Guy Fawkes: A Gingerbread Tragedy

31 October 2019

History | Theatre

Guy Fawkes: A Gingerbread Tragedy is available to view via Eighteenth Century Drama until 1st December 2019.

I’m not sure if it was the Bake Off Final or my excitement for Bonfire Night that drew me to the brilliantly titled play ‘Guy Fawkes: A Gingerbread Tragedy’. A love triangle set in a bakery, the title caught my attention, yet I stayed for the baking-themed puns.

Like so many people, I will be wrapping up and heading out to a fireworks display this weekend. I’ve always loved this time of year – the toffee apples, bonfires and autumn colours.The literature and traditions surrounding the origins of Bonfire Night have gradually changed over the years. The food and fireworks elements remain the same, but Guy Fawkes’ portrayal shifted from villain to hero, as shown in this play, written in 1821.


Guy Fawkes: A Gingerbread Tragedy, 8 Sep 1821, © The Huntington Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


Guy Fawkes: A Gingerbread Tragedy holds a more sympathetic view, with Fawkes listed as ‘A mysterious hero going about with a match, and for a match’. He’s more of a knight in shining armour, a man desperately in love with Joan, who may be forced to marry the vain Sir Evrard Digby. Digby is said to love Joan, but his love for himself is the most apparent. As he passes a mirror, he exclaims: ‘Look at this dress -- this person. Can I pass before a Lady in a looking glass and not impress my image?'


Guy Fawkes: A Gingerbread Tragedy, 8 Sep 1821, © The Huntington Library. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.


Performed at the Theatre Royal English Opera House, the play has a pantomime feel to it, with the audience clearly expected to root for the underdog in the figure of Guy. The bakehouse setting is alluded to throughout, which allows for some wonderful lines, including Ruth’s comment to Guy that ‘you dip’t your coat tail in the jam’ (a less common problem today). Guy also notes Joan’s pale appearance, before suggesting ‘perhaps the flour has touched your cheek’ – she had been baking tarts.

The main focus of this plot is to rid Joan of the irritating Sir Digby by blowing up the bakehouse oven. Generously, Joan notes that her father’s life should be spared, but that Digby must go, ending the love triangle and allowing Guy and Joan to be together. The play ends with pie, meats, gingerbread and Sir Digby all going up with the explosion. As the title suggests, the real tragedy here is shown to be the loss of the baked goods in the blast.

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About the Author

Natalie Dale

Natalie Dale

Since joining Adam Matthew in January 2018, I have worked on some fascinating collections, including Colonial America, Shakespeare's Globe Archive, Sex and Sexuality and Foreign Office Files for South East Asia. I have a Masters in Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and my interests include gender studies, literature and theatre.