Places: Bartholomew Fair

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1631

First produced: 1614

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Satire

Time of work: Early seventeenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Bartholomew Fair

*Bartholomew Bartholomew FairFair (BART-le-mee). London’s raucous Bartholomew Fair, held at Smithfields from 1120 onward. The original site was the area where animals were slaughtered and sold. During the reign of Queen Mary, the fair was suspended, and Smithfields became the site where heretics were burned at the stake. The fair was reestablished in the 1560’s after the accession of Elizabeth I. Symbolically, the fair represents the world, with all its liveliness, riot, and sinfulness. Representatives of the law, such as Justice Overdone, and the rigid Puritan sect, such as Zeal-of-the-Land Busy, invade the fair to ferret out its evils and ultimately shut it down. Their encounters with the cutpurses, pimps, horse thieves, pig women, and gingerbread sellers, who ply their wares at the fair, leave these self-righteous individuals humiliated and chastened. The vitality of the fair exerts its influence and defeats the intentions of those who would condemn it.

*Ursula’s pig booth

*Ursula’s pig booth. Booth at which “Bartholomew Pig” is sold–where the fair’s ultimate excesses are centered. The Littlewits go to the booth hoping that indulgence in greasy roast pork will help Win to conceive. Mrs. Overdone and Dame Purecraft, representatives of middle-class morality, become drunk and are mistaken for whores.

*Leatherhead’s puppet booth

*Leatherhead’s puppet booth. Country bumpkin Bartholomew Cokes, who thinks the fair is his fair since they share the same name, is drawn into the world of the puppet show featuring Hero and Leander, though he understands not a word of it, just as he is lost in the world of the fair.

*Hope Theatre

*Hope Theatre. Bankside theater in which Jonson’s play was first produced in 1631. It becomes the site of a scene in the play itself. The introduction sees the book holder, the stage manager, and the scrivener make a compact with the audience not to condemn the excesses of either the stage production or Bartholomew Fair.

BibliographyBarish, Jonas. Ben Jonson and the Language of Prose Comedy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1960. A masterful discussion of Jonson’s comic language and an important starting point for study of Jonson’s dramatic works. Convincingly argues for Bartholomew Fair as Jonson’s masterpiece.Barton, Anne. Ben Jonson, Dramatist. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1984. Compelling discussion of Jonson’s interests in chaos and order. Offers an important chapter on the use of names and naming–an obsessive interest of Jonson’s across his career–in the context of discussions of names and language from Plato to historian William Camden, Jonson’s contemporary and teacher.Donaldson, Ian. The World Upside Down. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1970. Views the play as festive in its forms and themes, and explores the anthropology of festivity. Excellent insights into the play’s relevance to the court of James I.Hamel, Guy. “Order and Judgement in Bartholomew Fair.” University of Toronto Quarterly, 43, no. 1 (Fall, 1973): 48-67. Discusses how the staging of the theatrically complex play reinforces Jonson’s themes about justice in a complex world. An important essay for establishing Jonson’s deliberate dramatic strategy for what was once considered the play’s greatest flaw: its seemingly unwieldy theatrical structure.Orgel, Stephen. The Jonsonian Masque. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965. Although mainly about Jonson’s masques, Orgel’s discussion is invaluable for his insights into Jonson’s political use of costume, spectacle, and disguise, key elements of Bartholomew Fair.
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