WhileBartholomew Fairis not a rigorous allegory where every personage stands for a notion and every action for a principle, Jonson does make at least three characters out as associated with the three religious persuasions of the commonwealth: Overdo is consistently presented as a representative figure for the state...
While Bartholomew Fair is not a rigorous allegory where every personage stands for a notion and every action for a principle, Jonson does make at least three characters out as associated with the three religious persuasions of the commonwealth: Overdo is consistently presented as a representative figure for the state Church of England, Busy for the staunch Puritans, and Wasp for the English Catholics. These associations are bolstered, not only by the names of the characters themselves but by the background details Jonson gives to them. For instance, the archetype of the hypocritical Puritan ‘Zeal-of-the-land Busy’ is aptly said to come from Banbury, known as a hotbed of Puritans in the public mind.
The allegorical nature of the three characters' treatment lies in their behavior and shared fate. Each of the three errs in an attempt to assert superiority. For example, Overdo is exposed at the fair for deceiving himself, whereas Busy is for deceiving others. Justice Overdo, in disguise, searches the grounds for "enormities" only to mistake the innocent for the guilty and minor for major transgressions. This lesson draws a neat parallel for the overzealous prosecution of dissenters on the part of the official church and state. Busy likewise finds the fair an "abomination" (5.5.87). With puritanical zeal, he censures the so-called "merchandise of Babylon" (3.6.84) and disputes the religious blasphemy of plays with a puppet. Busy winds up "confuted," however, when the puppet says:
I'll prove, against e'er a Rabbin of 'em all, that my standing is as lawful as his; that I speak by inspiration as well as he; that I have as little to do with learning as he; and do scorn her helps as much as he" (5.5.97-100)
In the end, Busy admits defeat like Overdo: "The cause hath failed me," says he, "I am changed and will become a beholder with you!”, being humbled by the puppet.
That all three pretenders to authority—Overdo, Busy, and Wasp—end up in the stocks together casts their moral validity into question and levels them all on equal ground. No one is better than the others but all are equally at fault. The moral of the allegorical plot involving the three representatives of religious authority is summed up when Overdo finally realizes that, since humans are fallible beings, they must all practice forbearance and patience: "Nay, Humphrey,” says he, “if I be patient, you must be so too" (5.6.102).