Thomas Dekker (writer)

Thomas Dekker (c. 1572 – August 25 1632) was an Elizabethan dramatist and pamphleteer, a versatile and prolific writer whose career spanned several decades and brought him into contact with many of the period's most famous dramatists. He claimed credit for having written 240 plays.

Life

Little is known of Dekker's early life or origins. From references in his pamphlets, Dekker is believed to have been born in London around 1572, but nothing is known for certain about his youth. His last name suggests Dutch ancestry, and his work, some of which is translated from Latin, suggests that he attended grammar school.

Dekker embarked on a career as a theatre writer in the middle 1590s. His handwriting is found in the manuscript of "Sir Thomas More", though the date of his involvement is undetermined. More certain is his work as a playwright for the Admiral's Men of Philip Henslowe, in whose account book he is first mentioned in early 1598. While there are plays connected with his name performed as early as 1594, it is not clear that he was the original author; his work often involved revision and updating. Between 1598 and 1602, he was involved in about forty plays for Henslowe, usually in collaboration. To these years belong the collaborations with Ben Jonson and John Marston which presumably contributed to the War of the Theatres in 1600 and 1601. Francis Meres includes Dekker in his list of notable playwrights in 1598.

For Jonson, however, Dekker was bumbling hack, a "dresser of plays about town"; Jonson lampooned Dekker as Demetrius Fannius in "Poetaster" and as Anaides in "Cynthia's Revels". Dekker's riposte, "Satiromastix", performed both by the Lord Chamberlain's Men and the child actors of Paul's, casts Jonson as an affected, hypocritical Horace.

"Satiromastix" marks the end of the "poetomachia"; in 1603, Jonson and Dekker collaborated again, on a pageant for the Royal Entry, delayed from the coronation of James I, for which Dekker also wrote the festival book [http://special-1.bl.uk/treasures/festivalbooks/BookDetails.aspx?strFest=0238 "The Magnificent Entertainment"] . After this commission, however, the early Jacobean period was notably mixed for the author. In late 1602, he appears to have broken his association with Henslowe, for unknown reasons. He wrote for Worcester's Men for a time, then returned to the Admiral's Men (now patronized by Prince Henry) to produce "The Honest Whore", an apparent success. But the failures of "The Whore of Babylon" (1607) and "If This Be Not a Good Play, the Devil is in It" (1611) left him crestfallen; the latter play was rejected by Prince Henry's Men before failing for Queen Anne's Men at the Red Bull Theatre.

In 1612, Dekker's lifelong problem with debt (he had earlier, 1599, been imprisoned in Poultry Compter) reached a crisis when he was imprisoned in the King's Bench Prison on a debt of forty pounds to the father of John Webster. He remained there for seven years, and despite the support of associates such as Edward Alleyn and Endymion Porter, these years were difficult; Dekker reports that the experience turned his hair white. He continued as pamphleteer throughout his years in prison.

On release, he resumed writing plays, now with collaborators both from his generation (John Day and John Webster) and slightly younger writers (John Ford and Philip Massinger). Among these plays is one, "Keep the Widow Waking" (1624, with Ford, Webster, and William Rowley), dramatized two recent murders in Whitechapel. In the latter half of the decade, Dekker turned once more to pamphlet-writing, revamping old work and writing a new preface to his most popular tract, "The Bellman of London".

Dekker published no more work after 1632, and he is usually associated with the "Thomas Dekker, householder" who was buried at St. James's in Clerkenwell that year.

Work

Drama

When Dekker began writing plays, Thomas Nashe and Thomas Lodge were still alive; when he died, John Dryden had already been born. Like most dramatists of the period he adapted as well as he could to changing tastes; however, even his work in the fashionable Jacobean genres of satire and tragicomedy bears the marks of his Elizabethan training: its humor is genial, its action romantic. The majority of his surviving plays are comedies or tragicomedies.

Most of Dekker's work is lost. His apparently disordered life, and his lack of a firm connection (such as Shakespeare or Fletcher had) with a single company may have militated against the preservation or publication of manuscripts. Close to twenty of his plays were published during his lifetime; of these, more than half are comedies, with three significant tragedies, "Lust's Dominion" (presumably identical to "The Spanish Moor's Tragedy", written with Day, Marston, and William Haughton, 1600) "The Witch of Edmonton" (with Ford and Rowley, 1621), and "The Virgin Martyr" (with Massinger, 1620).

