.
I.ii Rose, in the country, sends her servant to London for news of Lacy.
I.iii Lacy has discovered that Otley has "secrety conueyd my Rose from London" (I.iii.15), and he has disguised himself as a shoemaker to hide the fact that he is not with the army. In a soliloquy he expresses his hope to be employed in the shop of Simon Eyre.
I.iv These hopes are fulfilled in this scene when Lacy, now known as Hans, is hired as a journeyman shoemaker.3
II.i Hammon, a gentleman hunter, is told that the deer he is chasing has entered Otley's estate.
II.ii Instead of the deer, however, Hammon encounters Rose. He is immediately smitten with her, and Otley welcomes the hunter as a possible rival for the absent Lacy. Although the indications are that Rose will remain faithful to Lacy, this new complication--a Paris for Juliet--is left unresolved at the end of the scene, providing a small amount of suspense.
II.iv Up to this point Lincoln, Lacy's uncle, and Otley, Rose's father, have assumed that Lacy is in France, but Lincoln's spy (introduced as such in the first scene of the play) returns with news of Lacy's absence from the army. Lincoln now begins a search for Lacy.
III.i The plot then returns to the Hammon complication. Rose, in her father's presence, refuses Hammon's suit. According to custom, however, Otley has the power to force his daughter to marry, but Hammon, a gentle gentleman, refuses Otley's offer, and this complication is removed from the plot. But Otley's anger and suspicions make him include Rose in the party to celebrate Eyre's appointment as Sheriff.
III.iii As his contribution to the celebration, Simon Eyre brings his journeymen shoemakers who perform a dance. Among the group is the disguised Lacy. He is spied out by Rose (but not, of course, by Otley) who then schemes with her maid to arrange a private meeting with Lacy.
IV.i The scheme becomes apparent in this scene. Sybil, the maid, appears in Eyre's shop and specifically designates Hans (Lacy) to be sent to fit Rose with shoes.
IV.iii Alone together at last Rose and Lacy plan to elope that night, but two elements of suspense are introduced into the scene: Otley enters, and Lacy's disguise is consequently put to a close test; and, Lincoln's imminent arrival is announced. As Otley goes to meet Lincoln the two lovers decide to run off immediately.
IV.iv As Otley and Lincoln confer they are brought the news that Rose has run off with Hans, the shoemaker. Lincoln quickly deduces that Hans and Lacy are one person, but the threat to find the couple and prohibit the marriage is forestalled by a fellow shoemaker who gives Lincoln and Otley false information concerning the time and whereabouts of the wedding.4
V.i Rose and Lacy are next seen in Eyre's shop as he sends them off to be married. They fear some kind of danger but Eyre, now Lord Mayor of London, promises his protection. Although not stated, the fear is of the King's anger over Lacy's desertion from the French wars.
V.ii The two disapproving relatives arrive at the wrong wedding, and after discovering the ruse, they set out to tell the King that Lacy has been a traitor so that the King will punish Lacy and divorce the couple.
V.iv Successfully wedded, Lacy and Rose return once more to Simon Eyre, who is preparing to entertain the King, and Lacy specifically asks him to intercede with the King on their behalf.
V.v Soon after the King pardons Lacy, Lincoln and Otley arrive and accuse Lacy of traitorous desertion, but the King has already pardoned that. Otley, however, demands as a father's right that the couple be separated. The King complies by divorcing them, but immediately declares them remarried. He stops Lincoln's objection to differences in social rank by reminding him that Lacy "stooped" to be a shoemaker, and quiets Otley's ambitions by knighting Lacy.
This first plot to make an appearance in the play involves a fairly simple and traditional situation in which a hoped-for marriage is temporarily thwarted. The point of attack is rather late, in that the couple has already met, fallen in love, apparently resolved to marry, and been faced with some complications. In a sense Dekker here departs from traditional Elizabethan practices. Madeleine Doran summarizes the differences of point of attack in classical and Elizabethan drama:
The plot of a classical play typically begins in media res and follows the "artificial" order; the plot of an Elizabethan play normally follows the "natural" or historical order of events.5
She goes on to say.
Elizabethan drama ... generally begins at the beginning and proceeds straight through in chronological order until the end. This means that the motivation of action is within rather than precedent to the action of the play.6
Because here these events have taken place prior to the opening of the play, Dekker can emphasize the effect of separation of the lovers by keeping them apart for much of the play. They do not see one another, in fact, until the play is half completed. The audience first sees, not one of the lovers, but the uncle and the father, who represent the primary obstacle the lovers must overcome in order to marry. Rose and Lacy have, in a sense, three objectives: they must meet once more to plan an elopement; they must marry; and, finally, they must secure approval of their marriage. The approval is necessary both for custom's sake and in order to gain their rightful inheritances. These elements of approval are not developed to any great extent in the play but they are implicit in the situation.
All of the necessary exposition is handled in this first scene: the two young people love one another and wish to marry; their elders have taken action to prevent the union; and Lacy has been a shoemaker on the continent, a fact introduced by Lacy's uncle as an example of his wasteful and irresponsible nature, Lincoln's ostensible objection to the marriage.
Since the point of attack is late, the plot moves forward quickly at the outset as Lacy easily disposes of the first bar to their marriage, his service in France. This action, however, is the basis for the later complication, potential trouble with the King. Otley's action of hiding Rose outside of London puts her in the path of Hammon and a new complication is thus introduced. To a certain extent this breaks up what could be an overly-regular and too-smooth plot action, but it is disposed of through Rose's refusal and Hammon's gentlemanly unwillingness to force himself on Rose. Ironically, Otley's reaction to Rose's refusal serves to bring the two lovers together.
The scene (III.iii) in which Rose and Lacy are brought together for the first time in the play, is the crisis or turning point in the action of the plot. Crisis is used here to refer to Bradley's "critical point".
There is therefore felt to be a critical point in the action which proves also to be a turning point. It is critical sometimes in the sense that until it is reached, the conflict is not, so to speak, clenched; one of the two sets of forces might subside, or a reconciliation might somehow be effected; while, as soon as it is reached, we feel this can no longer be.7
The later scene when the lovers meet alone, are almost discovered by Otley and Lincoln, and run away together is exciting and dramatically effective, but it provides ironic incident rather than complication or change, and follows inevitably from the earlier scene. The attempt by Otley and Lincoln to stop the wedding itself is defeated from the outset, and thus is neither critical nor suspenseful, because they possess false information. The lovers' central problem has been to overcome the hindrances put in the way of their reunion, and, once they manage to meet, the rest must follow.
The incidents or choices made by characters at the crisis produce or cause what Bradley as well as Freytag called the "catastrophe", referring to the final situation, the circumstances to which the action resolves at the end. Freytag described catastrophe as "the closing action ... [that] the ancient stage called the exodus". He later noted that it "contains ... the necessary consequences of the action and the characters [and that] the whole construction points toward the end. ..."8 Since both writers were primarily concerned with tragic drama the word catastrophe was particularly appropriate, but it is less so for non-tragic plays. Consequently, the word climax is here employed to refer to the final situation in a play or action of a play.
