The Shoemaker's Holiday

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The Shoemakers' Holiday, or the Gentle Craft is an Elizabethan play written by Thomas Dekker. It was first performed in 1599 by the Admiral's Men. It falls into the subgenre of city comedy. It contains the poem The Merry Month of May.

The play was first published in 1600 by the printer Valentine Simmes. The first edition prefaces the play with an "Epistle to the Professors of the Gentle Craft," and the Prologue spoken before Queen Elizabeth when the play was acted at Court. (The Admiral's Men performed at Court on 1 January 1600; this was probably the date of the performance of The Shoemaker's Holiday).

Philip Henslowe's Diary records a payment of £3 to "Thomas Dickers" for the play; since this is at most half of Henslowe's usual fee for a play, one or more other payments, not recorded in the Diary, are likely. Dekker based his play on a prose tract titled The Gentle Craft by Thomas Deloney, printed in 1598.

Plot[edit]

Aristocrat Rowland Lacy falls in love with middle class girl Rose Oatley, but Rose's father and Lacy's uncle refuse to approve the match because of the class difference and Rowland's spendthrift lifestyle. Lacy is told to redeem himself by joining the army fighting in France. To avoid going, he persuades someone else to take his place and disguises himself as a "Dutch" shoemaker, Hans. He becomes an apprentice of eccentric but hard-working tradesman Simon Eyre and uses this position to be able to find Rose again and secretly marry her.

Meanwhile, another shoemaker, Ralph, is sent off to war to the great dismay of his wife, Jane. While he is away, Hammon, a gentleman, falls in love with Jane and attempts to woo her. She is not interested, but once shown a false document that says her husband is dead, she agrees that if she ever marries again, she will marry Hammon. Ralph later returns from the war, with his legs having been amputated. He is further distraught when he cannot find his wife and later suspects (based on the appearance of her shoe that he once made for her) that she has agreed to marry someone else. He locates her, and when given the choice, Jane returns to her husband. Hammon attempts to buy her from Ralph, but Ralph refuses.

Later in the play, Simon Eyre is made, first, Sheriff, and then Lord Mayor of London. He decides to create a special holiday to honour apprentices. The King comes to see him. He finds his mannerisms strange, but enjoys his company. The play ends with the King defending Rose and Rowland's marriage to Rose's father and Lacy's uncle, and knighting Rowland so that Rose may be a lady and their social classes may be more appropriately matched. He does this while claiming that love goes beyond social class.

Synopsis[edit]

Act I[edit]

Scene 1: A Street in London

There is no love lost between Sir Hugh Lacy (Earl of Lincoln, hereafter Lincoln) and Sir Roger Oateley (Lord Mayor of London, hereafter L. Mayor), but they civilly discuss what to do about their dependents, Rowland Lacy (hereafter Lacy) and Rose, who are in love. They agree that it would not be seemly for the aristocratic Lacy to marry down, nor financially prudent for a middle-class Oateley to marry up. Lincoln is pleased that the King has ordered Lacy to lead an army that will soon leave for the wars in France, which will resolve the problem.

Lacy arrives and the L. Mayor leaves. Lincoln tells Lacy to forsake Rose and do honour to the family name in the wars. Lacy agrees and Lincoln leaves.

Lacy asks his cousin, Askew, to go on ahead to France without him as he has business in London. Askew agrees, but then the two are interrupted by a band of rowdy shoemakers led by Simon Eyre. Eyre and his men beg Lacy to allow Ralph, Eyre’s youngest apprentice and a newly conscripted soldier, to be allowed to stay in London with his wife, Jane. Lacy refuses. Eyre’s men see that Lacy cannot be convinced, so instead encourage Ralph to go and fight bravely. Ralph gifts Jane a special pair of shoes and then leaves for war.

Act II[edit]

Scene 1: A Garden at Old Ford

Rose, in the garden of her father’s country house, dreams of her absent love, Lacy. Rose’s boisterous maid, Sybil, arrives with news from London. She has seen Lacy dressed up in a humorous costume. Rose asks Sybil to return to London and find out if Lacy really is bound for France, promising the maid expensive clothes as a reward. Sybil goes.

