Thomas Dekker
Thomas Dekker was an English Elizabethan
Elizabethan era
The Elizabethan era was the epoch in English history of Queen Elizabeth I's reign . Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history...

 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.


Little is known of Dekker's early life or origins. From references in his pamphlets, Dekker is believed to have been born in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 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
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

, suggests that he attended grammar school
Grammar school
A grammar school is one of several different types of school in the history of education in the United Kingdom and some other English-speaking countries, originally a school teaching classical languages but more recently an academically-oriented secondary school.The original purpose of mediaeval...


Dekker embarked on a career as a theatre writer in the middle 1590s. His handwriting is found in the manuscript of Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More (play)
Sir Thomas More is a collaborative Elizabethan play by Anthony Munday and others depicting the life and death of Thomas More. It survives only in a single manuscript, now owned by the British Library...

, though the date of his involvement is undetermined. More certain is his work as a playwright for the Admiral's Men
Admiral's Men
The Admiral's Men was a playing company or troupe of actors in the Elizabethan and Stuart eras...

 of Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe
Philip Henslowe was an Elizabethan theatrical entrepreneur and impresario. Henslowe's modern reputation rests on the survival of his diary, a primary source for information about the theatrical world of Renaissance London...

, 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
Ben Jonson
Benjamin Jonson was an English Renaissance dramatist, poet and actor. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, he is best known for his satirical plays, particularly Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair, which are considered his best, and his lyric poems...

 and John Marston
John Marston
John Marston was an English poet, playwright and satirist during the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods...

 which presumably contributed to the War of the Theatres
War of the Theatres
The War of the Theatres is the name commonly applied to a controversy from the later Elizabethan theatre; Thomas Dekker termed it the Poetomachia....

 in 1600 and 1601. Francis Meres
Francis Meres
Francis Meres was an English churchman and author.He was born at Kirton in the Holland division of Lincolnshire in 1565. He was educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he received a B.A. in 1587 and an M.A. in 1591. Two years later he was incorporated an M.A. of Oxford...

 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
Lord Chamberlain's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was a playing company for whom Shakespeare worked for most of his career. Formed at the end of a period of flux in the theatrical world of London, it had become, by 1603, one of the two leading companies of the city and was subsequently patronised by James I.It was...

 and the child actors
Boy player
Boy player is a common term for the adolescent males employed by Medieval and English Renaissance playing companies. Some boy players worked for the mainstream companies and performed the female roles, as women did not perform on the English stage in this period...

 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
Royal Entry
The Royal Entry, also known by various other names, including Triumphal Entry and Joyous Entry, embraced the ceremonial and festivities accompanying a formal entry by a ruler or his representative into a city in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period in Europe...

, delayed from the coronation
A coronation is a ceremony marking the formal investiture of a monarch and/or their consort with regal power, usually involving the placement of a crown upon their head and the presentation of other items of regalia...

 of James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

, for which Dekker also wrote the festival book 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
Worcester's Men
The Earl of Worcester's Men was an acting company in Renaissance England. An early formation of the company, wearing the livery of William Somerset, 3rd Earl of Worcester, is among the companies known to have toured the country in the mid-sixteenth century...

 for a time, then returned to the Admiral's Men
Admiral's Men
The Admiral's Men was a playing company or troupe of actors in the Elizabethan and Stuart eras...

 (now patronized by Prince Henry
Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales
Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales was the elder son of King James I & VI and Anne of Denmark. His name derives from his grandfathers: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and Frederick II of Denmark. Prince Henry was widely seen as a bright and promising heir to his father's throne...

) 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
Queen Anne's Men
Queen Anne's Men was a playing company, or troupe of actors, in Jacobean era London. -Formation:...

 at the Red Bull Theatre
Red Bull Theatre
The Red Bull was a playhouse in London during the 17th century. For more than four decades, it entertained audiences drawn primarily from the northern suburbs, developing a reputation for rowdy, often disruptive audiences...


In 1612, Dekker's lifelong problem with debt (he had earlier, 1599, been imprisoned in Poultry Compter
Poultry Compter
The Poultry Compter was a small compter or prison run by a Sheriff in the City of London from medieval times until 1815...

) reached a crisis when he was imprisoned in the King's Bench Prison
King's Bench Prison
The King's Bench Prison was a prison in Southwark, south London, from medieval times until it closed in 1880. It took its name from the King's Bench court of law in which cases of defamation, bankruptcy and other misdemeanours were heard; as such, the prison was often used as a debtor's prison...

 on a debt of forty pounds to the father of John Webster
John Webster
John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.- Biography :Webster's life is obscure, and the dates...