The climax of this plot, the scene with the four principals and the King, brings all together for the first time. The King functions obviously in the role of a deus ex machina, who answers all objections and solves all problems. Although his presence and actions are fairly well motivated by Simon Eyre, the King is not as adroit an example of the deus ex machina device as those to be found in Honest Whore II and If It Be Not Good. The audience is prepared for his presence, but he is something of an intrusion at the end of the play, and he is by no means so thoroughly involved with the action as are his counterparts in the plays mentioned. He is--God-like--above the action. The King, as knotcutter, goes a bit beyond his traditional role; he could have merely made pronouncements and ended it there, but the scene is made more effective by his maneuverings. He allows the charges of "traitor" to begin and Lacy to be seized even though pardon has been given. Instead of refusing to divorce the couple, he first does so, then remarries them, and finally skillfully answers the objections of both Lincoln and Otley. All of these actions in the scene produced a kind of artificial, though effective, suspense and complication. Artificial, that is, in the sense that a serious ending would completely deny the mood and expectations so thoroughly established. And the King does at the end what he had planned to do throughout the scene.
Actually, it is Simon Eyre's presence that promises a happy resolution. If there was ever a character in drama with whom it would be impossible to associate tragic or serious outcomes, it is Simon. As will be seen, everything he touches turns to success and laughter. His promise of protection for Rose and Lacy is certain to be upheld. His function here, as will be demonstrated, is similar to that of Orlando Friscobaldo in Honest Whore II.
Other than the deus ex machina device which resolves it, the plot is tightly knit and well motivated in a cause and effect pattern. Fortuitous events play no part in the working out of the problems, and since the motivation for each scene is to be found in the action of earlier scenes the events appear to be in a necessary and natural order. The only situation not prepared for in the play is the appearance of Firk, Lacy's clownish fellow shoemaker, in IV.iv at Otley's home, shortly after Rose and Lacy flee. His story and false account of the time and place of the wedding permits the ceremony to take place unmolested. He says that he has come to fit Rose with some shoes, but that was the reason Lacy had been summoned. Obviously Lacy has sent him to put them off the scent and that is the meaning of Firk's aside, "It is that Hauns [Lacy], Ile so gull these diggers" (IV.iv.82-3), and his later statement that "I came hither of purpose with shooes to sir Rogers worship, whilst Rose his daughter be coniecatcht by Hauns" (IV.iv.145-46).
The final area of investigation concerning this action involves potential, but undramatized situations implicit in the story. The potential does not refer to the source; it has already been noted that Dekker has made radical departures from the source, omitting a number of incidents to be found there.9 Potential here refers to situations which are either implied by the action of the play or are related but not dramatized.
Most of the potential events of the story are dramatized, excepting those which occurred before the play opened--the initial meetings of Rose and Lacy, Otley's decision to separate the pair by sending Rose out of London, and Lincoln's similar decision concerning the army command for Lacy. From that point to the end little is omitted; perhaps the only incidents not dramatized are Lacy's discovery of Rose's absence, described by Lacy in I.iii, the wedding that takes place "off-stage" between V.i and V.ii, and the appeal to the King by Lacy and Eyre that precedes the last scene of the play. Otley revealed the fact that Rose had been sent out of London in his first conversation with Lincoln, so there would be little to gain by dramatizing Lacy's discovery of the fact. The wedding ceremony would require at least one new character, and the dramatization of it might produce a stronger climactic effect than is desirable prior to the true climax in the last scene. If it were a strong scene it would symbolize a culmination of the lovers' quest, an effect better saved for the last scene. The third omitted situation--the pleas to the King--would necessarily involve a recapitulation of many of the events known to the audience. Though such summaries at the end of a play have been effective at times, the practice is perhaps best avoided.
The Rafe-Jane Action
This plot also concerns a relatively simple love story; only five scenes of the play are devoted to it. A married couple is separated by war and eventually reunited after some near-tragic occurrences. The forces at work here are not so traditional as those of the first plot, and the couple themselves are unconventional. The standard complication of parental disapproval is an important element in the Lacy-Rose plot; the elders' objections to youths' desires and the son's and daughter's successful struggle with the father have been dramatic staples since the Greek drama. These conflicts within the family unit have provided much of the material for both serious and comic literature. In this second plot, however, the lovers are in effect separated by social forces, first war and then class distinctions. The two people are, moreover, both members of the working class, and shoemakers and seamstresses had not often been the principals in a dramatic tale, much less a romantic and serious love story.
I.i Unlike Rose and Lacy, Rafe and Jane are first seen together, and are then not united until the last scene concerned with their action. Prior to the opening of the play the newly married Rafe has been impressed for the army. Simon Eyre Rafe's employer, asks the commanding officer (Lacy) to discharge Rafe instead of taking him to France. The grounds are, as a fellow shoemaker says, "you doe more than you can answere, to press a man within a yeare and a day of his marriage" (I.i.149-50). Lacy regretfully refuses, however, and Rafe, in a very touching speech, asks Simon to be Jane's protector. As a parting gift, Rafe presents Jane with a pair of shoes he has made for her.
II.ii Some time later Rafe returns to Eyre's shop, apparently released from the army because of an injured leg; but he is met with the news that Jane has disappeared after some disagreement with Dame Eyre. Nothing explicit has prepared for this eventuality, unless the forbodings of the first scene and Dame Eyre's character can be made to account for it. So the situation is now reversed; Rafe has returned, but Jane is gone.
III.iv Jane, now working as a seamstress, is being courted by a gentleman, Hammon. She is touched by his sincerity, and when her refusal because of Rafe is countered by Hammon's information that Rafe is dead she tells him, "If euer I wed man it shall be you" (III.iv. 122). The complication here is two-fold; Jane believes Rafe is dead, and her suitor is a man of much higher social position with its consequent power and influence.
IV.ii The shoes which Rafe left with Jane provide the solution to a least part of the problem. Jane has apparently accepted Hammon's proposal. Hammond sends the old shoes to Eyre's shop so that a new pair of their size can be made for the wedding. The classical tokens of recognition reveal to Rafe the whereabouts of his Cinderella, and he plans to claim his wife from Hammon with the aid of his fellow shoemakers.
V.ii This scene dramatizes the rescue of Jane by Rafe and the shoemakers. After a verbal skirmish between the shoemakers and Hammon's supporters Jane is given a choice between the two men, and Hammon offers Rafe twenty pounds to give up his claim; but neither answer is really in doubt and Hammon magnanimously makes a gift of the money.
Like the Rose-Lacy action this plot begins at a critical point, the imminent separation of husband and wife. There is no leisurely development of character or earlier events; the couple is immediately thrust into the problem, and they begin to attempt its solution. While the army complication was immediately solved, apparently, in the other plot, here it prevails. Nor is it ever solved by the characters themselves, but runs its own course, outside the play, until Rafe is wounded.
Although there is considerable action in this brief plot, the two central characters are for the most part passive, somewhat at the mercy of the social forces mentioned above and of other characters. Most of the pleading for Rafe in the first scene comes from Eyre and the other shoemakers; Jane is put out of the household; Rafe does plan the shoemakers' interference with the wedding, but the other shoemakers actually conduct the affair.
The action has its crisis in Hammon's revelation to Jane that Rafe has been killed. It is ironic in the sense that while this news "frees" Jane for Hammon, and thus would seem to separate the couple, it also provides the means for their ultimate reunion. Conceivably the lame Rafe might not have found Jane had she continued as a seamstress, but the imminent wedding provides the occasion for the recognition of the pair of shoes.
