Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson

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This was a tricky one. Perhaps the hardest read in a long time, especially considering I was also reading the Illiad by Homer simultaneously (review coming soon)! As well as being one of the hardest texts I’ve ever been faced with, it was also one of the most bizarre texts I’ve ever read and so, consequently, I gave this one a second reading before writing about it…

I basically couldn’t grasp some of the scenes in my first reading for my course. I just simply didn’t know what was going on! Things like this were constantly floating around my head: Why are the characters saying all of these things?? Who is that character again?? What are their motivations?? Why do the characters have names like ‘Zeal-of-The-Land Busy’ and ‘Trash’?? Why is there a Wasp and a gingerbread lady?? The carnivalesque nature of the play surely came through here.

Upon my second reading I realised, like many of the characters who undergo the carnivalesque space of the Bartholomew Fair, entering a world they have no grasp of, confronting people, situations and objects they may not like but also desire to do, I also felt the process of carnival by being so overwhelmed with what on earth was going on! Unlike Quarlous, I exited the play unsuccessfully…wondering what the heck I’d just read.

After being enlightened by my amazing seminar group and enthusiastic seminar leader, I found the play much more enjoyable to read the second time around. Not only did I understand what was going on, but I found it utterly hilarious. I feel like myself and Jonson share a similar humour, one that is satiric and gross haha. Jonson is absolutely brilliant at creating imagery, for example, when Knockem says that Busy ‘eats with his eyes as well as his teeth’ it’s very bodily, echoing the essays of Bakhtin.

Jonson definitely has a distinct style. After reading two of his plays I can see the similarities of his humour, his dedication to the classics and his huge ego! The mockery of characters in their blind stupidity at the presentation of their personality of a plate is devoured by the audience/reader. He is just fantastic at writing satire! I would highly recommend reading this play if you enjoyed VolponeBe prepared for some incredibly bawdy humour from every single character in the play.

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