Eve's Flesh and Blood in Jonson's Bartholomew Fair


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Jonson's attitude to women has remained an enigma to most Jonsonian scholars. "A shrew yet honest," Jonson's only surviving remark about his wife, captures the tensions and the duality of attitude his critics find in his portrayal of women. Swinburne reacted so violently to this duality that he could only explain it by regarding Jonson as a woman-hater who flattered particular women from suspect motives. More recently, Parfitt has speculated that "Jonson's marriage may have encouraged not only that painful sense of schism which marks his treatment of relationships, but also the notable split in his literary attitudes to women."1 Such amateur psychological explanations, however, lead into hazardous and unnecessary guesswork, especially when we can account for the duality as a literary commonplace having its basis in much medieval and Renaissance literature and match it with a similar polarization of attitude in the popular pamphlets on the position of women in society. Equally unconvincing is the assumption of an enduring dichotomy in Jonson's attitude to women, that all women in his plays are stereotypical, either daughters of Eve, temptresses and shrews, or Platonic patterns of virtue. The stereotypes are broken certainly in Bartholomew Fair, and the play may be seen as an attitudinal transition in Jonson's interest in female characters.2 The play is remarkable for both the prominence and complexity of its women and the sympathetic understanding of social pressures exerted on the women of his times.

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