The climax, of course, is in the decisions by Jane and Rafe to remain together despite Hammon's blandishments. As mentioned above neither answer is really in doubt, but the conflict between the shoemakers and the servants provides excitement. Rafe's last words on the matter--
Sirrah Hammon, Hammon, dost thou thinke a Shoe-maker is so base, to bee a bawde to his owne wife for commoditie, take thy golde, choake with it, were I not lame, I would make thee eate thy words.
--could bring cheers from an audience of ''prentices. As Simon Eyre and the King were agents who contributed to the climax of the Rose-Lacy plot, the shoemakers, particularly Hodge and Firk, are instrumental in the climax of this plot. Their force, indeed almost a mob, provides the necessary support for Rafe's claim. They, in fact, voice his claim for him, functioning as junior editions of Simon Eyre. If this plot can be in part interpreted in social terms, this opposition of the mob of shoemakers to the group of the gentleman's household effectively presents the social conflict visually. The shoemakers triumph here, then again in opposition to Otley and Lincoln, and finally, gathering forces all along, they march off to their celebration to the sound of the pancake bell.
The degree to which the events of the plot are effectively articulated has already been touched upon. The least skillful link has to do with the surprising information that Jane no longer lives with the Eyres; most skillful is the Rafe's "death"-Jane's wedding-Jane's shoes-Jane's rescue sequence. Chance, however, plays a large, if not unreasonable, part in the plot, particularly in two instances: Hammon's possession of a casualty list and the fact that Jane's shoes are brought to Rafe himself. That Rafe is mistakenly listed among those considered dead is not in itself surprising since he was seriously wounded, and in a positive sense these elements of chance emphasize the passivity of the two characters, part of this plot's contribution to the total play to be discussed below. At one point Dekker seems to be aware of the amount of chance involved. After Rafe has been given the order to make shoes for the bride-to-be he says, "By this shoe said he, how am I amasde / At this strange accident?" (IV.ii.30-1).
The arrangement of the incidents seems to be purposeful, and not overly complex. The sequence employs a cause and effect pattern, with a single exception--scenes III.ii and III.iv could be reversed. That is, with slight modifications to explain her absence from the shoemaker's household, Jane's scene with Hammon could precede Rafe's homecoming. This change would lessen the present weakness noted above of lack of preparation for Dame Eyre's statement to Rafe that Jane is gone. But it would have several negative effects; first, and least important, it would break up the rather neat arrangement of scenes whereby the two are together in the first and last scenes and alternate--Rafe, Jane, Rafe--in the middle three scenes. More significant, however, would be the change in the emotional tone in the scene in which Jane is told that Rafe has been killed. The scene would be at once highly pathetic, since the viewer would take the casualty list as fact, and melodramatic, since the basis for the emotional reactions would later prove to be false. The intensity of emotions would not be in keeping with the comic tone of the play as a whole. With Rafe's lameness Dekker already skirts the line, and an apparently real death would indeed violate the balance of the play. Since, by the arrangement of the scenes, the audience knows the report to be untrue, it can react sympathetically to Jane's sorrow, but continue to hope for their eventual meeting. Moreover, the charges of chance brought above would pale in the face of such another element of surprise as suggested. To first kill off Rafe and then explain his death away as a battlefield mistake would be a much less desirable arrangement of scenes. Dekker has made the wise choice of suspense over surprise.
The plot is simple and straightforward, progressing from separation to reunion. If it had been more fully dramatized, showing Rafe's attempts to get home, for example, it would have had the effect of two parts; that is, his success in reaching London would have been an early and false climax, since the return to Eyre's shop and reunion with Jane appear to be synonymous.
Certainly, more could have been made of the plot; in addition to the scenes in France suggested above, two others are specifically described in the play itself. Jane and Dame Eyre, at some point between I.i and III.ii, argued and Jane was either put out of the house or left. Halstead notes the omission of this scene with apparent regret and suggests that it might have been a way to break the long hiatus in the plot.10 Its inclusion would have eliminated the gap, but it would have had a negative effect on the characters of Eyre and his wife. Rafe had asked Simon Eyre in I.i to care for Jane in his absence, and his failure to do so cannot be emphasized without seriously undercutting audience regard for Eyre. This, for example, is why Dame Eyre, rather than Simon, gives the bad news to Rafe, who is then packed off to eat and rest so that he is not allowed (by the playwright) to confront Simon Eyre as he enters. Furthermore, the omitted scene must have put most of the blame on Dame Eyre, if dramatized, in order to support Jane's character. Jane, as part of a romantic and pathetic story, cannot appear in the role of a scolding fishwife without considerable harm to our later sympathy for her. Dame Eyre's snobbish and social climbing ways are seen in the play only in comic terms. If the other side of the coin is displayed in a scene in which she lords it over poor Jane, a change of tone is introduced that must affect the whole Simon Eyre story, and as her husband, Simon Eyre himself. The fact that the scene is related rather than dramatized gives it much less emphasis and impact, and permits Dame Eyre to put at least part of the blame on Jane, still without hurting Jane's character. The viewer can smilingly say to himself, "Oh, yes, Dame Eyre, I'm sure you suffered terribly from wicked Jane." But he must smile.
The other scene referred to, but omitted in the play, is one in which Rafe fits Jane with the new shoes ordered by Hammon's servant. Rafe describes this situation at some length, and it is used to confirm the fact that it is indeed Jane who is about to marry Hammon. It is easy to understand why Dekker did not include the scene, but difficult to know why it is mentioned at all. Showing the couple together before the rescue would make the rescue itself anti-climactic, and would unnecessarily emphasize the unlikely fact that Jane does not recognize her husband. The latter would not, to be sure, be surprising in Elizabethan drama. But there is no need for the reference; the shoes are sufficient identification. The description does provide another element of pathos, and perhaps it was for this reason that it was included.
One incident is implied by the general situation but not specifically described in the dialogue. That is, at the end of III.iv Jane sends Hammon off with the promise that, "If euer I wed man it shall be you" (III.iv.122). But Dekker omits the scene in which Jane actually accepts Hammon's proposal. The reasons for the omission are perhaps obvious. The speech quoted gives sufficient indication of what is to happen, and Jane is not subjected to a direct acceptance of a proposal so soon after her husband's death. Such a scene would also be something of a repetition of the original proposal scene, and thus extraneous.
Such a "fleshing out" would not be consistent with what might be considered an important and meritorius characteristic of the plot--its economy. The five scenes simply and quickly tell the whole story: departure for war, return from war and loss of wife; news of "death"; discovery of the shoes; and rescue and reunion. The effect is of speed and intensity; nothing is wasted. Each scene depicts an important and necessary incident. Alone this method for this plot would probably be too abrupt; its function within the complete play will be discussed later.
The Simon Eyre Action
The plot to be considered finally is that concerned with Simon Eyre, if a plot it can be called in any traditional sense of that term. Simply stated, the scenes depict history's easiest success story, a rise from craftsman to Lord Mayor of London, with a related increase of personal wealth and influence.