. He remained there for seven years, and despite the support of associates such as Edward Alleyn
Edward Alleyn
Edward Alleyn was an English actor who was a major figure of the Elizabethan theatre and founder of Dulwich College and Alleyn's School.-Early life:...

 and Endymion Porter
Endymion Porter
Endymion Porter was an English diplomat and royalist.-Life:He was descended from Sir William Porter, sergeant-at-arms to Henry VII, and son of Edmund Porter, of Aston-sub-Edge in Gloucestershire, by his cousin Angela, daughter of Giles Porter of Mickleton, in the same county.He was brought up in...

, 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
John Day (dramatist)
John Day was an English dramatist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.-Life:He was born at Cawston, Norfolk, and educated at Ely. He became a sizar of Caius College, Cambridge, in 1592, but was expelled in the next year for stealing a book...

 and John Webster
John Webster
John Webster was an English Jacobean dramatist best known for his tragedies The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi, which are often regarded as masterpieces of the early 17th-century English stage. He was a contemporary of William Shakespeare.- Biography :Webster's life is obscure, and the dates...

) and slightly younger writers (John Ford
John Ford (dramatist)
John Ford was an English Jacobean and Caroline playwright and poet born in Ilsington in Devon in 1586.-Life and work:...

 and Philip Massinger
Philip Massinger
Philip Massinger was an English dramatist. His finely plotted plays, including A New Way to Pay Old Debts, The City Madam and The Roman Actor, are noted for their satire and realism, and their political and social themes.-Early life:The son of Arthur Massinger or Messenger, he was baptized at St....

). Among these plays is one, Keep the Widow Waking (1624, with Ford, Webster, and William Rowley
William Rowley
William Rowley was an English Jacobean dramatist, best known for works written in collaboration with more successful writers. His date of birth is estimated to have been c. 1585; he was buried on 11 February 1626...

), dramatized two recent murders in Whitechapel
Whitechapel is a built-up inner city district in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, London, England. It is located east of Charing Cross and roughly bounded by the Bishopsgate thoroughfare on the west, Fashion Street on the north, Brady Street and Cavell Street on the east and The Highway on the...

. 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
St James Church, Clerkenwell
St James Church, Clerkenwell is an Anglican parish church in Clerkenwell, London, England.- Nunnery of St Mary: c. 1100 - 1539 :The parish of St James, Clerkenwell, has had a long and sometimes lively history. The springs which give Clerkenwell its name are mentioned during the reign of Henry II...

 in Clerkenwell
Clerkenwell is an area of central London in the London Borough of Islington. From 1900 to 1965 it was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Finsbury. The well after which it was named was rediscovered in 1924. The watchmaking and watch repairing trades were once of great importance...

 that year.


When Dekker began writing plays, Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe
Thomas Nashe was an English Elizabethan pamphleteer, playwright, poet and satirist. He was the son of the minister William Nashe and his wife Margaret .-Early life:...

 and Thomas Lodge
Thomas Lodge
Thomas Lodge was an English dramatist and writer of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.-Early life and education:...

 were still alive; when he died, John Dryden
John Dryden
John Dryden was an influential English poet, literary critic, translator, and playwright who dominated the literary life of Restoration England to such a point that the period came to be known in literary circles as the Age of Dryden.Walter Scott called him "Glorious John." He was made Poet...

 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
Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

 and tragicomedy
Tragicomedy is fictional work that blends aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature, from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy referred to a serious play with either a happy ending or enough jokes throughout the play to lighten the mood.-Classical...

 bears the marks of his Elizabethan training: its humor is genial, its action romantic
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

. 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
John Fletcher (playwright)
John Fletcher was a Jacobean playwright. Following William Shakespeare as house playwright for the King's Men, he was among the most prolific and influential dramatists of his day; both during his lifetime and in the early Restoration, his fame rivalled Shakespeare's...

 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
Lust's Dominion
Lust's Dominion, or The Lascivious Queen is an English Renaissance stage play, a tragedy written perhaps around 1600 and first published in 1657, probably written by Thomas Dekker in collaboration with others....

