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1 COMPABATIVE ? ama Volume 32Fall 1998Number 3 Feasting on Eyre: Community, Consumption, and Communion in The Shoemaker's Holiday Stephen Maynard The rich man who shows his wealth by spending recklessly is the man who wins prestige. The principles of rivalry and antagonism are basic.1 What is honour? A word. What is in that word honour? What is that honour? Air.2 I am not this piece of flesh (though perhaps Falstaff was his); I am not in this flesh (though perhaps Christ was in his, but then his body was also bread); nor am I flesh and blood (though somebody else is); nor am I flesh of my flesh (though I hope somebody is). I am flesh.' This essay offers an interpretation of Dekker's The Shoemaker 's Holiday through the analogy ofthe potlatch ceremony of the societies of the Pacific Northwest Coast of America. In reading Dekker's play through the lens ofthe potlatch I obviously do not assert a direct connection. My claim is rather that the tensions and intentions that are apparent on or near the surface ofthe potlatch help us to recognize the presence of similar tensions and in327 328Comparative Drama tentions more deeply buried within the social relationships represented in Dekker's play.4 The insight provided by ethnographic studies of what is at stake in the extravagant disposal of personal wealth helps us towards a richer understanding of some of the central themes of The Shoemaker 's Holiday: the nature of community, the antagonisms and hostilities that the establishment of community must necessarily contain, and the analogy between our communal relations and our relations towards our own and others' bodies. Despite the warnings of critics like D. J. Palmer that the "documentary value" of The Shoemaker's Holiday "is slight compared with its dramatic interest as a comedy," most readers are likely to agree with David Scott Kastan in finding the play exemplary of "the increasingly complex social and economic organization of pre-industrialized England."5 For Kastan, as for several other commentators, the play dramatizes the "tensions produced by the social realignments of the late sixteenth-century ."6 Kastan finds that these tensions are relaxed, however, through the play's representation of "an almost irresistible image of social unity" under the power of which "[h]istory is turned into holiday, its tensions refused rather than refuted, recast into ameliorative fantasy."7 Kastan's argument, its implication that interpretation ofthe play needs to "resist" Dekker's representation of community, is flawed by the sources of its strengths. It is not because his reading insists on the seriousness ofDekker's comedy but because he thereby takes weight away from its ludic elements —he stresses the seriousness of its seriosity but neglects the gravity of its comedy—that Kastan's account finally fails to do justice to the full complexity of Dekker's play. As Marta Straznicky notes, Kastan's is representative of an approach that "view[s] the play's holiday as a simple generic trick," its ending as "nothing more than the properly triumphant conclusion to economic discord."8 On the contrary, she argues that rather than serving to relax tensions, the end of the play "purposely conserves a state of discord" so that "the end or resolution of discord in The Shoemaker 's Holiday may embody rather than eliminate the conflicts that shape the play."9 My reading of The Shoemaker 's Holiday lies in between the contradictory positions represented in the interpretations of Palmer and Kastan and in certain ways close to the declared "materialism " of Straznicky's account—although my interpretation sees the play's materialism at the service of its more spiritual concerns .10 Any play whose subject is the dealings between mer- Stephen Maynard329 chants and aristocrats in late sixteenth-century London must necessarily tell us something about the social conditions of the period. But, like Straznicky, I do not agree with Kastan's conclusion that while Dekker is aware of the tensions inevitable in such subject matter, his play transcends them by transforming history into holiday. As Straznicky points out, one of the problems of such an argument is that it does not take account of...


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