Scene 2: A Street in London

Lacy soliloquizes about his plan to seek a job as a shoemaker so he can remain in London and see Rose.

Scene 3: An open Yard before Eyre’s House

Eyre wakes his apprentices and wife and opens his shop. Lacy, in his disguise as a Dutch shoemaker, passes by the shop singing a Dutch song. Firk, Eyre’s apprentice, begs his master to employ the Dutchman. Eyre refuses, but Firk and Hodge, the foreman, vow to quit their jobs unless the Dutchman joins them. Eyre relents and employs Lacy, who introduces himself as Hans and speaks in cod-Dutch, much to Firk’s amusement. ‘Hans’ buys a round of beer and the shoemakers begin their day’s work.

Scene 4: A Field near Old Ford

Master Hammon and Master Warner, a pair of dandies, hunt a deer near to the Lord Mayor’s country house. A boy arrives and tells the men that the deer has got away.

Scene 5: Another part of the Field

Sybil tells Rose about how she helped kill a deer that found its way into the barn. Hammon and Warner arrive, looking for the deer. The women say they have not seen it, and amuse themselves by flirting with the men. Hammon, thinking the flirtation genuine, thinks he has found a wife in Rose. The Lord Mayor arrives and bids the hunters welcome. In a soliloquy he reveals that he intends to marry Hammon to Rose.

Act III[edit]

Scene 1: A Room in Eyre’s House

‘Hans’ negotiates with a Dutch skipper, on behalf of Eyre, for the purchase of a cargo ship laden with expensive goods. Hodge explains that Eyre stands to make a lot of money when he sells on the cargo. Eyre and his wife Margery, arrive at the shoemaker’s shop and Margery lambasts the men for not working harder. When Firk and Hodge threaten to quit, Eyre scolds his wife and buys a round of beer to smooth things over.

Hodge reveals the plan to buy the cargo and Eyre, getting ahead of himself, dons a velvet coat and alderman’s gown. He goes away with the Skipper to do the deal.

Scene 2: London: a Room in Lincoln’s House

Lincoln’s servant, Dodger, returns from the French wars to reveal that Lacy was not seen there. Lincoln correctly surmises that Lacy must have stayed in England to secretly woo Rose. He pays Dodger to find Lacy.

Scene 3: London: a Room in the Lord Mayor’s House

With the Lord Mayor’s blessing Hammon attempts to court Rose. She is not forthcoming and Hammon decides he would rather pursue a shop-girl he knows. The Lord Mayor is displeased with his daughter and sends her back to their country house. Master Scott reveals to the Lord Mayor that Simon Eyre has made a lot of money on the sale of the Dutch cargo. The Lord Mayor promises to do business with Eyre.

Dodger, Lincoln’s servant, arrives and asks the Lord Mayor if he knows where Lacy might be hiding. The Lord Mayor is furious to learn that Lacy might be in London, and suspects that this explains why Rose rebuffed Hammon’s advances.

Scene 4: London: a Room in Eyre’s House

Margery sends Firk to Guildhall to discover if Eyre has been made Sherriff of London, then asks ‘Hans’ and Hodge to make her a pair of high-heeled shoes to match her elevated social position. She lists other accessories (wig, fan) that she will also need, and the men tease her.

Ralph returns from the war, where he has injured his leg. The shoemakers welcome him home and commiserate with him. Ralph asks where his wife, Jane, has got to, and the rest say that she left their company but is reputed still to be London.

Scene 5: A Room at Old Ford

The Lord Mayor welcomes Eyre and Margery to his home. The Lord Mayor asks Margery to counsel Rose on her bad behaviour; Eyre does so. The shoemakers arrive and perform a morris dance. Rose instantly recognises Lacy. After the shoemakers leave, Sybil promises Rose that she will devise a plan to marry her mistress to ‘Hans’.