There are no true complications in the path of this progress, and very little of what is normally termed dramatic action, although a number of scenes in the total play are devoted to Eyre and his shop. Describing romantic comedy, C. F. T. Brooke notes that this type of play frequently lacks "the fundamental dramatic conflict which forms regularly the backbone both of comedy and tragedy. ..."11 Harbage points to this lack when he expresses his amazement that Shoemakers' Holiday has the "power to sustain interest with a pennyworth of evil for a pound of good".12
Since Simon Eyre is something of an historical character it can be argued that his ultimate achievement was known from the outset to the original London audiences, and that this expectation softens the surprise, or rather astonishment, at his meteoric rise. The character in the play certainly has not stated or implied ambitions. On the other hand, that he feels no limitations is apparent in the refrain that he repeats with variations, "prince am I none, yet am I noblie born" (II.iii.42).
The small amount of exposition needed for this plot is actually established in the first scene of the Rafe-Jane plot. Dekker simply and naturally has Simon introduce himself, family, and journeymen to Lacy in preparation for asking for Rafe's release from impressment. Enough is said in the scene to establish firmly Eyre's character.
I.iv The first scene actually devoted to Simon Eyre himself is the one in which the shoemaker shop is established as a locale and in which Lacy (Hans) is hired. Although the action is a necessary part of the Lacy-Rose plot it is also functional here.13
II.iii Lacy introduces the "skipper" of a ship to Eyre and also loans Eyre enough money for a down-payment on the valuable cargo. The original proposals of the business deal have taken place prior to the scene, and only the closing of the deal is dramatized. Eyre has been made an alderman of London sometime prior to the scene. The two elements of Eyre's rise--financial and political--are not at this point related, but are jointed by proximity. Once again, after a disagreement with Dame Eyre, the journeymen threaten to quit but are pacified by Simon.
III.i The next brief scene concerned with this plot is interlaced with one that is primarily concerned with the Rose-Lacy plot. The two elements mentioned above are joined as Otley (current Lord Mayor) reveals himself as Eyre's partner in the ship's cargo transaction which has yielded considerable profit. As a kind of reward he tells Eyre that he hopes to have him made Sheriff that very day.
III.ii The shoemakers and Simon's wife await the news of the hoped-for appointment, and Dekker indulges in some mild satire on Dame Eyre as a bourgeois nouveau riche. Eyre enters with the chain of office, and all prepare to dine with Otley to celebrate the new position.
III.iii Nothing happens in this scene to further the action. Otley and the Eyres dine together and are entertained with a dance by the shoemakers. Although this takes up most of the scene it should perhaps be considered part of the Rose-Lacy plot.
IV.i Scene III.ii anticipated the celebration, scene III.iii depicted it, and this scene is largely retrospect discussion of it by the journeymen. In passing, they mention the ill-health of several other aldermen, whose deaths would make Simon the Lord Mayor of London.
V.i Eyre next appears as Lord Mayor; and once again the action itself has taken place off-stage. Here he promises to protect Lacy and Rose, and begins preparation for the Shrove Tuesday pancake feast that is to occupy the rest of the play. At this point Eyre has achieved his complete personal success, and what follows could be considered anticlimactic if the plot is viewed solely as his success story.
V.iii The King is seen enroute to Eyre's celebration where he expects to be amused by Simon's "woonted merriment ..." (V.iii.15).
V.iv Eyre directs the turmoil of the feast in which a "hundred tables wil not feast the fourth part of" the apprentices of London (V.iv.11-12). He reassures Lacy that he will intercede for him with the King.
V.v. Simon has done so, and this scene begins with the King pardoning Lacy. After the Rose-Lacy action is completed the celebration continues. "Mad Simon" entertains the King and persuades him to grant marketing privileges to shoemakers in the newly constructed Leadenhall.
Unlike the other two plots whose points of attack were relatively late in their actions, this one begins quite early, though not so early as the source. Each achievement--alderman, wealth, sheriff, mayor, and founder of the marketing customs and Pancake Day--is within the play. It is, as noted by Alexis Lange, almost epic in nature, certainly biographical.14
As a separate action it is highly episodic, and abrupt in its forward movement. It is even difficult to apply traditional plot-descriptive terms to the action. But part of the difficulty arises from the consideration of the plot as biographical, as being centrally concerned with a single man. In those terms the climax of the plot should be at the point at which Eyre becomes Lord Mayor, a scene not even dramatized. Actually the climax, though closely related to Simon Eyre, is in the establishment of the traditions of Shrove Tuesday and the use of Leadenhall, things Eyre did as Lord Mayor which had lasting public effect; the climax is not the personal achievement of an individual. The rank of Lord Mayor is, then, merely the final step toward the actual climax of the action.
Working backwards from this climax to the critical point in the action is somewhat easier. The only actions taken by Eyre which could be said to influence the outcome of this plot are the hiring of Lacy and the purchase of the ship's cargo. It is the second of these that actually provides the momentum which carries Eyre to the point at which he can institute the traditions.
Apart from the crisis-climax relationship, the arrangement of incidents is purely chronological. A chain reaction results in the outcome, but the later incidents all refer to the first two. Each event can come only after the preceding one, but it does not occur because of this preceding one; there is one cause and a series of related effects.
That is not to say that the plot consists of a series of surprises. The brief scene at Otley's house (III.i) prepares for the promotion to sheriff. Similarly, the journeymen shoemakers prepare us for the possibility that Eyre may become Lord Mayor by discussing the other aldermen, and Lacy tells Rose that Eyre can protect them because he is now Lord Mayor.
The opportune deaths of the senior aldermen, which permit Eyre to attain his highest rank, do seem to constitute a gross element of luck in the plot. Realistically the situation might have occurred, and indeed Simon Eyre probably did "work his way up" in this fashion. Actually the objections to this final movement in his progress are objections to the timing of the deaths rather than to the deaths themselves. In studying this action apart from the total play there appears to be no realistic time lapse; now Eyre is Sheriff with seven aldermen between him and mayoralty, and instantly he is Lord Mayor and seven aldermen are dead. But the seven loom larger in analysis then they do in the context of the play. It must be remembered that none are characters in the play; they don't even have names. Their deaths are not mourned or regretted onstage or in the audience because in the context of the play they are not even human beings, but are nameless and actionless. The problem will be further softened when the plot is studied in relationship to the rest of the play.
Because of the wide span of the plot a few pertinent scenes have been omitted. It was noted earlier that Dekker has not dramatized the initial offer by Lacy to aid Eyre in the purchase of the ship's cargo. The scene (II.iii) begins after most of the arrangements have been made. A recent writer describes the business deal as a "sharp practice of which the modern equivalent would be obtaining credit by false trade references. ..."15 L. C. Knights comments on this description:
Certainly the bargain by which Eyre gains 'full three thousand pound' is not very reputable, but there is no need to make much of it, or to connect it, as Dr. Robertson does, with 'the wave of speculation' which was then affecting all classes. Dekker merely intends to show that fortune is on the side of the good-hearted tradesman; it is characteristic that he slurs over the issues without thinking very hard about them.16
The prose source for the play does describe this business deal in more detail than the play, and includes an element of deception that can be described as "sharp practice". The simplest description of the situation in the play, however, is that Eyre borrows money from Lacy to make an investment that later turns out to be profitable. By eliminating the "shady" details Dekker has not slurred "over the issues", but has created a new and honorable situation. Knights's slighting remark would be justified if Dekker had included the deception and had continued to portray Eyre in a complimentary fashion. Thus Knights is guilty of judging both Dekker and Eyre in terms of the prose source rather than the play itself. It would seem, as a matter of fact, that Dekker did think about the issues involved. In the prose source Dame Eyre advises her husband:
Be not known that you bargain for your own self, but tell him that you do it in behalf of one of the chief aldermen in the city.17
This subterfuge is to hide the fact that Eyre cannot pay the balance of the sale price until he sells part of the cargo. Later in the source Simon actually disguises himself as a rich man. Dekker not only eliminates all of the damning details, he also makes Eyre a genuine alderman, who quite rightfully dresses himself in his gown of office to receive the ship's captain. Dekker, then, consciously purifies the character of the man he is displaying as a model of the rising middle class.
