The Shoemaker's Holiday: Thomas Dekker
Like a Busby Berkeley depression-era musical, Dekker's comedy is a feel-good antidote to a context of shortages, political malaise and general pessimism, but real life in the shape of war, class antagonism and civic tensions, always threatens to intrude.
Shoemaker is a hilarious and festive comedy, and Dekker insists in his dedicatory epistle that in the play "nothing is proposed but mirth". In fact, as Dr. Smith highlights, the play touches on a great number of serious contemporary issues. Lacy uses his wealth to don a disguise and dodge the draft for the war in France, but Ralph is not so lucky, and loses his leg: certainly a problem for a shoemaker, to whose profession his lost foot is particularly relevant. In 1599 the war in Ireland also raged, a bitter battle against committed and popular guerrilla fighters. Food shortages at home meant the price of basic commodities such as wheat soared, and many could not afford to feed themselves. The city had exploded outward, and could not sustain its new population. Queen Elizabeth was four years away from her eventual death, and still no heir had been named and fears about succession were widespread. Londoners were paranoid about Dutch immigrants (like the one Lacy impersonates) replacing English artisans, causing unemployment for natives. Though the play is a holiday comedy, depicting the carnival of Shrove Tuesday, Dr. Smith points out that "Carnival is powerful because it's very limited in time, and after it's over you go back to a pretty grim world [...] without much sense of celebration." So Dekker's play, while funny, is much more than simple escapism.