24 November 2012

Did you know... Sylvia Plath and Bartholomew Fair

In the fall of 1955, in her first term as a graduate student at Newnham College, Cambridge University, Sylvia Plath played the role of Alice in Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614), produced by the Amateur Dramatics Club in Cambridge from November 24-December 3, 1955.

Alice's role is "mistress o' the game." The role has just a five lines (and a fight!). Did you know … what those lines were?

They were:

  • "A mischiefe on you, they are such as you are, that undo us, and take our trade from us, with your tuft-taffata haunches.";
  • "The poore common whores can ha'no traffic, for the privy rich ones; your caps and hoods of velvet call away our customers, and lick the fat from us.";
  • "Od's foot, you Bawd in grease, are you talking?";
  • "Thou Sow of Smithfield, thou!";
  • "Ay, by the same token, you rid that week, and broke out of the bottom o'the Cart, Night-tub."

    (source, with some "corrections" made; I should add this source was not necessarily the script from which Plath read)

Plath originally got no part in the production, saying in a letter to her mother written on November 7, 1955, that "Acting simply takes up too much time. I was really glad I didn't get a part in the coming production of Bartholomew Fair (although, of course, it injured my ego slightly..." (Letters Home 194).

But, by November 21, 1955, Plath had been given a role. She writes to her mother, "I have five lines as a rather screaming bawdy woman who gets into a fight" (196).

Perhaps the fight served as training for February 25, 1956!?

Postscript: Prior to her role as Alice in Bartholomew Fair, Plath performed as the mad poetess Phoebe Clinkett from Three Hours After Marriage written by Alexander Pope. John Gay, and John Arbuthnot (1717) (read it here). This was one of three "nursery" productions the ADC produced on 22 October 1955 (the same day that Plath saw Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh in Cambridge).


Julia Gordon-Bramer said...

Thank you for these! I had of course read of the productions and her roles in them, but did not know the work to even begin to imagine her lines. You have brought me closer to it. :-)

Peter K Steinberg said...

Thank you for the comment Julia! Glad that I could bring you closer to it!


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