“As Proud as a Dog in a Doublet”: The Importance of Clothing in The Shoemaker’s Holiday

  • Linda Anderson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Although Thomas Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599) is an early modern play, its source materials and setting are late medieval. It is a play that looks back to the feudal world of personal service to king and master, and to the camaraderie of working men within their craft guilds.1 The editor of the New Mermaid edition of the play notes its “… pervasive imagery of food.”2 Oddly enough, however, in a play named for an aspect of the clothing trade, and in which that trade is central to the plot, no one seems to have commented on the pervasiveness of clothing imagery. Not only shoemakmg, but all sorts of clothing is used and discussed throughout The Shoemaker’s Holiday. Clothing is used as a status marker, an identifier, and a disguise. It is both coveted and trivialized. It is the result of honest labor and used as a bribe. It is a gift and, on at least one occasion, a kind of magic. In addition, the play’s characters use clothing analogies and clothing proverbs to express a range of opinions about a variety of subjects.


Status Marker Fine Clothes Bowers Comment Modern Language Review Craft Guild 
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  1. 1.
    Patricia Thomson maintains that in The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Dekker depicts a relatively static feudal society rather than a more dynamic early modern one. Patricia Thomson, “The Old Way and the New Way in Dekker and Massinger,” Modern Language Review LI (1956): 168–78, 169. L. C. Knights suggests that Dekker inherits his morality from the Middle Ages. L. C. Knights, Drama and Society in the Age of Jonson (New York: Charles W. Stewart, n.d.), 7–8. George R. Price maintains throughout his book that Dekkers sources, models, and views on social and economic problems are all medieval.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. George R. Price, Thomas Dekker, Twayne’s English Authors Series 71 (New York: Twayne, 1969), 34–6, 51, 59, 68, 72–3, 76–7, 79, 85, 128, 131, 136, 138–9, 157. Madeleine Doran suggests that Dekkers mixture of comedy and romance with more serious matter is an inheritance from medieval drama.Google Scholar
  3. Madeleine Doran, Endeavors of Art: A Study of Form in Elizabethan Drama (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1954), 209–11.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Anthony Parr, ed., The Shoemaker’s Holiday (The New Mermaids, 2d ed. 1990; rpt. London and New York: A & C Black/WW Norton, 1994), xxi. All quotations from the play are taken from this edition. On “the feasting imagery,” see also Harold E.Toliver, “The Shoemaker’s Holiday: Theme and Image” (1961); rpt. in Shakespeare’s Contemporaries: Modern Studies in English Renaissance Drama, 2d ed , ed Max Bluestone and Norman Rabkin (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970, 184–93), 191–2.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    See Eugene P. Wright, Thomas Deloney, Twayne’s English Authors Series 323 (Boston: G. K. Hall/Twayne, 1981), 40, 51, 56, 58–9.Google Scholar
  6. 4.
    Quoted in R. G. Howarth, Two Elizabethan Writers of Fiction: Thomas Nashe and Thomas Deloney (Cape Town: University of Cape Town, 1956), 41; see also Wright 72–3. See Wright 64–5 for the importance of the clothing trade spelled out in Jack of Newbury, and Wright 76–7, 79 for its importance in Thomas of Reading Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    Wright 63, 60. For the importance of the clothing trade in England during this period, see Wright 52–3. Price notes that Simon Eyre was “historically a woolen-draper but made a shoemaker by Deloney” (51), and J. R. Sutherland enlarges on the biography of the real individual: “Eyre was an historical figure, an upholsterer and later a draper of London, who was Sheriff in 1434, Lord Mayor from 1445–6, and who died, a wealthy man, in 1459. In telling the story of Eyre’s life, Deloney, who took various liberties with the facts, boldly changed him into a shoemaker. The confusion was natural, as Eyre the draper had built a Leadenhall in 1419, which, since the fifth year of Elizabeth’s reign, had been used as a leather market.” Dekker’s Shoemaker’s Holiday (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1928), 8. Fredson Bowers, however, rejects the claim that Eyre built a Leadenhall. Fredson Bowers, ed. Cyrus Hoy, Introductions, Notes, and Commentaries to texts in “The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker,” edited by Fredson Bowers. 