The Child on Display in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair
Anna-Claire Simpson considers how early modern plays capitalized on their associations with children’s companies by exploring Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair, written for and performed by Lady Elizabeth’s Men, in relation to Epicoene, written for and performed by the Children of the Blackfriars. By tracing the ways aesthetics in both plays focus and encourage a sensibility of age and specifically youth, and by locating shared conventions across these plays, the chapter seeks to identify a more robust connection between the role that children and childhood played in the writing, performance, and afterlife of the period’s tremendous contributions to literature and theater. The chapter’s framework features a brief discussion of child performers in early seventeenth century London and the “problem” of negotiating their legibility as such, alongside performance theory as a means to recognizing the complex work of bodies in the theater. Simpson proposes that theater could dependably instrumentalize its young actors to create and consolidate theater and troupe identities in this particular nascent moment of theater professionalization.
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