Bartholomew Fair

Definition

Theater

  • A fair originally held at Smithfield, London, for the four days beginningon St Bartholomew's Day (24 August); after the reform of the calendar in 1752it began on 3 September. It moved to Islington in 1840 and was last held in 1855. One of the year's main trading events for dealers in cloth,livestock, etc., the fair also provided a variety of amusements and entertainments.It long held its place as a centre of London life, despite the attempts of the Puritans to suppress it.

    Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair was first actedon St Bartholomew's Day 1614. The play gives a vibrant bustling pictureof the fair and the wide cross-section of London life that attends;the characters include showmen, rogues, dupes, fashionable gallants,and a gaggle of censorious Puritans. In the play's climactic scenethe hypocritical Zeal-of-the-land Busy is worsted in a debate aboutthe morality of the theater.

    The 1682 miscellany Wit and Drollery records:

    Here's the Woman of Babylon, the Devil andthe Pope.
    And here's the little girl just going on the rope!
    Here's Dives and Lazarus, and the World's Creation;
    Here's the Tall Dutchwoman, the like's not in the nation.
    Here is the booths where the high Dutch maid is,
    Here are the bears that dance like any ladies

    One of the fair's chief attractions (denounced as idolatrousby Jonson's Puritans) was the roasting of whole pigs and sale of their meat(see also Cockaigne). In Henry IV, Part II Doll Tearsheet affectionately calls Falstaff:

    Thou whoreson little tidy Bartholomew boar-pig.

    see also Leatherhead Lanthorn.

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