Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Moving with Marlowe (& Co.): Relocation, Appropriation, and Personation in Thomas Dekker's the Shoemaker's Holiday

Academic journal article Marlowe Studies

Moving with Marlowe (& Co.): Relocation, Appropriation, and Personation in Thomas Dekker's the Shoemaker's Holiday

Article excerpt

Nostalgia advertising, teasing out that "yearning for yesterday," becomes particularly potent and prominent at "transitional times" such as the end of a century: "a time of cultural anxiety" when "there is a perceived discontinuity between the centuries, the old one metaphorically dying, the new one still on the horizon. Therefore the public may look towards the less threatening and comfortable past rather than face the present or future."1 Conditioned correctly, nostalgia marketing places lucrative emphasis upon past successes and provokes emotive feelings of comfort, safety, and assurance. Public appetite for the new and exciting can be trumped by products that offer safety and protection, rooted in familiarities of old. At the close of the sixteenth century, the Admiral's Men faced ominous market threats in the form of a new rival theater on their doorstep, and the heady prospect of leaving their Bankside residence at the Rose to finally assume their new playing venue: the Fortune at Golding Lane, Cripplegate. Since the Privy Council installed the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Carey, and his son-in-law the Lord Admiral, Charles Howard, as aristocratic protectors to a new duopoly of playing companies, formed from the remnants of the Queen's Men in May 1594, professional acting in London had undergone a remarkable metamorphosis.2 The troupes were allotted fixed playhouses, and with no plague stoppages since 1596, this represented an unprecedented period of stability, with both companies entirely absent from provincial touring records between 1598 and 1600. The nature of playing was changing from a model of occasional fixed performance and regular touring beyond the capital to a setded and localized dramaturgy, for which plays were being designed for specific playing venues and familiar audiences.

Moving venues was, however, a complicated business. And Philip Henslowe and Edward Alleyn's plan to vacate the Rose was met with stern opposition from local magistrates resistant to the idea of a theater opening for business within dieir precincts. S. P. Cerasano and Andrew Gurr agree that Henslowe and Alleyn had been planning the Fortune's move from as early as 1597.3 But despite Alleyn signing the Fortune site lease on December 22, 1599, Middlesex justices continued to oppose and contest the new theater's construction up until April 1600-when the Lord Admiral himself forced the move through with his monarch's decisive backing: Elizabeth I "having been well pleased heretofore at tymes of recreación with the sevices of Edward Alleyn and his Companie."4

One of the plays that had most recently been staged for Elizabeth's entertainment was Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday (c. 1600), which (according to its title page) saw in the "New-yeares day at night" celebrations at court. Given that the Admiral's Men sold the playscript less than a year after its court performance at a time that coincided with their movement to the Fortune, it seems reasonable to ponder why a play held in high enough regard to entertain the Queen at the cusp of 1600 might have been surplus to requirements at the new playing venue.5 As far as we know, The Shoemaker's Holiday was not written specifically for court performance (unlike Dekker's apparent rewriting of Old Fortunatus [1599] that year).6 But its prologue, which was written for court, couples its fawning praise of Elizabeth with two disclaimers of the play: "being indeed no way offensive" and that "nothing is purposed but mirth."7 Preempting potential offence twice in twenty lines is suggestive that the text could offend someone at court, wherein the patrons of both London companies (including Henslowe and Alleyn) and Edmund Tilney, Master of the Revels, would presumably have been in attendance. Whilst the Admiral's company prepared to move playhouse, playwrights like Dekker were carving out their own theatrical reputations and targeting London audiences in revealing ways.

This paper argues that reading Dekker's play against its immediate commercial-theatrical contexts reveals important details of its acting troupe's market identity, and the varying pressures of influence and competition being experienced by its playwrights. …

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