Being Mistress Eyre in Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday and Deloney's The Gentle Craft


This essay offers a comparative reading of Dekker’s The Shoemaker’s Holiday and Deloney’s The Gentle Craft in order to place the tradesman’s wife figure, and Mistress Eyre, in particular, within discussions of the transition to mercantilsm in late sixteenth-century England. Comparing representations of the wife in these two contemporary works, I argue that both texts embody contradictory attitudes toward social mobility via financial acquisitions and dealings characteristic of nascent capitalism. These ambivalent attitudes inform the representations of the wives who are made to bear the burden of the negative aspects of social ascent. In Deloney, the wife’s contributions to the husband’s advancement are fully acknowledged, but she is criticized for this mobility when accused of greed and covetousness. In Dekker, the wife’s contributions to the family business are stringently subordinated, yet she is satirized more extensively for the mercantilist attributes which worry the period: ambition, greed, affectation, acquisitiveness—qualities which were crucial to the transition to capitalism and which the texts downplay in the husbands. My analysis of the shifting attitudes towards the tradesman’s wife adds to the fertile critical discussions of these authors in relation to contemporary economic discourses, conditions, and practices. Combining historiographic evidence with close readings of the drama and prose narrative, my comparative argument presents some new ways to look at these texts.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.