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520 Class 12

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Primary Reading: Jonson, Bartholomew Fair
Secondary Reading: Browse the introduction to Gossett’s edition.
Other References: TBA, if any. Note! These references are for information only. I may draw upon them in my discussion, but do not expect you to read them.
Discussion Questions:
  1. Liberties, carnivalesque, law. The dramatic action of Bartholomew Fair takes place in Smithfield, one of the Liberties of the City of London. Technically under the City’s jurisdiction, Liberties assumed a literal meaning as places of refuge from authority. In Bartholomew Fair, even the law is made over in the image of the festive marketplace; the Watch is more interested in extorting shilling fines than keeping the peace and Justice Overdo’s Court of Pie Powders is a legal parody. His judicial authority is invoked even as he is publically ridiculed in the stocks. How does Jonson’s criminal underworld react to this inversion of authority? Is every master cutpurse, infected punk, and crooked costermonger looking after his or her own interests when separating gulls from their money or do they display a communal solidarity? Does Bartholomew Fair permit these hucksters true liberty? Or is it simply an illusion that the laws of the res publica do not apply within the carnivalesque atmosphere of the pleasure grounds? (KSJ)
  2. Women and the carnivalesque. The enormous flesh of Ursula the pig woman overflows her body. She is the Body o’ the Fair (2.5.71) procuress of pork and prostitutes, and living incarnation of carnival excess. More darkly, she is described as a bog and a quagmire, dripping sweat as she lumbers around her pig stand, the economic centre of Bartholomew Fair. Does Jonson’s imagery of Ursula’s carnival physicality invoke elements of the marketplace and commercial exchange? Do her crude sexuality and rejection of accepted Jacobean parameters of beauty function as a warning that the Fair, like a woman’s body, is beyond mans control? (KSJ)
  3. Work and play. Who works and who plays at the fair? How do those who work and those who play interact? Where do we see conflicts and alliances forming? What do these relationships tell us about the politics and economics of London, as it is embodied in the annual market of Bartholomew Fair? (JJ)
  4. Winners and losers. What does each person want from the experience of going to the fair? Are his/her needs and hopes met by the fair? Who are the winners and losers at the end of the play? (JJ)


  • Jonson, Ben. Bartholomew Fair. 1614. Ed. Suzanne Gossett, based on The Revels Plays edition ed. E.A. Horsman. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000. Revels Student Editions.
Last modification: 2016-06-04 15:39:30 -0700 (Sat, 04 Jun 2016) (jtakeda)
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MLA citation:

Jenstad, Janelle, and Kerra St John. “520 Class 12.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Web. 21 February 2018. <>.

Chicago citation:

Jenstad, Janelle, and Kerra St John. n.d. “520 Class 12.” The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed February 21, 2018.

APA citation:

Jenstad J., & K. St John. (n.d.). 520 Class 12. In J. Jenstad (Ed.), The Map of Early Modern London. Retrieved February 21, 2018, from

TEI citation:

<bibl> <author><persName><surname>Jenstad</surname>, <forename>Janelle</forename></persName></author>, & <author><persName><forename>Kerra</forename> <surname>St John</surname></persName></author>. (<date>n.d.</date>). <title level="a">520 Class 12</title>. In <editor><persName><forename>J.</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></persName></editor> (Ed.), <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>. Retrieved <date when="2018-02-21">February 21, 2018</date>, from <ref target=""></ref> </bibl>