Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Thomas Dekker was also known in his time as a prolific pamphleteer. His pamphlets are characterized not by a failure of moral judgment, as some critics have charged, but by a deliberate strategy of refraining from gratuitous finger-pointing. The Wonderful Year (1603), for example, presents two long poems that are supposed to be the prologue to a play and a summary of its action and, in a prose section, that action—stories of English reaction to the death of Elizabeth I; Dekker leaves the reader to decide whether there is a thematic relationship in the tripartite structure of the work, which links the death of Elizabeth and the devastating plague of 1603, whether these disasters are to be regarded as retribution for England’s sins, and whether the accession of James represents God’s gift of unmerited grace. Such implications are there, but the author draws no final conclusions. In this and other pamphlets, Dekker typically adopts the role of observer-reporter, who, like the Bellman of London, carries his lantern into the darkest corners of his dystopian world to reveal the deepest degradations of the human spirit. In this regard, like modern social critics, he is content to “tell it like it is”; the selection of specific detail furnishes the didactic underpinning of his vision. In works such as The Bellman of London (1608) and the different versions of Lanthorn and Candlelight (1608, 1609; revised as O per se O, 1612; Villanies Discovered, 1616, 1620; and English Villanies, 1632, 1638, 1648), the reader discovers an alarming truth: The social and political organization of the underworld is a grotesque parody of polite society and the Jacobean establishment. Thus, rogues and thieves have their own laws, codes of ethics, and...

(The entire section is 731 words.)