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 sub-genre 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.


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. Rowland 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, Rafe, 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. Rafe 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 Rafe, but Rafe 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.

In performance[edit]


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.