Shared Borders: The Puppet in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair
Keywords:jonson, puppet, prop, REED Manuscripts,
The Records of Early English Drama from Kent, Somerset, and Cambridge reveal connotations of vagrancy, transgressive sexual behavior, and theft associated with both puppets and puppeteers. Puppets had been commonplace for over 300 years before Jonson features them in his 1614 Bartholomew Fair. From the puppets’ first appearance in the list of the ‘Persons of the Play’ to the puppets’ triumph in the final scene, puppets-as-props and puppets-as-players are conflated with actors, exposing the tensions along shared material borders. The puppets both mimic and parody the social construction of the self. Theatrical props such as handkerchiefs and gloves materialized value, power, and sexual availability. They represent and often commodify the absent human character, becoming extensions of the human body.
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