Thomas Deloney c. 1560–1600
English prose writer, poet, and pamphleteer.
Deloney was unique among Elizabethan prose writers. His novels depict the everyday life of artisans and entrepreneurs in rich and concrete detail. Deloney celebrated the contribution of craftsmen to the general well-being of the nation by representing them as essential and honorable members of society. His heroes are weavers and shoemakers, men of humble origin who rise to prominence and promote the welfare of their fellow citizens. In his four novels, Deloney created a multitude of colorful personalities. His heroines and minor characters are especially vigorous and memorable, leading some modern commentators to compare him to Geoffrey Chaucer in this respect. Other critics, emphasizing the opulent variety of his characters, view him as a precursor of Daniel Defoe, Henry Fielding, and Charles Dickens. As Merritt E. Lawlis has pointed out, Deloney was the first English novelist to use a dramatic technique—presenting scenes as if they were episodes in a play. Deloney's characters frequently express themselves directly to the reading audience, revealing their thoughts and emotions in candid soliloquies. He often juxtaposes, within a single scene, two or three characters who talk together in distinctive, idiomatic speech patterns that were unique in prose fiction at the time. Deloney's masterful use of dialogue represents an innovation for the period and has won him the praise of many twentieth-century critics. His prose style is generally realistic, filled with vivid details drawn from ordinary life. However, for certain situations—particularly those involving lovers and members of the nobility—he employed the euphuistic style developed by his sixteenth-century predecessors. Deloney drew on a wide variety of sources for his fiction, reworking folk tales and legends, blending oral tradition and chronicle history, and infusing new life into trite characters taken from jest books. Deloney's novels generally appear to endorse the established social order of his time. His nonfiction works—pamphlets and translations—indicate that he was a strong Protestant, a fervent patriot, and a staunch defender of Elizabethan tradesmen.
Virtually nothing is known about Deloney's early life. Modern scholars speculate that he was born around 1560, perhaps in Norfolk, which at that time was an important center of the English textile industry. In his youth he was an itinerant silk-weaver, traveling from town to town in pursuit of work. Although scholars cannot determine whether Deloney was given any formal education, his translations of Protestant religious treatises demonstrate that he had a working knowledge of Latin. In addition, his novels show that Deloney was familiar with Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron, Matteo Bandello's Novelle, William Caxton's The Golden Legend, Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles, and the prose, poetry, and plays of his Elizabethan contemporaries. Around 1586 Deloney settled in London and began writing the broadside ballads that won him widespread fame over the following decade. By the early 1590s he had become England's foremost ballad-maker. In 1595 Deloney was briefly jailed after he wrote a pamphlet attacking the government's policy of allowing French and Dutch weavers to ply their trade in England. The following year he composed a ballad complaining about the shortage of grain in the country. Civil authorities regarded the ballad as seditious and apprehended the men who published and printed it. Deloney, however, eluded capture. His first two novels were published in 1597, and the others appeared over the next two or three years. It is generally believed that Deloney died in London early in 1600.
Deloney's novels are the bases of his modern literary reputation. Yet before the first of these was published, he had achieved a considerable popular following with his ballads. Beginning with "The Lamentation of Bickles" (1586), Deloney's account of a devastating fire in a Suffolk market-town, and "The Death and Execution of Fourteen Most Wicked Traitors" (1586), a vivid description of the hanging and quartering of a group of notorious renegades, his ballads featured both topical and historical subjects, especially those of a sensational nature. The Garland of Good Will, a collection of poems and songs, appeared in 1592–93?. The date of Strange Histories of Kings, a second collection of his poetry and ballads, is unknown. Deloney's first novel, lack of Newberie (1597), traces the career of John Winchcomb from a lowly apprentice weaver to social and economic prominence. Jack is a model of middle-class virtues. He marries a wealthy widow and becomes the manager of an establishment that includes several hundred workers. In one of the novel's central episodes, Jack encounters Henry VIII and convinces the King to change the government's policies regarding the clothing industry. The Gentle Craft (1597) comprises three distinct tales related to the shoemakers' trade. The story of St. Hugh and St. Winifred is based on legend; the narrative of Crispine and Crispianus blends legend and pastoral romance; and the account of Simon Eyre is a quasi-historical biography of a wealthy fifteenth-century upholsterer and draper. Thomas Dekker borrowed freely from The Gentle Craft for his own depiction of Simon Eyre in The Shoemaker's Holiday (1599). Deloney's The Gentle Craft, The second Part (1598–99?) also consists of three stories: that of Richard Casteler, a generous benefactor to the citizens of London; Lusty Peachey, a Tudor courtier and soldier; and the popularly named Green King of St. Martin's, a prosperous shoemaker. This novel is noted for such robust and entertaining characters as Long Meg of Westminster, Gillian of the George, Tom Drum, and Anthony Now-now. Thomas of Reading (1598–99?), often considered Deloney's most accomplished work of fiction, combines realism and romance. Set in twelfth-century England, the narrative is derived from chronicles and proverbial tales. A subplot features the tragic love story of Robert Duke of Normandy and Margaret, a mythical daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury. One of the novel's most striking aspects is Deloney's graphic description of the murder of Thomas Cole. Some scholars believe that this nightmarish episode influenced Shakespeare's portrayal of Duncan's murder in Macbeth.