(presumably identical to The Spanish Moor's Tragedy, written with Day, Marston, and William Haughton
William Haughton
William Haughton was an English playwright in the age of English Renaissance theatre. During the years 1597 to 1602 he collaborated in many plays with Henry Chettle, Thomas Dekker, John Day, Richard Hathwaye and Wentworth Smith....

, 1600) The Witch of Edmonton
The Witch of Edmonton
The Witch of Edmonton is an English Jacobean play, written by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford in 1621.The play—"probably the most sophisticated treatment of domestic tragedy in the whole of Elizabethan-Jacobean drama"—is based on supposedly real-life events that took place...

(with Ford and Rowley, 1621), and The Virgin Martyr
The Virgin Martyr
The Virgin Martyr is a Jacobean era stage play, a tragedy written by Thomas Dekker and Philip Massinger, and first published in 1622. It constitutes a rare instance in Masssinger's canon in which he collaborated with a member of the previous generation of English Renaissance dramatists —...

(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 Greek mythology, Phaëton or Phaethon was the son of Helios and the Oceanid Clymene. Alternate, less common genealogies make him a son of Clymenus by Merope, of Helios and Rhode or of Helios and Prote....

) 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
Robert Wilson (dramatist)
Robert Wilson , was an Elizabethan dramatist who worked primarily in the 1580s and 1590s. He is also believed to have been an actor who specialized in clown roles....

, Henry Chettle
Henry Chettle
Henry Chettle was an English dramatist and miscellaneous writer of the Elizabethan era.The son of Robert Chettle, a London dyer, he was apprenticed in 1577 and became a member of the Stationer's Company in 1584, traveling to Cambridge on their behalf in 1588. His career as a printer and author is...

, and Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton
Michael Drayton was an English poet who came to prominence in the Elizabethan era.-Early life:He was born at Hartshill, near Nuneaton, Warwickshire, England. Almost nothing is known about his early life, beyond the fact that in 1580 he was in the service of Thomas Goodere of Collingham,...

. With Drayton, he also worked on history plays on the French civil wars, Earl Godwin
Godwin, Earl of Wessex
Godwin of Wessex , was one of the most powerful lords in England under the Danish king Cnut the Great and his successors. Cnut made him the first Earl of Wessex...

, and others. In 1599, he wrote plays on Troilus
Troilus is a legendary character associated with the story of the Trojan War...

 and Cressida
Cressida is a character who appears in many Medieval and Renaissance retellings of the story of the Trojan War. She is a Trojan woman, the daughter of Calchas a priestly defector to the Greeks...

, Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

 (with Chettle), and The Page of Plymouth. In that year, also, he collaborated with Chettle, Jonson, and Marston on a play about Robert II
Robert II of Scotland
Robert II became King of Scots in 1371 as the first monarch of the House of Stewart. He was the son of Walter Stewart, hereditary High Steward of Scotland and of Marjorie Bruce, daughter of Robert I and of his first wife Isabella of Mar...

. 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
The Shoemaker's Holiday
The Shoemakers' Holiday, or the Gentle Craft is an Elizabethan play written by Thomas Dekker. It was first performed in 1599 by the Admiral's Men. It falls into the sub-genre of city comedy.The play was first published in 1600 by the printer Valentine Simmes...

, or the Gentle Craft
, categorised by modern critics as citizen comedy. This play reflects his concerns with the daily lives of ordinary London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

ers. 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
Old Fortunatus
The Pleasant Comedie of Old Fortunatus is a play in a mixture of prose and verse by Thomas Dekker, based on the German legend of Fortunatus and his magic inexhaustible purse. Though the play is not easy to categorise, it has been called "the only example of an interlude inspired by the fully...

and Patient Grissel
Patient Grissel
Patient Grissel is a play by Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle, and William Haughton. It was mentioned in Henslowe's diary in the entry for December 1599...

, the latter on the folkloric theme treated by Chaucer in The Clerk's Tale
The Clerk's Prologue and Tale
The Clerk's Tale is the first tale of Group E in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It is preceded by The Summoner's Tale and followed by The Merchant's Tale. The Clerk of Oxenford is a student of what would nowadays be considered philosophy or theology...

. 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
Satiromastix, or The Untrussing of the Humorous Poet is a late Elizabethan stage play by Thomas Dekker, one of the plays involved in the Poetomachia or War of the Theatres....