A potential scene in which Eyre becomes Lord Mayor and tells his household of it or celebrates it is also absent from the play. There are several reasons for this omission. First, the scene would be a repetition in kind of the scenes concerning the promotion to Sheriff; secondly, occurring so late in the action, it would harm the effect of the last scenes of the play by providing two climaxes, one for his personal triumph and one for his public deeds.
All of these omissions, however, point to a rather peculiar aspect of the Simon Eyre action. There is a great deal of off-stage incident; there is also much amusing and energetic discussion onstage; but there is very little dramatized action directly related to the Eyre action. The great events in Simon's life--the acquisition of wealth, the attainment of the civic offices, and the construction of Leadenhall--are talked about, before and after the fact, but none are dramatized. Dekker very severely restricts the locale to the shoemaker shop where none of these incidents can take place, and whenever Simon leaves the shop he is accompanied by the troop of journeymen and apprentices. The effect of this technique is to emphasize the locale and the group. Simon is important as a character, but the whole group of shoemakers (including Simon, Rafe, and Lacy) is equally important to the meanings in the play.
Relationship of the Actions
The tendency of Elizabethan playwrights to compose plays with multiple plots has generated a good deal of critical comment. It is no longer fashionable to criticize a play solely on the grounds that it encompasses several actions, but a discussion and evaluation of the nature and effects of such richness is still valid. Bradbrook defends sub-plots as follows:
It is true that the Elizabethans sometimes built a play from two quite unconnected stories, but this happens far less frequently than it is usual to suppose. For the subplot was contrasted and not interwoven with the main action: it reflected upon it, either as a criticism or a contrast, or a parallel illustration of the same moral worked out in another manner, a kind of echo or metaphor of the tragedy.18
She is, of course, speaking of tragedy here, and this fact no doubt explains the apparent disapproval of "interwoven" plots--that is, comedy or farce is not to be too closely related to the tragic action. It is assumed that Bradbook does not object to interwoven plots when they are of similar mood. The two actions in King Lear, for example, are interwoven in the sense that characters freely cross from one action to the other. In addition, the actions are interdependent; Edmund's early triumph over Edgar puts the bastard son in a position to later order Cordelia's death. Interdependent and interwoven actions may thus serve to unify a play. But the implied problem with tragedy is the effect of the mixture of moods within a play, and, as a matter of fact, Bradbrook goes on to discuss this problem in The Changeling and other plays. This problem can also present itself in essentially non-tragic dramas into which plots with serious moods are introduced.
When the three plots of Shoemakers' Holiday are combined to make the total play there are a variety of inter-reactions, which produce changes in the nature and effect of the individual plots. All three plots, for example, are alike in their simplicity, their concentration on skeletal story. But the result of their combination is one of richness, variety, and even complexity; so much so that a modern reviewer has complained of its "baffling complexities of plot and subplot. ..."19 The Eyre plot moves forward smoothly, without complication. The other two plots, with their minor turns and hesitancies, provide the necessary dramatic conflict. That is not to say that the other plots exist in the play merely to make the Simon Eyre story theatrical. As will be seen, they have a more important function as well.
One of the most important effects of the combination is in the play's time scheme. Mable Buland, in a study of Elizabethan playwrights' use of time, comments that in the play "Dekker has produced an effect of greater cohesion than properly belongs" to it.20 The objection implied is that the three plots cannot begin at the same time and end together if any attention is paid to a realistic calendar of events. But they do seem to, and this is due to the way in which they are joined. The principal culprit is the Eyre plot. As noted above, the plot out of context seems abrupt, the rise too rapid--and on a calendar it is. When scenes from the other two plots are interlaced with it, however, it seems as if there is a sufficient time lapse. Note particularly the time between the promotion to Sheriff and Eyre's next appearance as Lord Mayor. Simon is last onstage at Otley's home in III.iii; although his shoemakers are seen and he is mentioned frequently, he as a character does not reappear again until the first scene of the last act. Dramatically he has been gone a long time--sufficient time, in fact, to make his new position as Lord Mayor acceptable despite the seven aldermen.
A similar effect appears in the Rafe-Jane plot. It was noted that the first two scenes of this plot concerned Rafe's departure and his return, an almost ludicrous juxtaposition. In the complete story, however, the two scenes are separated by eight scenes of the two other plots. So many scenes intrude that the character is practically forgotten and his return at this point gives the effect of a considerable time lapse, which serves its own and the Eyre plot purposes. If, of course, Rafe's character or the plot situation had been more complex, making greater demands on the memory, this break would cause confusion, but the only things the audience needs to recall are Rafe's marriage to Jane, his gift of the shoes, and the fact that he has been in the army.
Separated, the three stories seem to have quite different and sometimes conflicting emotional tones or atmospheres. Rafe and Jane's story--with its overtones of war, Rafe's wound, and apparent death--is pathetic and, alone, almost somber. That of Rose and Lacy is a mixture in itself; there are elements of the romance combined with intrigue comedy, in which disguise and mistaken identity are employed. Simon Eyre's plot is part history, part comedy in city manners, described by Hazelton Spencer as "depicted with a gusto so nearly Chaucerian that the combination is irresistible".21 The atmosphere of this last plot permeates the play as a whole, but enough of the romantic and pathetic moods survive in combination with the robust earthiness to produce an impression of completeness or depth of view. As Shakespeare, in the three Henry VI plays, developed a composite picture of chaos on three levels of English society--the army, the nobility, and the commonalty--Dekker here succeeds in producing a realistic spectrum of emotional tone. The variety of tone, and more particularly the scope of society depicted in the play are characteristic of Dekker. As will be seen, the same effects are also present in such plays as Honest Whore II and If It Be Not Good. It is the shoemaker milieu that predominates here, however, and despite the fact that the Eyre plot comprises a minority of the total play, Simon "is the comic center and the realistic center of the play".22 The Eyre action dominates first through the strength of the scenes themselves and the dynamism of Eyre's personality, and secondly through the fact that the two other plots with operate partly within the shoemaker locale.
Furthermore, both the Lacy-Rose and the Rafe-Jane actions are actually modified in tone through contact with the shoemakers. A certain coldness that results in part from the fact that Rose and Lacy are not allowed courtship scenes, and from the intrigue comedy elements, is lessened by Lacy's associations with the shoemakers. More particularly, one scene in the Rafe-Jane action is strongly affected. Alone, Rafe's return wounded from the wars and his loss of Jane are too pathetic in relation to the total tone of the play. But he returns to the vitality of Eyre's shop, and his scene is preceded by the light satire on Dame Eyre's vanity and followed by Simon's triumphant return as Sheriff. In the midst of this his sorrow cannot dominate. In this context fears of real tragedy are impossible.
