Bury Fair Background

Bury Fair Background

Bury Fair is a 1689 play by Thomas Shadwell. In keeping with his standard application already established with twelve productions produced over the proceeding twenty years, Bury Fair (sometimes spelled Bury-Fair) was an adaptation of an already existing work. In this case, the work fused elements from the Duke of Newcastle’s Triumphant Widow with Moliere's Les Precieuses Ridicules while pinching its title from Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair.

The result is a satire on contemporary British manners with special regard toward their preferences for leisurely amusements and watering-places, and amusements, but for many the most fascinating part of the manuscript today has less to do with the lightweight amusements making up the fictional narrative than with the prefatory dedication material which may add some illumination into the real life drama of Shadwell’s bitter feud with rival John Dryden.

The play is dedicated to Epistle Dedicatory to Charles, Earl of Dorset, then Lord Chamberlain who was responsible for appointing Shadwell to the position of Poet Laureate, notably replacing Dryden. The dedication material also alludes to Shadwell being unable to make a living in his profession due to “ruin” having been “designed.” Furthermore, this prefatory material also indicates that the play was written under great personal strain due to the playwright being in extremely poor health.

While Bury Fair has gone on mostly to obscurity and is often singled out as an example of Shadwell’s growing fondness for farce that led to devaluation of his later works, what information supplied in the dedication has been of marked value in trying to piece together the biography of British author who remains very much a mystery in comparison to his peers.

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