, he worked on a play possibly about Sebastian of Portugal
Sebastian of Portugal
Sebastian "the Desired" was the 16th king of Portugal and the Algarves. He was the son of Prince John of Portugal and his wife, Joan of Spain...

 and Blurt, Master Constable
Blurt, Master Constable
Blurt, Master Constable is a late Elizabethan comedy, interesting for the authorship problem it presents.The play is subtitled "The Spaniards' Night Walk," and an allusion to the Spanish in Ireland in the play's final scene — there was a Spanish raid on Ireland in September 1601 — helps...

, on which he may have worked with Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton 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 few Renaissance dramatists to achieve equal success in...

. In 1602 he revised two older plays, Pontius Pilate (1597) and the second part of Sir John Oldcastle
Sir John Oldcastle
Sir John Oldcastle is an Elizabethan play about John Oldcastle, a controversial 14th-15th century rebel and Lollard who was seen by some of Shakespeare's contemporaries as a proto-Protestant martyr.-Publication:...

. He also collaborated on Caesar's Fall, Jephthah, A Medicine for a Curst Wife, Sir Thomas Wyatt (on Wyatt's rebellion
Wyatt's rebellion
Wyatt's Rebellion was a popular uprising in England in 1554, named after Thomas Wyatt the younger, one of its leaders. The rebellion arose out of concern over Queen Mary I's determination to marry Philip II of Spain, which was an unpopular policy with the English...

), and Christmas Comes But Once a Year.

Except for Blurt, which was performed by the Blackfriars Children
Children of the Chapel
The Children of the Chapel were the boys with unbroken voices, choristers, who formed part of the Chapel Royal, the body of singers and priests serving the spiritual needs of their sovereign wherever they were called upon to do so....

, the earlier of these works were performed at the Admiral's Fortune Theatre
Fortune Playhouse
The Fortune Playhouse was an historic theatre in London. It was located between Whitecross Street and the modern Golden Lane, just outside the City of London...

. After 1602, Dekker split his attention between pamphlets and plays; thus, his dramatic output decreased considerably. He and Middleton wrote The Honest Whore
The Honest Whore
The Honest Whore is an early Jacobean city comedy, written in two parts; Part 1 is a collaboration between Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, while Part 2 is the work of Dekker alone...

for the Fortune in 1604, and Dekker wrote a sequel himself the following year. The Middleton/Dekker collaboration The Family of Love
The Family of Love (play)
The Family of Love is an early Jacobean stage play, first published in 1608. The play is a satire on the Familia Caritatis or "Family of Love," the religious sect founded by Henry Nicholis in the 16th century....

 also dates from this general era. Dekker and Webster wrote Westward Ho
Westward Ho (play)
Westward Ho is an early Jacobean era stage play, a satire and city comedy by Thomas Dekker and John Webster that was first published in 1607...

and Northward Ho
Northward Ho
Northward Ho is an early Jacobean era stage play, a satire and city comedy written by Thomas Dekker and John Webster, and first published in 1607. Northward Ho was a response to Eastward Ho by Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston, which in its turn was a response to Westward Ho Northward...

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
The Roaring Girl
The Roaring Girl is a Jacobean stage play, a comedy written by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker ca. 1607-10.The play was first published in quarto in 1611, printed by Nicholas Okes for the bookseller Thomas Archer...

, a fanciful biography of Mary Frith
Mary Frith
Mary Frith or Moll Cutpurse was a notorious pickpocket and fence of the English underworld.-Meaning of Nicknames:...

, was a collaboration with Middleton in 1611. In the same year, he also wrote another tragicomedy
Tragicomedy is fictional work that blends aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature, from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy referred to a serious play with either a happy ending or enough jokes throughout the play to lighten the mood.-Classical...

 called Match Me in London
Match Me in London
Match me in London is a Jacobean era tragicomedy written by Thomas Dekker. It was written in 1611 and was relicensed without fee by George Buc on 21 August 1623 as 'an Old Playe'. On 8 November 1630 it was entered in the Stationers' Register and printed in a quarto in 1631...


During his imprisonment, Dekker did not write plays. After his release, he collaborated with Day on Guy of Warwick (1620), The Wonder of a Kingdom (1623), and The Bellman of Paris (1623). With Ford, he wrote The Sun's Darling
The Sun's Darling
The Sun's Darling is a masque, or masque-like play, written by John Ford and Thomas Dekker, and first published in 1656.The Sun's Darling was licensed for performance by Sir Henry Herbert, the Master of the Revels, on March 3, 1624...