Immensely popular in his own lifetime, Deloney's novels were frequently reprinted throughout the seventeenth century. Over the next two hundred years, however, they received scant attention from readers or scholars. Modern critical interest in Deloney began with F. O. Mann's 1912 edition of his complete works. Mann emphasizes the novels' sympathetic treatment of ordinary men and women; he also asserts that Deloney's fiction represents "the highest achievement of the Elizabethan novel." Over the past fifty years, commentators have questioned whether the novels accurately portray the everyday life of craftsmen and entrepreneurs, and critics continue to debate the nature of the social and political viewpoints represented in Deloney's fiction. E. D. Mackerness and Max Dorsinville caution that Deloney's depiction of the weavers' and shoemakers' trades is less realistic than earlier critics claimed. Mackerness also contends that the novels uphold the prevailing social order and teach tradesmen to passively accept the sharp distinctions that existed between different classes in Elizabethan society. Similarly, R. G. Howarth claims that Deloney's novels portray a world in which working-class men and women cheerfully accept their lot in life and do not protest against rigid social divisions. Some commentators have noted a change in political perspective from Deloney's first novel to his last. For example, William Domnarski finds a high level of social and economic tension in Thomas of Reading; he views this novel as a keen analysis of the developing merchant class and the problems that were created by newly acquired wealth and a change in social status. Laura S. O'Connell has argued that Deloney portrays the rise of capitalism in the sixteenth-century with ironic humor, acknowledging the contribution of industrial entrepreneurs, but at the same time advocating better treatment of the poor. Several critics, including Dorsinville, have asserted that Deloney's novels uniformly condemn the idleness of the aristocracy and affirm the value of honest labor. Leonard Mustazza has remarked that Deloney's novels all suggest that working-class men and women deserve a much higher level of regard than the aristocracy traditionally granted them. And Evelyn B. Tribble recently declared that although lack of Newberie presents weavers as patriotic subjects, it also reveals their capacity for rebellion if the monarchy and its officials fail to protect the interests of the English clothing industry.
The Garland of Good Will (poetry) 1592–93?
The Gentle Craft. A Discourse Containing Many Matters of Delight, very pleasant to be read (novel) 1597
The Pleasant History of lohn Winchcomb, in his younger years called lack of Newberie (novel) 1597
The Gentle Craft. The second Part. Being a most merrie and pleasant Historie (novel) 1598–99?
Thomas of Reading, or The sixe worthy yeomen of the West (novel) 1598–99?
Strange Histories (poetry) undated
*The Works of Thomas Deloney (novels, poetry, ballads) 1912
**The Novels of Thomas Deloney (novels) 1961
*Includes Iacke of Newberie; The Gentle Craft; The Gentle Craft (The second part); Thomas of Reading; A Declaration Made by the Archbishop of Collen upon the Deede of His Mariage; The Proclamation and Edict of the Archbishop, and Prince Elector of Culleyn; The Garland of Good Will; Strange Histories; Canaans Calamitie; and Miscellaneous Ballads.
**Includes Jack of Newbury; The Gentle Craft; The Gentle Craft, Part II; and Thomas of Reading.
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Works of Thomas Deloney, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1912, pp. vii–xxxi.
