Meet Bristle the Trojan cobbler, the lower-class hero whose quick wits ensured that Troy, contrary to received opinion, never really fell at all. He is the leader of the Trojan ‘mob’ In Elkanah Settle’s spectacular drama The Siege of Troy, a ‘droll’ related to Aeneid book II first performed at Bartholomew Fair in Smithfield in 1707. The Siege of Troy was the most famous, elaborate, and most often performed English droll of the first half of the 18th century.
It was also performed in the theatrical booth of Mrs Mynn in the yard of the Queen’s Arms during the Southwark Fair, and in dozens of performances by puppeteers. In Hogarth’s famous Southwark Fair of 1733, it is The Siege of Troy that is still attracting the crowds.
The aristocrats who caused the whole war, Helen and Paris, both die, and in the end the Greeks let the Mob off scot-free. As Ulysses says to them, they should not have to pay any more for the guilt of their Princes. ‘Here I have finisht my Revenge. Enjoy / Your Lives and Liberties; go and rebuild Troy.’ The entertainment concludes with further celebration, enjoyed by the Greeks and Trojans alike, in a fantasy of cross-class bonding, led by Bristle and Ulysses.
But class distinctions are expressed rhythmically. Bristle and all the other lower-class Trojan characters speak in colloquial and often obscene prose throughout; the aristocrats, both Greek and Trojan, speak in parodically overblown pentameters, most of them rhyming couplets.
Fabulously spectacular, The Siege of Troy offered its fairground audiences scenes and machines including elephants, dancing devils, blazing castle turrets, and that twenty-foot high wooden horse. At the climax the Greeks climb down the ladders and confront Captain Bristle’s inebriated ad-hoc army. He tells them that drinking erases all sense of class distinctions: ‘The noble Prince Paris has made all the Conduits in the Town piss Claret and given us such Feasting and Toping and Fiddling and Roaring, till we are all Princes as great as himself!’