(1624), The Fairy Knight
The Fairy Knight
The Fairy Knight, or Oberon the Second is an early Stuart era stage play, a comedy of uncertain and problematic authorship. Never published in its historical period, the play existed only in a manuscript, which is now MS...

(1624), and The Bristow Merchant (1624). He also wrote the tragicomedy
Tragicomedy is fictional work that blends aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature, from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy referred to a serious play with either a happy ending or enough jokes throughout the play to lighten the mood.-Classical...

 The Noble Spanish Soldier
The Noble Spanish Soldier
The Noble Spanish Soldier is a Jacobean play written by English author Thomas Dekker.-Dramatic characters:*King of Spain*Cardinal, advisor to the King*Count Malateste of Florence, confidant of the Queen...

(1622) and later reworked material from this play into a comedic form to produce The Welsh Ambassador (1623). Another play, The Late Murder of the Son upon the Mother, or Keep the Widow Waking
Keep the Widow Waking
Keep the Widow Waking is a lost Jacobean play, significant chiefly for the light it throws on the complexities of collaborative authorship in English Renaissance drama....

, a dramatization of two recent murders in Whitechapel, occasioned a suit for slander heard in the Star Chamber
Star Chamber
The Star Chamber was an English court of law that sat at the royal Palace of Westminster until 1641. It was made up of Privy Counsellors, as well as common-law judges and supplemented the activities of the common-law and equity courts in both civil and criminal matters...

. That play is lost.

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
Cockpit Theatre
The Cockpit was a theatre in London, operating from 1616 to around 1665. It was the first theatre to be located near Drury Lane. After damage in 1617, it was christened The Phoenix....

, and these two were presumably produced by Christopher Beeston
Christopher Beeston
Christopher Beeston was a successful actor and a powerful theatrical impresario in early 17th century London. He was associated with a number of playwrights, particularly Thomas Heywood.-Early life:...

, who operated both the Red Bull and the Cockpit. By the 1620s, the Shoreditch
Shoreditch is an area of London within the London Borough of Hackney in England. It is a built-up part of the inner city immediately to the north of the City of London, located east-northeast of Charing Cross.-Etymology:...

 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) complementary to the values and beliefs of such audiences, his drama carried some of the vigorous optimism of Elizabethan dramaturgy into the Caroline era.


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
Bubonic plague
Plague is a deadly infectious disease that is caused by the enterobacteria Yersinia pestis, named after the French-Swiss bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin. Primarily carried by rodents and spread to humans via fleas, the disease is notorious throughout history, due to the unrivaled scale of death...

 had closed the theaters. His first was The Wonderful Year, a journalistic account of the death of Elizabeth
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, 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
Gunpowder Plot
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in earlier centuries often called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason, was a failed assassination attempt against King James I of England and VI of Scotland by a group of provincial English Catholics led by Robert Catesby.The plan was to blow up the House of...

. 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
Thieves' cant
Thieves' cant or Rogues' cant was a secret language which was formerly used by thieves, beggars and hustlers of various kinds in Great Britain and to a lesser extent in other English-speaking countries...

. These pamphlets, which Dekker often updated and reissued, include The Belman of London (1608, now The Bellman of London), 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
Robert Greene (16th century)
Robert Greene was an English author best known for a posthumous pamphlet attributed to him, Greene's Groats-Worth of Wit, widely believed to contain a polemic attack on William Shakespeare. He was born in Norwich and attended Cambridge University, receiving a B.A. in 1580, and an M.A...


Other pamphlets are journalistic in form and offer vivid pictures of Jacobean London. The Dead Term (1608) describes Westminster
Westminster is an area of central London, within the City of Westminster, England. It lies on the north bank of the River Thames, southwest of the City of London and southwest of Charing Cross...

 during summer vacation. The Guls Horne-Booke (1609, now The Gull's Hornbook) 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
Thomas Overbury
Sir Thomas Overbury was an English poet and essayist, and the victim of one of the most sensational crimes in English history...

'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 poetry enters into popular song (although almost unnoticeably) when the Beatles
The Beatles
The Beatles were an English rock band, active throughout the 1960s and one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music. Formed in Liverpool, by 1962 the group consisted of John Lennon , Paul McCartney , George Harrison and Ringo Starr...

 included the lyrics of his ballad Golden Slumbers
Patient Grissel
Patient Grissel is a play by Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle, and William Haughton. It was mentioned in Henslowe's diary in the entry for December 1599...

in their 1969 song of the same title.

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