[In the excerpt below, Mann provides an overview of Deloney's career, calling attention to his straightforward style and his depiction of working-class men and women. The critic asserts that Deloney's prose fiction represents "the highest achievement of the Elizabethan novel."]
The recorded facts of Deloney's life are very scanty. His earliest venture appears to have been A Declaration made by the Archbishop of Cullen upon the Deede of his Mariage (1583), and Kempe in April, 1600, refers to him as having just died. Thus his working literary life lasted about seventeen years, but it is impossible to give even a rough guess at the date of his birth, although Ebbsworth suggests (apparently capriciously) 1543.1 He appears to have drifted into literature from the more substantial occupation of silk-weaving, and his novels show the most intimate acquaintance with London life, but Nash's epithet 'the Balletting Silke Weauer of Norwich'2 seems to point to that town as the place of his birth, and it is significant that one of his earliest ballads—The Lamentation of Beckles (1586)—was printed 'for Nicholas Coleman of Norwich'. His name may indicate French ancestry, and this, combined with his strong Anti-Catholicism, perhaps points to descent from a Protestant...
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SOURCE: "A Different Thomas Deloney: Thomas of Reading Reconsidered," in Renaissance and Reformation, Vol. VI, No. xviii, August, 1982, pp. 197–202.
[In the following essay, Domnarski maintains that Thomas of Reading offers a penetrating, realistic analysis of the social tensions created by radical changes in the Elizabethan economic system.]z7While Greene wrote for the young gallants, 'how young gentlemen that aim at honour should leuel the end of their affections',34 and Petty for 'Gentle Readers, whom by my will I would haue only Gentlewomen',35 Deloney dedicated his novels to the 'famous Cloth Workers in England'36 or 'To the Master and Wardens of the worshipfull company of Cordwaynors',37 and wrote as an artisan for the jolly companions of his craft, with whom he had worked at his loom in Norwich or tramped the high roads of East Anglia. But he by no means breaks away altogether from the traditional separation of realism and romanticism. In Thomas of Reading the bourgeois history of the clothiers is interwoven with, although not blended with, the romantic life and love of the Duke of Normandy and the Fair Margaret, and the story of St. Hugh in the First Part of the Gentle Craft is a knight-errant romance of the most ordinary kind, preceding the hearty domestic story of Sir Simon Eyer. But these are his least successful work; his hand is out...
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SOURCE: "Thomas Deloney and the Virtous Proletariat," in The Cambridge Journal, Vol. V, No. 1, October, 1951, pp. 34–50.
[In the following excerpt, Mackerness contends that Deloney's novels affirm the rigid stratification of Elizabethan society. He points out that historical records clearly show that sixteenth-century cloth workers were exploited by their masters, yet Deloney portrays them as members of a "virtuous proletariat, " content with their lot in life.]
In the voluminous pamphlet literature of the sixteenth century, expressions of professional jealousy are relatively common. It is not surprising, therefore, that the activities of a part-time author like Thomas Deloney should have provoked sarcastic utterances from energetic practitioners such as Greene and Nashe. Neither Greene nor Nashe, however, had any cause to envy the obscure East Anglian ballad-maker, whose literary efforts were (in their opinion) so inferior to their own. In his notes to the Everyman volume which contains two of Deloney's novels, Philip Henderson says that Deloney became 'successor' to William Elderton as chief ballad wrter in 1585. This rather misleadingly suggests that there was an office of ballad writer at this time, which is not correct; and besides, Elderton was living until 1592. More recently Professor Pinto has written that 'Elderton was succeeded by Tom...
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SOURCE: Introduction to The Novels of Thomas Deloney, Indiana University Press, 1961, pp. xi–xxiii.
[In the following excerpt, Lawlis emphasizes some distinctive and innovative qualities of Deloney's novels: the dramatic presentation of scenes, the idiomatic dialogue, and the abundance of colorful characters.]
1. Deloney as Novelist: His Use of the Drama and the Jestbook
By the time Thomas Deloney in the last few years of the sixteenth century turned to what we now call the novel form, he knew what his public wanted. All four of his novels immediately became so popular that the early editions of them were read completely out of existence. To the twentieth-century reader such a flattering catastrophe is not at all difficult to understand, for Deloney's writing is still fresh and exciting.