Dekker employs a series of devices to achieve unity in the play. The first of these involves parallels or direct comparisons of characters in separate actions. The most comprehensive of these similarities comes in part from the source of the play--that is, the occupation of shoemaker. Within the general classification there are variations; Eyre is the shopowner, Rafe is a journeyman, and Lacy, of course, is only an imitation shoemaker. As will be seen in later chapters Dekker makes frequent use of disguise as a plot device. Bradbrook notes that "Disguises generally mean a drop in social status, ..."23 and here as elsewhere the playwright conforms to that pattern. The only exception in the plays to be studied is Gazetto in Match Me in London. As a shoemaker Lacy is protected from the spying eyes of his adversaries and he is free to move about in London. On this score the device is merely a plot expedient, but in this play there is something more than the easy assumption of another identity. Lacy did work as a shoemaker on the continent and he does so again here on Tower Street. His ability to pass as a craftsman is demonstrated among others of the craft; he is accepted by them and not just by Otley and Lincoln. This acceptance plays an important part in his action. He ultimately wins the King's pardon and intercession on two counts: as a lover, and as someone who has actually worked at this happy craft. His character has somehow improved through these associations. Even Otley, early in the play, considers this fact to be to Lacy's betterment. He says in an aside, "And yet your cosen Rowland might do well / Now he hath learn'd an occupation" (I.i.42-3). To work at a trade, in this play as well as in others written by Dekker, is a kind of virtue in itself, a mark of merit.
Rafe, too, benefits by his associations with the shoemakers. In his troubles with Hammon his fellows "rally round", demonstrating a comradery and a group loyalty. There is a clear consciousness of class, with attendant antagonisms to other groups. Firk, for example, takes a positive delight in gulling Otley and Lincoln as he sends them off to the wrong wedding. Firk functions here in a manner not unlike that of the intrigue slave in Roman comedy, enjoying every moment of his wit; but he aids a fellow artisan rather than a profligate young master. The scene is replete with references to the trade: "... my profession is the Gentle Craft" (IV.iv.90-1), "no, shal I proue Iudas to Hans? No, shall I crie treason to my corporation" (IV.iv.96-7), and "ha, ha, heres no craft in the Gentle Craft" (IV.iv,144-45). A similar group spirit appears in the scene in which the shoemakers rescue Jane from Hammon and his followers. Hodge opens the scene with a speech to his troop of journeymen:
My masters, as we are the braue bloods of the shooemakers, heires apparant to saint Hugh, and perpetuall benefactors to all good fellowes, thou shalt haue no wrong: were Hammon a king of spades he should not delue in thy close without thy sufferaunce. ...
A few moments later he faces down Hammon's followers with, "My maisters and gentlemen, neuer draw your bird spittes, shoemakers are steele to the backe, men euery inch of them, al spirite" (V.ii.30-2).
A great part of this spirit emanates from Simon Eyre himself. In the first scene of the play, finding that the officers will not relent and cancel Rafe's impressment, he recommends Rafe to them with comparisons to Hector, Hercules, and Prince Arthur, among others, and urges Rafe to
fight for the honour of the Gentle Craft, for the gentlemen Shoomakers, the couragious Cordwainers, the flower of saint Martins, the mad knaues of Bedlem, Fleetstreete, Towerstreete, and white Chappell, cracke me the crownes of the French knaues, a poxe on them, cracke them, fight, by the lord of Ludgate, fight my fine boy!
Throughout the play Eyre repeats his refrain, noted above, in which he distinguishes between nobility of rank and the true nobility of those born to be shoemakers.
Almost all of these references throughout the play refer specifically to the shoemaker trade, but at one point the idea is extended to include all tradespeople. When Otley complains that Rose is interested only in courtiers, Eyre advises her:
a Courtier, wash, go by, stand not vppon pisherie pasherie: those silken fellowes are but painted Images, outsides, outsides Rose, their inner linings are torne: no my fine mouse, marry me with a Gentleman Grocer like my Lord Maior your Father, a Grocer is a sweet trade, Plums, Plums: had I a sonne or Daughter should marrie out of the generation and bloud of the shoe-makers, he should packe: what, the Gentle trade is a liuing for a man through Europe, through the world.
The second parallel between characters in separate plots unites Rafe and Lacy even more closely--that is, their secondary occupation as soldiers. They are both, in the fashion suitable to their social class, impressed for the army. Lacy, of course, is to be Rafe's superior officer, but the army duty produces similar problems for the two men--separation from wife or sweetheart. Incidentally, a further link is provided by the fact that the official who impressed Rafe and the other Londoners is the Lord Mayor, Rose's father and Lacy's antagonist. The war or soldier element is something more than a device to link plots, however. A definite contrast is set up by the playwright in the characters' reactions to the situation and the effect the situation has upon the two characters. Certainly it is not accidental that the incident in which Lacy is told he must assume his army command is immediately followed by that in which Rafe, too, is ordered in, ironically by Lacy. Lacy, the gentleman and officer, has made arrangements (at this point only temporary) to avoid his service in order to seek out his sweetheart, yet it is he who tells Rafe that he must serve and be separated from his wife. The juxtaposition of these two scenes from the two plots seems to be intended to comment upon the unwarranted advantages of the privileged class. Rafe is a passive element in the situation, while Lacy can manipulate events to his advantage. Rafe, too, is depicted later as suffering the real effects of war as he returns wounded, while Lacy is knighted to redeem the honor he lost in France by not being there. The foot soldier is maimed and the officer is titled.
The final common "occupation" to be found in the play is the Civic officer, the position of Lord Mayor of London which is held first by Otley and later, of course, by Simon Eyre. The only recognition of Otley's tenure of office, however, is in the statement mentioned above in which he is responsible for the impressment, and in the scene in which he tells Eyre he hopes to have him made sheriff.
A variation of this pattern of parallel occupations is the way in which Hodge and Firk act as minor Simon Eyres. When Eyre becomes sheriff he deeds his shop to Hodge, and Firk moves up to Hodge's position of foreman; success for Simon Eyre is reflected within the ranks of the shoemakers. More significantly, however, the shoemakers (Eyre, Hodge, and Firk) function in similar ways in the two other plots of the play. Apart from the business transaction of the ship's cargo and his acceptance of the civic promotions, Eyre acts in the play primarily for others. He tries to aid Rafe at the outset, helps his employees, provides the feast for the apprentices, gains market advantages for shoemakers, builds Leadenhall, and contributes to the solution of Lacy's problems. In a limited fashion Firk and Hodge do the same thing. Firk tricks Otley and Lincoln, which allows Lacy and Rose to be married; and Firk and Hodge together are the principal agents in Jane's rescue from Hammon.
Perhaps the most important device by which Dekker unites the three plots is the participation of characters in several actions of the play. Several of these have already been noted. Simon Eyre acts in the Rafe-Jane plot at the outset and later becomes an important character in the Lacy-Rose plot. The action that Eyre takes in favor of Lacy in his problem with the King is motivated in part by the aid Lacy gave to Eyre in the ship's cargo transaction. In a sense Lacy's aid helped make Eyre sufficiently influential to aid Lacy. It is somewhat ironic that the money loaned by Lacy to Simon was originally given to Lacy by Lincoln and Otley. These "twenty Portugese" allow Eyre to make the down-payment on the cargo, which Otley later shares. Otley's investment is greater than his proportionate returns, and Simon Eyre is an early example of a businessman profiting with borrowed money.
