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THOMAS DEKKER'S TWELFTH NIGHT ARTHUR F. KINNEY The Shoemakers' Holiday is a festival of equivocation.' The play rests securely in ambiguity by pledging itself to ritual, first celebrating the disruption of order and process commOn to the saturnalia2 and then reconfirming tradition with the announcement of nuptials. Emphasis falls not on character or situation, but on occasion. To admit this is not simply to reconcile ourselves to the contagious vitality indicated in the title, but to respond as well in terms which fully acknowledge the radical oppositions in Dekker's own society: the play evokes the old order of mediaeval guilds while simultaneously paying homage to the competitive explorer and merchant, admires aristocracy while avouching democracy. The play refuses to take the Single point of view either of courtly conduct or of the routine workaday world of shoemaking. Rather, it gathers up antitheses and accommodates contrast: Simon Eyre's repeated exercise in equivocation , 'Prince am I none, yet I am princely born: is properly choric. Acknowledgement of equivocation and ambiguity is demanded throughout the play, which, observed literally, everywhere refuses to square with itself. Dekker praises order and gives us chaos. Sir Roger Otley says of his daughter that she is too low-born to be matched to the Earl of Lincoln's nephew Lacy, yet our sympathies are enlisted for that improbable match and the play aligns our position with that of the lovers. Simon Eyre openly ranks his men - Hodge the foreman, Firke the journeyman, Hans the apprenticeS - yet we know from the outset that Hans is disguised nobility and that Simon's ordeting really inverts the fact. Such occurrences are not misleading. Life, this play repeatedly tells us, is often a yoking together of opposites. What else can we make, after all, of an honest shoemaker when he dons the robes of an alderman and so seizes on treasure through deceit and hypocrisy? How are we to judge a Simple girl like Jane who talks in poetry at times indistinguishable from that of her betters, Rose and Lacy? What are we to think of a young gentleman turned draft dodger, of a Lord Mayor who slaps the King on the back as if he were an old college chum? Dekker's play mirrors such fantastic configurations by choosing to praise Volume XLI, Number 1, A1Itumn 1971 both hierarchy and mutability simultaneously, by placing traditional order and obedience alongside social and economic mobility. A direct confrontation with this play cannot put these juxtapositions aside. Nor need we, for with Dekker such disparate elements are brought to cohere in the singulatity of vision afforded by Elizabethan holiday, itself double-edged, advancing folly in order to exorcise it, permitting a Lord of Misrule the better to avow tradition. The play becomes indistinguishable from the occasion it advertises and so through its performance accommodates the kaleidoscopic nature of life, culminating finally in the still centre where passion and reason are themselves advanced, but made one and inseparable . To be reminded of the Lord of Misrule and the Christmas festival over which he reigned helps us to understand the role of Simon Eyre. He transforms himself from Lord Mayor to the traditional Lord of Misrule most clearly when he acts as host and ruler with the King himself at the opening of V.v. This makes especially fitting the performance for the Queen on 1 January 1600 (New Style);' and explains in part why 'the mirth and pleasant matter' of this topsy-turvy world was 'by her Highnesse graciously accepted; being indeede no way offensiue.'" In keeping with these revels at court, The Shoemakers' Holiday is characterized by an infectious spirit, even a spirit of excess;" and it shares with such holidays multiple spectacles, divergent and parallel lines of dramatic plot, the reversal of roles (in the instances of Lacy and Rose, Simon and the King), the songs and morris dance that Simon calls for, and the magnificent banquet towards which the play constantly leads us, and in which it captures most clearly its central and motivating spirit. Prefatory to this, Dekker signals the spirit of holiday in constant allusion: we find references to May Day ('0 the month of Maie...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 63-73
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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