Feasting on Eyre: Community, Consumption, and Communion in The Shoemaker's Holiday


Stephen Maynard


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

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 wqrd honour? What is that honour?


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.3

This essay offers an interpretation of Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday through the analogy of the potlatch ceremony of the societies of the Pacific Northwest Coast of America. In reading Dekker's play through the lens of the 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 of the potlatch help us to recognize the presence of similar tensions and intentions 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.

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