His characters come alive quickly and easily. How, the reader asks, did he learn to write crisp and life-creating dialogue? Unfortunately, our knowledge of Deloney's life, as we shall see below, is very sketchy; and when we turn to the novels written by his contemporaries, we find little evidence that he so much as glanced at them.
True, such idealized characters as Duke Robert and Margaret in Thomas of Reading may remind us vaguely of Musidorus and Pamela in Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia (1590 and 1593). But the resemblance is entirely...
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SOURCE: "Thomas Deloney and Middle-Class Fiction," in Idea and Act in Elizabethan Fiction, Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 238–80.
[In the excerpt below, Davis provides a detailed analysis of each of Deloney's novels. The critic discusses Deloney's adaptation of his sources; his structural methods; his idealized heroes; and significant differences between Thomas of Reading and Deloney's other prose fiction.]
The only point of positive contact between the university wit Thomas Nashe and the silk-weaver turned balladeer whom he scorned is their common reliance, probably through the influence of Greene, on material from the sixteenth-century jest books.1 Nashe presented Jack Wilton at the outset of The Unfortunate Traveller as a witty rogue like Scoggin or Peele, and went on to document by a string of witty jests Wilton's pride in his ability to cozen his companions. The opening of Thomas Deloney's first work of fiction, The Pleasant Historie of John Winchcomb, in his younger yeares called Jacke of Newberie (ca. 1597), reads like a homespun paraphrase of Nashe's hyberbolical beginning. As he writes elsewhere, "expect not herein to find any matter of light value, curiously pen'd with pickt words, or choise phrases, but a quaint and plaine discourse."2 Absent is all the comic stuffing we [find] in Nashe, and instead of a comic contrast between Henry VIII's...
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SOURCE: "Anti-Entrepreneurial Attitudes in Elizabethan Sermons and Popular Literature," in The Journal of British Studies, Vol. XV, No. 2, Spring, 1976, pp. 1–20.
[In the following excerpt, O'Connell discusses the relation between religion and capitalism in Deloney's novels. She contends that Deloney believed women are covetous by nature, and thus thought it was appropriate for them to pursue the accumulation of wealth while their husbands devoted themselves to piety and good works.]
It has been nearly half a century since R. H. Tawney published Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, and in spite of many efforts to refine and to dispute Tawney's thesis, the work has retained great influence over sixteenth and seventeenth-century English historical studies. There is considerable debate over the nature of the connection between Calvinism and capitalism, but amidst this disagreement there is a basic acceptance of the idea that the Puritan "work ethic" and the development of an entrepreneurial spirit were related to each other.1 Tawney suggested that the Puritans' doctrine of the calling engendered a new appreciation of diligent labor and a gradually developing certainty that the wealth which resulted from diligence should be considered a measure of godly activity. Thus, Puritanism discarded the suspicion of economic motives which had been a characteristic of earlier religious reform...
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SOURCE: "The 'Art of Clothing': Role-Playing in Deloney's Fiction," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. II, No. 2, Spring, 1981, pp. 183–93.
[In the essay reprinted below, Jordan focuses on role-playing figures in Deloney's novels. She points out that Jack of Newbury's role-playing is constructive because it allows him to distinguish between his desires and objective reality: by contrast, the role-players in Thomas of Reading are either forced into pretense or choose it as a means of deceiving others.]
Although they were published within a brief three-year period from 1597 to 1600, Thomas Deloney's three novels, Jacke of Newburie, The Gentle Craft I and II, and Thomas of Reading, show a marked change of mood. The ebullient play of the clothiers in Jacke of Newburie yields to the studied negotiations of the shoemakers in The Gentle Craft; these are displaced in turn by the disappointments of the merchants and gentry in Thomas of Reading. Deloney's characters become progressively less able to advance themselves in society and increasingly thwarted by the calculations of others. At the beginning of this development we find Jacke Winchcomb, the hero of Deloney's first novel, whose effortless rise from apprentice-weaver to Burgess and Member of Parliament fulfills his hopes for social and political success. At its conclusion, in Thomas of Reading, we...
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SOURCE: "Thomas Deloney's Jacke of Newbury: A Horatio Alger Story for the Sixteenth Century," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 23, No. 3, Winter, 1989, pp. 165–77.
[In the essay below, the critic examines what he sees as Deloney's ironic treatment of Jack of Newbury 's rags-to-riches story. Mustazza argues that Jack's careful attention to his own best interests and his ability to manipulate others are just as significant as his altruism and class consciousness.]
