Bartholomew Fair Questions and Answers
by Ben Jonson

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Which characters seek to exert their authority in Bartholemew Fair?

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In a sense, the fair that gives this excellent satire its title acts as a microcosm of human society, which depicts humanity as consisting of a massive struggle as each character tries to get the better of others in terms of jostling for position, prestige and wealth, and most fail. Jonson shows this with absolute hilarity through the various characters who try to exert their authority in order to gain success or prestige. Consider Justice Overdo, for example, who disguises himself in order to find criminals and arrest them. He, when we are first introduced to him in Act II scene 1, justifies his disguise with the following words:

They may have seen many a fool in the ha-
bit of a Justice; but never till now, a Justice in the ha-
bit of a fool. Thus must we do, though that wake for
the publick good: and thus hath the wise Magistrate
done in all Ages. There is a doing of right out of
wrong, if the way be found.

However, in spite of his worthy aims, the exerting of his authority in this way only ends up with him befriending a pickpocket and being accused of a crime himself. In the same way Cokes tries to show off his worldly knowledge to his fianceeĀ but ends up being exposed as an ignorant fool who is easily gulled and prey for the worldlier individuals at the Fair. Lastly, Zeal-of-the-land Busy likewise seeks to exert his authority by attempting to resist temptation and lead others away from it at the Fair, only to succumb to temptation himself through his penchant for pork pies. Each of these characters seek to assert their authority by trying to prove that they are somebody the play shows they are actually not--with hilarious results as the various foibles of humanity are exposed and dissected for our amusement.

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