4 vol (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), vol. 1: 15–16; and Paul C Davies explains, “Leadenhall was in existence in the previous century. It was made over to the city in 1411 by the then Lord Mayor, Richard Whittington, and it was not until 1419 that Simon Eyre erected a public granary here, to which the old name was transferred.” Paul C. Davies, ed., The Shoemakers’ Holiday (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1968), 102 n. 146.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    In Deloney, Eyre can’t afford to buy the ship’s cargo, so he takes his wife’s advice to “disguise himself as a rich Alderman and buy the cargo on credit” (Wright 90). On the morality of Eyre’s wearing aldermanic attire and Dekker’s purpose in including this ambiguous incident, see Julia Gasper: “If we wish, we can find in this ambiguity a well-observed truth about the business world. When he is dressed in his garded gown, Simon Eyre is told by Hodge, ‘Why now you looke like your self master, I warrant you.’ If Eyre poses as an alderman, he is taken for one, and so eventually becomes a real one. You are what you can persuade people you are. Credit is credit.” Julia Gasper, The Dragon and the Dove: The Plays of Thomas Dekker, Oxford English Monographs series (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 32; see also 31. Gasper would presumably question M. C. Brad-brook’s statement that Dekker “never shows cheating tradesmen.”Google Scholar
  9. M. C. Bradbrook, The Growth and Structure of Elizabethan Comedy (London: Chatto & Windus, 1962), 122. For other examples of early modern characters using clothing to claim status that they don’t really deserve, see Robert Greene’s reference in his address “To the Curteous Reader” of The Blacke Bookes Messenger to the confidence man Ned Browne, who “was in outward shew a Gentlemanlike companion attyred very braue.”Google Scholar
  10. Robert Greene, The Blacke Bookes Messenger, ed. G. B. Harrison. Elizabethan and Jacobean Quartos (1922–1926; rpt. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1966), 2. “Ned Browne” also tells of persuading one of his acquaintances to disguise himself as a constable, by means of “a faire cloake and a Damaske coate.” Greene, Messenger, 9. Greene’s “Roberto” in his Groats-worth of Witte remarks that a player’s “outward habit” caused him to mistake the actor “for a Gentleman of great huing.” Robert Greene, Greene’s Groats-worth of Witte, bought with a million of Repentance and The Repentance of Robert Greene, ed. G. B. Harrison. The Bodley Head Quartos (London: John Lane, 1923), 33 “Cuthbert Conny-Catcher” tells of wearing livery and a cognizance and “[bearing] the port of a Gentleman,” and a marginal note states that “Some Conicatchers dare weare noblemens liueryes, as W. Bickerton and others.” “Cuthbert Conny-Catcher,” The Defence of Conny-Catching, ed. G. B. Harrison. Elizabethan and Jacobean Quartos (1922–1926; rpt. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1966), “To the Readers,” 6; see also “Conny-Catcher,” 33. “Cuthbert” also describes “a crew of terryble Hacksters in the habite of Gentlemen” (38) and a rogue who dresses his brother as a servant to allow himself to pose as a gentleman of means (42; see also 46, 48–50, and 58–60).Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    See Russ McDonald, The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents (Boston and New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1996), 234–5, 271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 11.
    As Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert Hamilton Ball point out, Margery “[rejoices] in the hood, the periwig, and the mask that mark her rise in social status; the ‘world’s calling is costly,’ she says, ‘but it is one of the wonderful works of God.’” Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert Hamilton Ball, A Short View of Elizabethan Drama, Together with Some Account of Its Principal Playwrights and the Conditions under Which It Was Produced (1943; rpt. New York: Charles Scnbner’s Sons, 1958), 109. Although their central point— Margery’s delight in her new finery—is surely correct, their quotation is not, since what Margery really says is “Fie upon it, how costly this world’s calling is! Perdie, but that it is one of the wonderful works of God, I would not deal with it” (10.49–51).Google Scholar

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© Désirée G. Koslin and Janet E. Snyder 2002

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  • Linda Anderson

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