Hammon also participates in two actions, functioning almost identically in both. As a suitor for Rose he threatens to make the separation of Rose and Lacy permanent. Later the planned wedding with Jane threatens to do the same thing to Jane and Rafe.
Finally there is Otley, who serves as an important character in the Rose-Lacy action as her father and a principal obstacle in the path of their marriage. In the Eyre plot he is the Lord Mayor and partner who promotes Simon Eyre to the position of Sheriff; and he is the Mayor who impresses Rafe and later mistakes Jane and Rafe for his own daughter and son-in-law.
These character cross-pollinations serve the play in a fashion besides the linking of one plot to another. They tend to give a broader view of all the characters because they are portrayed in a variety of activities. Otley is seen not only in his principal role as father-objector, but also as a business man, as host to the Eyre family. Fortunately for himself and the play, Lacy becomes something more than the young man who deserts his army to search for his sweetheart. He becomes a useful member of an admirable group of men, enjoying their beer and aiding a most likeable fellow, Simon Eyre, in his rise to fame and fortune. Hammon alone is merely functional; but perhaps more interest in him would produce concern for his successive failures in his search for a wife. As a matter of fact, Harbage says that Hammon "lingers in our minds as a plaintive and appealing figure; we hope that he found a heart-free maiden at last".24 The character's forlorn exit is, however, immediately followed by the entrance of Lincoln and Otley, and audience sympathy for Hammon should be quickly changed to glee at the upsetting of these nobles.
Dekker also relates the separate actions by including incidents from two actions within one scene unit so that one plot blends into another. Partly because of the characters common to several plots, Dekker is able to present two actions simultaneously, or at least successively. This is a common practice for the last scene of a multiple plot play, but here the technique is brought near to a maximum effectiveness throughout the play. All in all eight scene units of the play include incidents of more than one plot. This number does not include those scenes (I.iii-iv; II.i-ii; IV.i-ii; and IV.iii-vi) between which the break appears to be primarily editorial rather than dramatic. A few examples will illustrate the technique.
The long, continuous, first scene includes incidents of two plots and introduces the characters of the third plot. Here the characters who appear in two actions link the incidents like a chain. Lincoln and Otley talk; Lacy and his cousin Askew join the discussion; the first two depart, and in a short while the Eyre group enters to talk to Lacy and Askew; finally these two leave and the Eyre group remains to bid farewell to Rafe.
Another scene, III.iii, employs a different technique. The party given by Otley is ostensibly to honor Simon Eyre as Sheriff, and as such contributes to Eyre's plot. But Eyre's contribution to the celebration, the dance of the shoemakers, provides the occasion for Lacy to find Rose, and for her to recognize him. One incident, then, contributes to two plots.
A final example of scenes with two actions is V.ii, in which yet another variation is employed. Here, the two actions are not simultaneous, but successive and parallel. The wedding party, consisting of Hammond and the masked Jane, is accosted by Rafe and the shoemakers. After the debate the "attackers" are triumphant and Hammon leaves the field, and the "new" couple, Rafe and Jane, remain. At this point another group of "attackers" arrives, Lincoln, Otley, and their supporters, who think the couple to be Rose and Lacy. After a short parody of the first discussion the couple is unmasked and these "attackers" are in a sense repulsed.
The cohesive devices discussed thus far might be subject to criticism because most of them are just that--devices. They display a high degree of skill in plotting, in manipulation of several intrigues, but they remain within the limited realm of technique. Unless a reason exists for uniting these apparently disparate actions the play is only an enjoyable exercise in technique. Reasons do exist, however, on a thematic level.
The Rafe-Jane story is essentially one of the triumph of love over social obstacles. The original separation is brought about by the wars with France, and although there seems to be some regulation prohibiting the impressment of a newly married man, Rafe, totally without influence or social position, is subject to the commands of those above him. That it is his position in society that forces him to serve is made quite clear in the play by the direct comparison of his plight with Lacy's solution of the same problem. Despite Lacy's promise to look after him--"Thou shalt not want, as I am a gentleman" (I.i.177)--Rafe's name appears on the casualty lists and he returns to London on crutches. Despite Simon Eyre's silent promise to care for Jane--"But gentle maister and my louing dame, / As you haue alwaies beene a friend to me, / So in my absence thinke vpon my wife" (I.i.199-201)--she is cast out of Eyre's household. Contrasted to the real pain they suffer are the more traditional romantic difficulties of Rose and Lacy, to whom they are linked by the simultaneously sympathetic and affluent Hammon. Jane, believing Rafe to be dead, is in no position to deny the urgings of Hammon. To refuse would be folly. Hammon specifically acknowledges their difference of position; "Thy wealth I know is little, my desires / Thirst not for gold" (III.iv.53-4), he says to Jane. Later he attempts to buy her from Rafe. But with the aid of the shoemakers Rafe overcomes these obstacles, and Jane, given a choice between the two men, states her feelings in very specific terms, "Thou art my husband and these humble weedes / Makes thee more beautiful than all his wealth" (V.ii.55-6).
Although Lacy serves as a social contrast to Rafe, he too has problems which stem from differences in social rank. Lincoln and Otley, again and again, state their objections in these terms. Lincoln is most to the point in the last scene of the play when he objects to the King, "Her bloud is too too base" (V.v.101-02). Otley is at once more ambiguous and more realistic. To Lincoln he says, "Too meane is my poore girle for his high birth" (I.i.11), but to Eyre he reveals a prejudice against courtiers and a preference for the moneyed middle class--"There came of late, / A proper Gentleman of faire reuenewes, / Whom gladly I would call sonne in law" (III.iii.32-4). Clearly, to be of the working class is not enough, for when he is told that Rose has eloped he responds, "A fleming butter boxe, a shoomaker / Will she forget her birth? Requite my care / With such ingratitude?" (IV.iv.42-4). But the two young people do succeed in marrying, and the King speaks the central idea of this action, "Dost thou not know, that loue repects no bloud? / Cares not for difference of birth or state" (V.v.104-05).
This theme is a sub-division of the theme of the play as a whole. It is not only love that does not respect birth or state, but also success in general. Achievement, promotion, advancement of all kinds are pictured in the play. For several of the characters in the play Simon Eyre is instrumental to success. At one point, when Dame Eyre herself scolds the journeymen, Simon reminds her, "haue not I tane you from selling tripes in Eastcheape, and set you in my shop, and made you haile fellowe with Simon Eyre, the shoomaker?" (II.iii.60-2). Her reactions to success become a matter for satire. When Eyre sets out to buy the ship's cargo she has a premonition, "I do feele honour creepe vpon me, and which is more, a certaine rising in my flesh, but let that passe" (II.iii.133-35). And when Eyre becomes Sheriff her first concern is for suitable clothes--new shoes, farthingales, French hoods and periwigs. She takes on airs, asking Hans, "Hans pray thee tie my shooe" (III.ii.25), and passing out three penny gratuities to the workmen.
