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Jack of Newbury (Paperback) (Thomas Deloney)

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“Among all manual arts used in this land, none is more famous for desert, or more beneficial to the commonwealth, than is the most necessary art of clothing.” So begins Thomas Deloney’s extraordinary prose narrative, dedicated “To All Famous Clothworkers in England.” It is an amiable and remarkably entertaining work of fiction—and also one that connects powerfully with the real world of sixteenth-century England. Deloney recounts the story of “John Winchcombe, in his younger years called Jack of Newbury,” an early sixteenth-century apprentice in the company of weavers. Courted by the wife of his former master, he marries her and thereby becomes wealthy; spends time in the court of Henry VIII and challenges Cardinal Wolsey; and becomes embroiled in a range of comic situations. Amusing as it is, the work also has a serious message: as Peter Herman puts it in his introduction to the volume, “the truly valuable subjects are not the nobility, but the merchant class, people who either labor or provide the opportunity for labor. Industry is the nation’s strength, not chivalry. And women are to be respected, not used and then discarded.”Set in the early sixteenth century Jack of Newbury resonated powerfully with readers in the 1590s—an era of economic crisis, high unemployment, and great suffering, for all its literary flowering—and was enormously popular. The range of contextual materials included with this edition help to set it in the broader context of its economic and political as well as literary culture.

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