Act IV[edit]

Scene 1: A Street in London

Hammon spies on Jane while she works alone in a clothes shop. He attempts to woo her, but she resists saying that she is already married and her husband, Ralph, is fighting in France. Hammon reveals that he has received word Jane’s husband is dead. Jane is distraught. Hammon sympathizes, and then proposes himself as a new husband. He refuses to leave until Jane promises that if she ever remarries, it will be to Hammon.

Scene 2: London: a Street before Hodge’s Shop

Hodge exhorts Hans and Firk to work hard so that they too might prosper as Eyre has. Sybil arrives and bids ‘Hans’ to meet with Rose. The pair leave.

Scene 3: The Same

Hammon’s servant visits the shoe shop to order a pair of shoes for his master’s bride, as they will be married the next day. He shows Ralph a shoe belonging to the woman and asks him to make a pair of the same dimensions. Ralph recognises the shoe and realises that the bride is his own wife, Jane.   The servant leaves and Firk arrives. Ralph tells Firk that he believes the shoe is Jane’s. Firk doesn’t believe him, but Ralph plans to crash the wedding and take Jane back.

Scene 4: London: a Room in the Lord Mayor’s House

Sybil interrupts Lacy and Rose with news that the Lord Mayor approaches. Lacy falls back on his disguise and pretends to fit Rose with a shoe. The Lord Mayor arrives and suspects nothing. A servant brings news that Lincoln is on his way, leaving Lacy just enough time to escape.

Scene 5: Another Room in the same House

The Lord Mayor and Lincoln discuss Rose and Lacy. Sybil bursts in to reveal that Rose has eloped with a shoemaker. While the Lord Mayor demands an explanation, Firk arrives with some shoes for Rose. He reveals that Hans and Rose are at that moment preparing to sleep together and that they will be married next morning. Lincoln realises that Hans must be Lacy and pays Firk to tell him at which church Rose and ‘Hans’ will be married. Firk gives Lincoln and the Lord Mayor directions to the church where Hammon will be married to Jane.

Act V[edit]

Scene 1: A Room in Eyre’s House

Eyre, who is now the Lord Mayor, sends Rose and Lacy to be married with his blessing. Left alone, Simon soliloquizes about an impending visit from the King, who wishes to see the new market buildings Eyre has constructed. Eyre also looks forward to the holiday feast he is planning for all the shoemakers in London.

Scene 2: A Street near St. Faith’s Church

Ralph, Hodge, and Firk accost Hammon and Jane on their way to be wed. Hodge and Firk berate Jane and then reveal that their disable companion is none other than Jane’s husband, Ralph. Jane is elated and chooses to return to Ralph. Hammon attempts to pay for Jane’s hand; Ralph refuses the offer. Hammon, ashamed, exits.

Lincoln and the (former) Lord Mayor arrive to stop the wedding, thinking Jane is Rose and Ralph is Lacy in disguise. As soon as they learn their mistake, Dodger arrives with news that Rose and Lacy are married and that Eyre intends to beg the King that Lacy be pardoned for his crimes.

The church bells ring to begin the holiday and all the shoemakers rejoice.

Scene 3: A Street in London.

The King travels towards Simon Eyre’s feast. The King looks forward to meeting his new Lord Mayor.

Scene 4: A Great Hall

Eyre’s men serve a feast to the apprentices of London. Margery reports that the King is on his way. Lacy asks Eyre to beg his pardon of the King. Margery warns Eyre to speak politely to the King, and Eyre protests that he knows how to talk to important men.

Scene 5: An Open Yard before the Hall

The King meets the shoemakers and is amused by ‘Mad’ Simon Eyre’s wit. Lincoln arrives and asks for Lacy to be arrested. The King reports that he has already pardoned Lacy. Lincoln and the old Lord Mayor ask the King to annul Lacy and Rose’s marriage. The King does so, then promptly remarries them. He knights Lacy, names Eyre’s new building ‘The Leadenhall’, and grants Eyre’s request that the sale of leather at the market be permitted two days per week. Eyre invites the King to partake of his banquet. The King agrees.

In performance[edit]

References[edit]

  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. Four volumes. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923.