The first phase of Dekker's career is documented in Henslowe's diary. His name appears for the first time in connection with "fayeton" (presumably, Phaeton) in 1598. There follow, before 1599, payments for work on "The Triplicity of Cuckolds", "The Mad Man's Morris", and "Hannibal and Hermes". He worked on these plays with Robert Wilson, Henry Chettle, and Michael Drayton. With Drayton, he also worked on history plays on the French civil wars, Earl Godwin, and others. In 1599, he wrote plays on Troilus and Cressida, Agamemnon (with Chettle), and "The Page of Plymouth". In that year, also, he collaborated with Chettle, Jonson, and Marston on a play about Robert II. 1599 also saw the production of three plays that have survived. It was during this year that he produced his most famous work, "The Shoemaker's Holiday, or the Gentle Craft", categorised by modern critics as citizen comedy. This play reflects his concerns with the daily lives of ordinary Londoners. This play exemplifies his intermingling of everyday subjects with the fantastical, embodied in this case by the rise of a craftsman to Mayor and the involvement of an unnamed but idealised king in the concluding banquet. "Old Fortunatus" and "Patient Grissel", the latter on the folkloric theme treated by Chaucer in The Clerk's Tale. In 1600, he worked on "The Seven Wise Masters", "Fortune's Tennis", "Cupid and Psyche", and "Fair Constance of Rome". The next year, in addition to "Satiromastix", he worked on a play possibly about Sebastian of Portugal and "Blurt, Master Constable", on which he may have worked with Thomas Middleton. In 1602 he revised two older plays, "Pontius Pilate" (1597) and the second part of "Sir John Oldcastle". He also collaborated on "Caesar's Fall", "Jephthah", "A Medicine for a Curst Wife", "Sir Thomas Wyatt" (on Wyatt's rebellion), and "Christmas Comes But Once a Year".

Except for "Blurt", which was performed by the Blackfriars Children, the earlier of these works were performed at the Admiral's Fortune Theatre. After 1602, Dekker split his attention between pamphlets and plays; thus, his dramatic output decreased considerably. He and Middleton wrote "The Honest Whore" for the Fortune in 1604, and Dekker wrote a sequel himself the following year. The Middleton/Dekker collaboration "The Family of Love" also dates from this general era. Dekker and Webster wrote "Westward Ho" and "Northward Ho" for Paul's Boys. The failures of the anti-Catholic "Whore of Babylon" and tragicomic "If This Be Not..." have already been noted. "The Roaring Girl", a fanciful biography of Mary Frith, was a collaboration with Middleton in 1611. In the same year, he also wrote another tragicomedy called "Match Me in London".

During his imprisonment, Dekker did not write plays. After his release, he collaborated with Day on "Guy of Warwick" (1620), "The Noble Spanish Soldier"(1922), "The Wonder of a Kingdom" (1623), and "The Bellman of Paris" (1623). With Ford, he wrote "The Sun's Darling" (1624), "The Fairy Knight" (1624), and "The Bristow Merchant" (1624). "The Welsh Ambassador" (1923) reworked material from the tragicomedy "The Noble Spanish Soldier", into a comedic form. "The Late Murder of the Son upon the Mother, or Keep the Widow Waking", a dramatization of two recent murders in Whitechapel, occasioned a suit for slander heard in the Star Chamber.

Dekker's plays of the 1620s were staged at the large amphitheaters on the north side of London, most commonly at the Red Bull; only two of his later plays were seen at the more exclusive, indoor Cockpit Theatre, and these two were presumably produced by Christopher Beeston, who operated both the Red Bull and the Cockpit. By the 1620s, the Shoreditch amphitheaters had become deeply identified with the louder and less reputable categories of play-goers, such as apprentices. Dekker's type of play appears to have suited them perfectly. Full of bold action, careless about generic differences, and always (in the end) complimentary to the values and beliefs of such audiences, his drama carried some of the vigorous optimism of Elizabethan dramaturgy into the Caroline era.

Prose

He exhibited a similar vigour in his pamphlets, which span almost his whole writing career, and which treat a great variety of subjects and styles.

Dekker's first spate of pamphleteering began in 1603, perhaps during a period when plague had closed the theaters. His first was "The Wonderful Year", a journalistic account of the death of Elizabeth, accession of James I, and the 1603 plague, that combined a wide variety of literary genres in an attempt to convey the extraordinary events of that year ('wonderful' meaning astonishing, not excellent). It succeeded well enough to prompt two more plague pamphlets, "News From Gravesend" and "The Meeting of Gallants at an Ordinary". "The Double PP" (1606) is an anti-Catholic tract written in response to the Gunpowder Plot. "News From Hell" (1606) is an homage to and continuation of Nash's "Pierce Penniless". "The Seven Deadly Sins of London" (1607) is another plague pamphlet.

After 1608, Dekker produced his most popular pamphlets: a series of "cony-catching" pamphlets that described the various tricks and deceits of confidence-men and thieves, including thieves' cant. These pamphlets, which Dekker often updated and reissued, include "The Belman of London" (1608), "Lanthorne and Candle-light", "Villainies Discovered by Candlelight", and "English Villainies". They owe their form and many of their incidents to similar pamphlets by Robert Greene.

