Fortune hunters, country bumpkins, foolish gentry, zealous Puritans, bawdy lower class elements, a pompous judge, purse snatchers and con men combine to make Bartholmew Fair one of the most popular plays by Ben Jonson. Reading Ben Jonson does require some persistence, but the effort is always rewarded. Often his allusions to topical events prove obscure today, his penchant for having some characters quote Latin phrases can be a barrier (some characters misquote Latin, and we, the alert audience, are supposed to chuckle), and his use of unfamiliar colloquialisms and bawdy comments is yet another challenge. In some ways I found Bartholmew Fair to be more difficult than either Volpone or The Alchemist. I needed to refer frequently to the cast listing to keep track of the multitude of characters (35 or so) that come and go at the fair. To complicate matters some characters insisted on wearing disguises and changing their names. The dialogue, as I alluded earlier, nearly overwhelmed me at times, but I was rescued by the excellent footnotes by G. R. Hibbard in the New Mermaids edition. A second reading was much easier and I have even developed a liking for Bartholmew Fair. Bartholmew Fair is notable for Jonson's unusual introduction in which he cautions his audience that the author is sensitive to criticism and it would be best that they behave. Jonson had not forgotten the acrimonious reception for his recent play, a tragedy titled Catiline, and he had no intention of having this play suffer likewise. Incredibly, Jonson had stagehands read a contractual agreement between the playwright and the audience defining rules for a proper and appropriate method of criticism. Fortunately for all, Bartholomew Fair proved to be quite popular. In 2007 New Mermaids released a new edition, but I am not aware of any changes. The cover is identical to previous editions. There have been several re-printings in recent years (1991, 1994, and perhaps more). The first edition was published in 1977. Bartholmew Fair can also be found in various anthologies like the inexpensive Oxford World Classics edition titled The Alchemist and Other Plays. This collection also has good footnotes. Note: Bartholmew Fair is also spelled Bartholomew Fair. In the 1631 folio, the sole authority for the text of Bartholmew Fair, the title was spelled Bartholmew Fayre.
Excellent farce but rather loose in the seams
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 18 years ago
Ben Jonson creates in this play a complex atmosphere of constant trespassing of social everyday norms to produce an action- and wit-packed experience in which we could easily drown. All possible means are used : trespassing normal life with funfair folly ; trespassing normal social conditions with cutpurses, ballad singers, funfair-merchants, one puritan, one crazy person, a puppet show, etc. But he also embeds in this action some more pregnant issues. Some weddings, for example, that are supposed to be founded on love and not the buying of a license. The puritan who is a gross hypocrite who always finds the right religious words to condemn the sins of other people and to cover his own gluttony. Some women who want some excitement and try to play the easy ladies they dream of being but do not dare to be except behind a mask. A justice who wants to discover reality and true deep crime by using various disguises. The puppet play that reveals two things : first the violent domination of women by men and the subsequent negation of love ; second the vanity and ridicule of the puritan who wants to prevent the show that he calls immoral and profane and expell the puppets that he considers as idols. The puritan is easily negociated into sounding silly, illogical and vain. The justice sees crimes that are not crimes and does not see other crimes that are real crimes. Then he tries to accuse and convict innocent people. He is ridiculed and silenced by his wife taking off her easy lady's mask end revealing herself in that game to his utmost astonishment. The weddings are the result of a certain amount of freedom on the side of women. But the whole play is loose in its plot and lacks the dynamism of a closely-knit action. The language is very popular at times, if not even gross, with many dialects and a lot of wit, often rather easy and farcesque, but it lacks the density that would make it poetical. The attempt to rewrite the classical theme of the puppet play in modern circumstances in London shows the ambiguous change of taste taking place in England at the time but lacks density and fullness. The play could be a good farce, a good entertainment, but it never reaches the strength of a dramatic comedy. It is a disorderly bawdy funfair of many sparkles but no real light or fireworks. Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
Lively, Humorous Visit to Bartholomew Fair
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 18 years ago
Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614) is zany, much like the classic movie It's A Mad, Mad, Mad World. Respectable gentlemen and ladies of London somewhat unwisely visit the annual Batholomew Fair. Encountering an odd mix of conniving characters, they become embroiled in a maze of plots, deceits, and disreputable festival activities and are robbed, tricked, mocked, beaten, thrown into stocks, and recruited as prostitutes.I was continuously overwhelmed by the comings and goings of characters of all sorts, almost as though I was being jostled along in a festival crowd. I have now read Bartholomew Fair several times, and yet I still find it necessary to revisit the cast listing as new characters appear.Many characters are aptly named: the attorney John Littlewit, the suitor Winwife, the zealous Judge Overdo, the quarrelsome Tom Quarlous, the satirical Humphrey Wasp, the respectable Grace Wellborn, the madman Trouble-All, and the ballad singer Nightingale. Other names are simply memorable: Joan Trash, Lantern Leatherhead, Ezekiel Edgeworth, Mooncalf, Captain Whit, and Punk Alice. The list goes on.In Jonson's time little concern was given for the setting. Stages were largely empty, with perhaps a simple prop or two. Unexpectedly, Jonson has the second act begin with trades people assembling their stalls and booths on stage. The booths remain on stage throughout the play, helping the audience orient themselves as the action jumps from one spot to another.The Drama Classics series published by Nick Hern Books of London provide affordable, tightly bound, small paperback editions of plays for students, actors, and theatregoers. The introduction by Colin Counsell to Bartholomew Fair was quite good. It outlines the plot, describes the characters, but avoids academic discussions on interpretational and textual analysis. I like the small, durable Drama Classics editions as they are easy to carry.There is one drawback. A short glossary of difficult words is provided, but there are no footnotes. For a reader new to Ben Jonson, good footnotes offer substantial help. The lower class dialogue and topical allusions can be puzzling.An inexpensive collection of Ben Jonson's plays is published by Oxford Univ. Press in the World's Classic series with the title The Alchemist and Other Plays.
Good Footnotes Can Save the Day, or the Play
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 20 years ago
Ben Jonson requires effort. His allusions to topical events tend to be obscure today, his penchant for having some characters quote Latin phrases can be a barrier (some characters misquote Latin, and we, the alert audience, are supposed to chuckle), and his use of unfamiliar colloquialisms and bawdy comments is yet another challenge. Despite these difficulties, Jonson's humor has weathered four centuries and most readers - with a little persistence - will enjoy Jonson's better known plays like Volpone, The Alchemist, and Bartholomew Fair. In some ways I found Bartholomew Fair to be more difficult than either Volpone or The Alchemist. Even with a second reading, I still needed to refer to the cast listing to keep track of the multitude of characters (thirty-five or so) that come and go. To make matters worse some characters insist on wearing disguises and changing their names. The dialogue, as I alluded earlier, nearly overwhelmed me at times, but I was rescued by the excellent footnotes by G. R. Hibbard in the New Mermaid edition to unravel obscure comments. Thanks in part to Hibbard's footnotes, not only did I survive, I have actually developed a liking for Bartholomew Fair's fortune hunters, country bumpkins, foolish gentry, zealous Puritans, bawdy lower class elements, a pompous judge, purse snatchers and con men. Bartholomew Fair has a rather unusual introduction in which Ben Jonson cautions his audience that the author is sensitive to criticism and it would be best that they behave. Jonson had not forgotten the acrimonious reception for his most recent play, a tragedy titled Catiline, and he had no intention of having this play suffer likewise. Incredibly, Jonson had stagehands read a contractual agreement between the playwright and the audience defining rules for a proper and appropriate method of criticism. Fortunately for all, Bartholomew Fair proved to be popular. It remained so for many years. I have also used the inexpensive Oxford World Classics edition titled The Alchemist and Other Plays and its footnotes are quite helpful. My preference is the New Mermaids edition published by A & C Black/W W Norton. The introduction is more extensive, the font larger, and the paper quality better, but it is a little more expensive.
a wonderful satire of justice
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 23 years ago
Jonson was a wonderfully satirical dramatist of the Renaissance. Bartholomew Fair is a satire of religious justice and legal justice. He uses humorous, over-the-top characters to drive his point home. You will laugh with (not at) Ursula as the snobby, looking-down-their-noses characters realize that they are truly no better than she is. Jonson keeps asking us if his play is fair or foul. Who can judge what is fair or foul? Everyone or only the elite few? The central thing to remember while reading this play is: Fair and foul are near of kin.
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