A Credible Debt: Dekker as Host to Chaucer’s Franklin


Natalie Hanna


This article argues that Thomas Dekker’s literary indebtedness to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Franklin and his Tale in The Canterbury Tales, is both more profound and more sustained than has hitherto been given credit. Chaucer was a model for Dekker not just as writer, but also as a debtor. To succeed in mercantile Renaissance London, one had to be deemed creditworthy. The city comedy emerged as a mode to dramatize and interrogate these concerns about credit, exchange, generosity, and the performance of trustworthiness within the metropolis. Concerns over credit and debt permeate Dekker’s plays and prose, much as they did his personal life. Finding himself repeatedly in debt, he wrote fervently to make money and when doing so he drew upon the works of Chaucer time and again for creative insight. The medieval poet’s influence on the Renaissance playwright’s works has been recognized in prior scholarship, including references to The Franklin’s Tale in Dekker’s pamphlet about the villainies of London’s economic world, A Strange Horse-Race. However, in this article I show that there are multiple unacknowledged points of connection between Chaucer’s Franklin and Dekker’s works, particularly in his most developed theatrical engagement with questions of debt and generosity, performance and credulity, The Shoemaker’s Holiday. These borrowings from the Franklin add to a growing body of scholarship that identifies early modern dramatists’ indebtedness to The Canterbury Tales, and offer new ways of considering literary and financial indebtedness in Renaissance England.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.