Contamination, Judgment, and Friendship in Bartholomew Fair

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Ben Johnson's 'Bartholomew Fair' (1614) explores the relationship between appetite and excess, and their counterparts, restraint and judgement. Comedy flows from Jonson's representation of the inescapably mixed nature of human behaviour; of the inevitable and even felicitous gap between precept and practice. This essay looks at the operation of law in the Fair, arguing that while Jonson satirizes law's nominated representatives, he is not simply advocating lawlessness. Jonson's play demonstrates that the best sort of law is that which facilitates rather than inhibits human interaction, and which is formed in practice rather than precept, from acts of friendly contamination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-239
Number of pages23
JournalBen Jonson Journal
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012


  • law and literature
  • Ben Jonson
  • Bartholomew Fair
  • summary justice
  • common law
  • friendship


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