Louis B. Wright begins his book Middle-Class Culture in Elizabethan England with this observation:
In the furtherance of his social ambitions, the Elizabethan business man evolved a philosophy of success which emphasized thrift, honesty, industry, and godliness…. Naive, awkward, and crude as were the Elizabethan citizen's first attempts to take his place among the learned or the gentle, he possessed a strength of mind and character which gave vitality to his thinking and enabled him to propagate his ideas so luxuriantly that they have survived in all their vigor to become the clichés of modern civilization.1
Modern Americans are, of course, quite familiar with these "clichés," usually known to us as the Horatio Alger story or the American dream—the notion that hard work, honesty, and thrift will almost inevitably lead to social and material...
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SOURCE: "The Rise of a New Literary Genre: Thomas Deloney's Bourgeois Novel Jack of Newbury," in Telling Stories: Studies in Honour of Ulrich Broich on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday, edited by Elmar Leh-mann and Bernd Lenz, B. R. Grüner, 1992, pp. 47–55.
[In the following essay, Stemmler evaluates the historical frameworks and factual details in Deloney's novels. These elements, the critic argues, enhanced the stature of Deloney's bourgeois heroes and provided his middle-class readers with exemplary figures from their own sector of Elizabethan society.]
After a long time of scholarly neglect Thomas Deloney's important contribution to the English novel has at long last been recognized. Based on the edition of his works by Francis O. Mann (1912)1, and of his novels by Merritt E. Lawlis (1961)2, a number of impressive studies have been published. Most of them deal with special topics such as style3 or structure4 of Deloney's novels, or the problem of realism in his works5.
Not despite, but because of, these detailed researches a general assessment of Deloney's first novel does not seem superfluous. I shall try to give a tentative answer to that question which is of prime importance in literary history: With what intention does a certain author write a certain type of text at a certain time?
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SOURCE: "'We Will Do No Harm with Our Sword': Royal Representation, Civic Pageantry, and the Displacement of Popular Protest in Thomas Deloney's Jacke of Newberie," in Place and Displacement in the Renaissance, edited by Alvin Vos, Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1995, pp. 147–57.
[In this essay, Tribble discusses Jack of Newbury's encounter with Henry VIII in terms of Elizabethan civic pageantry. She suggests that through the ant-king episode and the presentation of the golden beehive, Jack implicitly raises the threat of social disorder if the monarch fails to support the clothing industry.]
In 1596 The lord mayor of London wrote to William Cecil about a seditious ballad written by Thomas Deloney. The ballad, now lost, complained of the scarcity of grain, and was held responsible for causing "some Discontentment" in the realm.1 Part of the offense lay in the way the ballad represented Elizabeth; the queen was said to speak "with her people in dialogue wise in very fond and undecent sort" (xxvii–xxix). As David Scott Kastan reminds us, representation, particularly representation of the monarch, was a dangerous practice in Elizabethan England.2 The direct unmediated "dialogue wise" representation violated social and legal norms. Although a large part of Elizabeth's personal mythology hinged upon her willingness to commune with her "mean" subjects, as...
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Atkins, J. W. H. "Elizabethan Prose Fiction." In The Cambridge History of English Literature, edited by A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller, pp. 386–424. New York: Macmillan, 1933.
In a brief discussion of Deloney's novels (pp. 417–23), Atkins commends the writer's direct prose style, his robust humor, and his multi-faceted depiction of Elizabethan life.
Baker, Ernest A. "Deloney and Others." In his The History of the English Novel, pp. 170–99. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1929.
This highly significant appraisal of Deloney's prose fiction evaluates the novels' sources and construction, comments on Deloney's idiosyncratic characters, and calls attention to his lively dialogue.
Devine, Paul. "Unity and Meaning in Thomas Deloney's Thomas of Reading." Neuphilologische Mitteilungen LXXXVII, No. 4 (1986):578–93.
This essay studies the structural unity and political meaning of Thomas of Reading, a work which Devine claims anticipates not only the English novel, but also the English revolution and civil war.
Domnarski, William. "A Different Thomas Deloney: Thomas of Reading Reconsidered." Renaissance and Reformation VI, No. XVIII (August 1982): 197–202.
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