The shoemakers, too, rise up the social scale; Hodge takes over Eyre's shop and Firk becomes foreman. Eyre tells them that opportunity is open to all, that "you shall liue to be Sheriues of London" (III.ii.137-38). They take his counsel to heart, and after the celebration at Otley's home Hodge spurs his workmen with, "plie your worke to day, we loytred yesterday, to it pell mel, that we may liue to be Lord Maiors, or Aldermen at least" (IV.i.2-4).
Simon Eyre is, of course, the central example of the opportunities for success. As he rises from shoemaker to Alderman, rich man, Sheriff, and Lord Mayor he sings out his refrain "Prince am I none, yet am I princely born" on every occasion. Stoll, referring to the repeated description of "honest" Iago, says, "This various and appropriate repetition is both a simplifying and a unifying device. ..."25 Eyre's refrain performs a similar function in this play.
Although one writer, concerned perhaps by the lack of complication in the Eyre action, maintains that the "main plot has to do with the love of young Lacy and the mayor's daughter",26 most critics consider the Eyre action to be central in the play.27 Some have gone to far as to suggest that the other plots were added for mere variety's sake28 or to strengthen an otherwise weak story. But if the Eyre action is indeed the main one, the structure of the play is not typical. Normally a play with several plots contains one plot that is obviously major and one or two others that are just as obviously subordinate to the first. To these plots the term "sub-plot" has been assigned. Sub-plots are usually physically subordinate as well. That is, less time and fewer lines are devoted to them than to the main plot. But here, the Lacy-Rose plot is developed in more detail than the Eyre plot, which in turn is not much "longer" than the action concerned with Rafe and Jane.29 While the term sub-plot could be applied to the Rafe-Jane action, it does not seem suitable for the Lacy-Rose action. More important than these quantitative arguments is the tightly interwoven effect revealed by the description and discussion in the preceding pages. The play is, as Creizenach says, one in which the actions are woven "closely and artistically together"30 They are woven so closely and are so mutually relevant that the structure is very nearly unique. The terms "main plot" and "sub-plot" just do not apply to this masterfully constructed drama.
Rather superficially, some critics have considered the play to have a number of structural weaknesses: the multiplicity of apparently diverse actions; the simplicity of forward movement of the individual actions; the lack of real complication or conflict; and the contradictory time scheme and opportune deaths of the seven aldermen.
It has been demonstrated here, however, that the individual actions are well articulated and that skillful devices have been employed to link the various actions and characters in a meaningful, coherent whole. In addition, the playwright seems to have been aware of the problems concerning the aldermen and time scheme, and has softened or disguised the problems somewhat. The other alleged weaknesses are in fact less weak than unique. Some of the structural procedures are unorthodox, outside of accepted practice, but they are both functional and highly effective in the play. Simplicity and multiplicity serve to further the basic meanings of the play--the exciting opportunities that were open to all irrespective of rank in this buoyant view of Elizabethan society. The result is a play that Fluch�re properly calls "la com�die la plus entra�nante de cette �poque. ..."31
1A Transcript of the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London; 1554-1640 A.D., ed. Edward Arber (London, 1876), III, 29.
2Wilfrid J. Halliday (ed.), Deloney's Gentle Craft (Oxford, 1928), p. 7. This work is bound with separate pagination after Dekker's Shoemaker's Holiday, ed. J. R. Sutherland (Oxford, 1928).
3Although the two scenes (I.iii and I.iv) are separated in Bowers' edition, the effect in the theatre would be one of conjunction. Lacy says "Here in Towerstreete, with Ayre the shooe-maker, / Meane I a while to worke. ..." (I.iii.19-20). Four lines later he exits, and the stage is indeed empty, but Eyre immediately enters from his shop. The action, therefore, is continuous. Thirty-five lines later Lacy enters and is subsequently hired.
4Once more two separate scenes (IV.iii and IV.iv) are indicated by Bowers, although the action is continuous. Otley leaves the "room" to go to receive Lincoln; Rose and Lacy decide and then run off; and Otley and Lincoln re-enter.
5Madeleine Doran, Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan Drama (Madison, 1954), p. 259.
6Ibid., p. 260.
7Andrew Cecil Bradley, Shakespearean Tragedy (New York, 1949), p. 51.
8Gustav Freytag, Technique of the Drama, trans. E. J. MacEwan (Chicago, 1904), pp. 137 and 139.
9In Deloney's narrative, for example, the lovers are reconciled to the girl's father by means of their child, the result of their secret marriage.
10William L. Halstead, "Thomas Dekker's Early Work for the Theatre" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Southern California, 1937), pp. 102-04.
11Charles Frederick Tucker Brooke, The Tudor Drama (Cambridge, Mass., 1911), p. 281.
12Alfred Harbage, Shakespeare and the Rival Traditions (New York, 1952), p. 174.
13Actually this is all that happens in the scene to serve the plot itself, but a certain amount of secondary complication is introduced that runs throughout the play. Both Eyre and his wife hesitate to hire the itinerant shoemaker, but the two journeymen insist, threatening to quit themselves if Eyre does not hire extra help. It is, perhaps, too much to suggest this as one of the earliest recorded instances of labor-management problems. The bickering between the journeymen and Dame Eyre occurs several times throughout the play as a minor conflict.
14"Critical Essay", The Later Contemporaries of Shakespeare, Vol. III of Representative English Comedies, ed. Charles Mills Gayley (New York, 1914), 6.
15Hector M. Robertson, Aspects of the Rise of Economic Individualism (Cambridge, Eng., 1933), pp. 190-191.
16Lionel Charles Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (New York, 1936), p. 237.
17Halliday, p. 65.
18Muriel C. Bradbrook, Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy (Cambridge, Eng., 1957), p. 46.
19John Mason Brown, Two on the Aisle (New York, 1938), p. 202.
20Mable Buland, The Presentation of Time in the Elizabethan Drama (= Yale Studies in English, Vol. XLIV) (New York, 1912), 163.
21Elizabethan Plays (Boston, 1933), p. 632.
22John B. Moore, The Comic and the Realistic in English Drama (Chicago, 1925), p. 179.
23Muriel Clara Bradbrook, "Shakespeare and the Use of Disguise", Essays in Criticism, II (April, 1952), 162.
24Rival Traditions, p. 175.
25Elmer Edgar Stoll, Shakespeare and Other Masters (Cambridge, Mass., 1940), p. 45.
26Benjamin Brawley, A Short History of the English Drama (New York, 1921), p. 103.
27Cf. Jones-Davies, I, 128; and Charles Frederick Tucker Brooke and Nathaniel Burton Paradise (eds.), English Drama, 1580-1642 (New York, 1933), p. 264.
28Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert Hamilton Ball, A Short View of Elizabethan Drama (New York, 1943), p. 108.
29Gayley, p. 6.
30Wilhelm Creizenach, The English Drama in the Age of Shakespeare, trans. Cecile Hugon (Philadelphia, 1916), p. 256.
31Henri Fluch�re, "Thomas Dekker et le Drame Bourgeois", Cahiers du Sud, XX (June, 1933), 195.
James H. Conover, "The Shoemakers' Holiday, or the Gentle Craft," in Thomas Dekker: An Analysis of Dramatic Structure, Mouton, 1969, pp. 18-50.