Synopsis

Before the start of the action, Lacy went bankrupt on a Continental tour, and learned the cobbler's trade in Wittenberg. On his return to England, he fell in love with Rose Oatley, but they fall foul of disapproving relatives: the Earl of Lincoln contrives for Lacy to leave the country as a commander in the French wars, and her father takes her away to his country house.

The newly married shoemaker Ralph is recruited into the army and takes a sad leave of his wife, Jane, and his colleagues.

Lacy, however, deserts after the troops take ship: he sends his cousin to war in his place, and returns to London in the hope of making contact with Rose. Disguised as a Dutch shoemaker, Hans, he seeks employment with Simon Eyre and, though the business does not need another journeyman, he is accepted because Eyre's other workmen like him.

A Dutch ship arrives in London with a rich cargo of luxury items, which the skipper offers at a bargain price; Lacy helps Eyre to buy the goods, using the money Lincoln gave him for his expenses in France.

Eyre grows prosperous and becomes first an alderman, then Sheriff, and makes over his shop to his foreman, Hodge.

In the country, Rose meets Hammon during a hunt, and her father thinks him a suitable son-in-law; at the betrothal, however, she rejects him and declares that she will live a maid.

Hammon decides to try his luck with a London shopkeeper instead.

The English rout the French in battle with relatively few fatal casualties, but Ralph is injured and comes home lame. He finds that Jane, forced to make her own living in his absence, has disappeared.

Eyre is invited to dine with Oatley in the country, and the shoemakers accompany him to provide musical entertainment. Oatley hopes that the Eyres will talk some marital sense into Rose, but she recognizes one of the morris-dancing shoemakers as Lacy. She summons him the following day on the pretext of fitting her shoes, and they elope.

Oatley and Lincoln are decoyed to wait at the wrong church, but the couple are married before they realize their mistake.

Meanwhile Hammon courts Jane, who is working as a seamstress, and overcomes her lack of interest by showing her Ralph's name on a list of the war dead.

He orders a new pair of shoes for her to wear at the wedding, and sends one of her old ones as a model; Ralph recognizes it and his fellow shoemakers help him to intercept the wedding party before they reach the church. Jane is delighted that her true love is still alive; Hammon attempts to bribe Ralph to give her up, but withdraws gracefully after a rebuff.

Heavy mortality among the London Aldermen secures Eyre's early appointment as Lord Mayor. He invites all the city's apprentices to breakfast in a new civic building he has erected, and declares Shrove Tuesday a general holiday.

Interested by his madcap reputation, the King comes to dine with him, and is persuaded to pardon Lacy his desertion; Oatley and Lincoln arrive too late to break up his marriage by laying an effective accusation of treason. The King licences a market at Eyre's new building, which he names Leadenhall, and declares his intention to resume the war with France.

Synopsis reproduced with permission from Martin Wiggins, British Drama, 1533-1642: A Catalogue (Oxford, 2012- ).

Royal Shakespeare Theatre
11 December 2014 - 7 March 2015

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