Biography of Thomas Dekker

Thomas Dekker was an English dramatist during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a period also known as the English Renaissance. While he was not as popular in his time as other playwrights like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, and Ben Jonson, Dekker was nonetheless a prolific writer who collaborated on more than 40 projects between the years 1598 and 1602. As such, Dekker often worked closely alongside those playwrights whose plays are more frequently anthologized today.

Little is known about Dekker's early life. He began his career in the theater in the 1590s, working for the Admiral's Men of Philip Henslowe for the latter half of the decade. Though his name appears in association with a number of plays from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, critics agree that he was mostly involved in editing and updating rather than writing. In fact, the only notable play for which Dekker is credited as sole playwright is the 1599 comedy, The Shoemaker's Holiday. The play, which garnered mixed reviews at the time, is today generally considered a masterful representation of the genre of city comedy. Notably, however, Ben Jonson – the most prolific and celebrated writer of city comedies – deplored Dekker's work and saw him as a talentless amateur.

Dekker was imprisoned in 1612 after a lifelong battle with debt. He remained in prison for seven years, where he continued writing various pamphlets rather than plays. After his release from prison, Dekker returned to the theater through a number of collaborations with his contemporaries and younger playwrights before ultimately turning back to pamphleteering in his later years. He died in 1632.

Study Guides on Works by Thomas Dekker