In current scholarship the obscurity of the early years of Thomas Dekker is akin to his opacity in Philip Henslowe's Diary, which awaits full analytical interpretation. While the Diary usefully tells us about Henslowe's theatre business, it also imparts interwoven stories about many playwrights whose works are being rigorously tested in today's theatres. In this essay Chi-fang Sophia Li offers a theatre-based critique of the early life of Dekker, when, she argues, he quickly became a ‘fully paid-up member’ of the theatrical community. Thus his theatrical strengths, productive potential, writing interests, collaborative patterns, earning power, and working relationships with Michael Drayton, Anthony Munday, and Henry Chettle can be interpreted afresh. The Diary supplies frequent, intensive sightings of Dekker, whose biographical implications mutually inform a cultural life of Dekker's peers. This is the first attempt to elucidate in full Dekker's presence in the Henslowe–Alleyn papers alongside other historical and literary documents. Chi-fang Sophia Li is Associate Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan. She has published in Shakespeare Bulletin, Notes and Queries, English Studies, New Theatre Quarterly, and in Chinese in Review of English and American Literature. She gave public lectures for the anniversaries of Shakespeare's birth and death for the Globe Theatre on tour to Taiwan in 2014 and for the Shakespeare Exhibition in 2015 for the National Museum of Taiwan Literature and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.