Other pamphlets are journalistic in form and offer vivid pictures of Jacobean London. "The Dead Term" (1608) describes Westminster during summer vacation. "The Guls Horne-Booke" (1609) describes the life of city gallants, including a valuable account of behaviour in the London theatres. "Work for Armourers" (1609) and "The Artillery Garden" (1616) (the latter in verse) describe aspects of England's military industries. "London Look Back" (1630) treats 1625, the year of James's death, while "Wars, Wars, Wars" (1628) describes European turmoil.

As might be expected, Dekker turned his experience in prison to profitable account. "Dekker His Dreame" (1620) is a long poem describing his despairing confinement; he contributed six prison-based sketches to the sixth edition (1616) of Sir Thomas Overbury's "Characters"; and he revised "Lanthorne and Candlelight" to reflect what he had learned in prison.

Dekker's pamphlets, even more than his plays, reveal signs of hasty and careless composition. Yet the best of them can still entertain, and almost all of them offer valuably precise depictions of everyday life in the Jacobean period.

Dekker came back into scene in the 20th century (although almost unnoticeably) when the Beatles included the lyrics of his ballad "Golden Slumbers" in their 1969 song of the same title.

References

*Bowers, F. – ‘The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker’, In 4 Volumes – Cambridge University Press – 1961
*Chapman, L.S. – ‘Thomas Dekker and the Traditions of the English Drama’ – Lang – 1985
*Gasper, J. – ‘The Dragon and the Dove: The Plays of Thomas Dekker’ – Oxford: Clarendon – 1990.
*Gregg, Kate. "Thomas Dekker: A Study in Economic and Social Backgrounds". Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1924.
*Hunt, Mary. "Thomas Dekker: A Study". New York: Columbia University Press, 1911.
*McLuskie, Kathleen. "Dekker and Heywood: Professional Dramatists". New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.
*Wilson, F. P, editor. "The Plague Pamphlets of Thomas Dekker". Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925.

External links

*
* [http://www.pricejb.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/Nobel%20Spanish%20Soldier/CONTENTS.htm "The Noble Spanish Soldier"]
* online text of "The Wonderful Year" (1603) http://www.uoregon.edu/~rbear/yeare.html


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Thomas Dekker — is the name of:*Thomas Dekker (writer) (1572 ndash;1632), Elizabethan poet and dramatist *Thomas Dekker (actor) (born 1987), American film and television actor and a musician *Thomas Dekker (cyclist) (born 1984), Dutch road racing cyclist …   Wikipedia

  • Thomas Dekker (actor) — Infobox actor name = Thomas Dekker imagesize = caption = birthname = Thomas Alexander Dekker birthdate = birth date and age|1987|12|28 birthplace = Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. yearsactive = 1993 present deathdate = deathplace = othername = website …   Wikipedia

  • Dekker — can refer to: People Albert Dekker (1905 – 1968), American actor and politician Desmond Dekker (1941 – 2006), Jamaican singer Eduard Douwes Dekker (1820 – 1887), Dutch writer; also known as Multatuli Ernest Douwes Dekker (1879 – 1950), Dutch… …   Wikipedia

  • Thomas Middleton — (1580 ndash; 1627) was an English Jacobean playwright and poet. Middleton stands with John Fletcher and Ben Jonson as among the most successful and prolific of playwrights who wrote their best plays during the Jacobean period. He was one of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Dekker, Thomas — (?1570 1632)    Little is known about Dekkers s life, other than he lived in London and by 1598 he was writing for the Admiral s Men, an acting company. He and Ben Jonson were antagonists in what became known as the war of the poets or the war of …   British and Irish poets

  • Thomas Nashe — Nashe redirects here. For the radio station, see Nashe Radio. For those of a similar name, see Thomas Nash (disambiguation). Thomas Nashe (November 1567 – c. 1601) was an English Elizabethan pamphleteer, playwright, poet and satirist. He was the… …   Wikipedia

  • Dekker, Thomas — ▪ English dramatist born c. 1572, London, Eng. died c. 1632       English dramatist and writer of prose pamphlets who is particularly known for his lively depictions of London life.       Few facts of Dekker s life are certain. He may have been… …   Universalium

  • Dekker, Thomas — (1570? 1641?)    Dramatist and miscellaneous writer, was b. in London. Few details of D. s life have come down to us, though he was a well known writer in his day, and is believed to have written or contributed to over 20 dramas. He collaborated… …   Short biographical dictionary of English literature

  • Overbury, Sir Thomas — ▪ English author baptized June 18, 1581, Compton Scorpion, Warwickshire, England died September 15, 1613, London  English poet and essayist, victim of an infamous intrigue at the court of James I. His poem A Wife, thought by some to have played a …   Universalium

  • Deloney, Thomas — ▪ English writer born 1543?, Norwich?, Eng. died 1600       writer of ballads, pamphlets, and prose stories that form the earliest English popular fiction.       By trade a silk weaver, probably of Norwich, Deloney wrote topical ballads and,… …   Universalium


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.