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The Vicar of Bray

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This article is about the character or character-type.
For the article about the 18th century folk song of the same name, see: "The Vicar of Bray (song)".
For the article about the 19th century comic opera of the same name, see: The Vicar of Bray (opera).
For the evolutionary hypothesis, see: Vicar of Bray (scientific hypothesis).

The Vicar of Bray is a satirical description of an individual fundamentally changing his principles to remain in ecclesiastical office as external requirements change around him. The religious upheavals in England from 1533 to 1559 and from 1633 to 1715 made it almost impossible for any individual to comply with the successive religious requirements of the state.

A satirical 18th century song, "The Vicar of Bray", recounts the career of a vicar of Bray, Berkshire, towards the end of this period and his contortions of principle in order to retain his ecclesiastic office despite the changes through the course of several monarchs from Charles II to George I. A comic opera covers a later period in 18th century history, while a film set in Bray, County Wicklow in Ireland, covers Charles I, the English Civil War, the Commonwealth of England, The Protectorate, and restoration of Charles II.

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[edit] Historical basis

Several individuals have been proposed as the model for the Vicar of Bray.

  • Francis Carswell, who is buried in the church of Bray, was Vicar of Bray for 42 years, dying in 1709, and so lived through the period relevant to the song.
  • Thomas Barlow (1607–1691), bishop of Lincoln, is another candidate.

[edit] Description of the song

In the song, "The Vicar of Bray", the eponymous vicar was the clergyman of the parish of Bray-on-Thames, Berkshire. The most familiar version of the lyrics recount his adaptability (some would say amorality) over half a century, from the reigns of Charles II to George I. Over this period, he embraced whichever form of liturgy, Protestant or Catholic, was favoured by the monarch of the day in order to retain his position as vicar of Bray. See the annotated lyrics to "The Vicar of Bray".

The earliest version of the song's lyrics may have been written by "an officer in Colonel Fuller's regiment," according to one source. They exist in various forms. However, the story of the vicar's cheerful reversals of principle remains the same in all circumstances.

[edit] Comic Opera

The Vicar of Bray is an 1882 comic opera by Sydney Grundy and Edward Solomon. The opera is based on the character described in the 18th century song, as well as on The History of Sandford and Merton, a series of 18th century moral tales.

[edit] 1937 Film version

A film version of the tale was released in 1937 starring Stanley Holloway as the vicar.[1] In the film, the vicar (of Bray, County Wicklow in Ireland) is given a more positive character and events are placed at a slightly earlier period, during the English Civil War. He successfully protects his parishioners by adopting a diplomatic approach during the turbulent events and secures forgiveness for moderate rebels from the restored Charles II.

[edit] Cultural impact

The Vicar of Bray is also referenced in the song Parlour Songs in the Stephen Sondheim musical, Sweeney Todd, although the song has been removed from more recent performances of that musical. George Orwell wrote an essay called, 'A good word for the vicar of Bray'.

A scientific hypothesis is named after The Vicar of Bray that attempts to explain why sexual reproduction might be favoured over asexual reproduction.[2][3]

Vicar of Bray is the name of the last known surviving Whitehaven wooden built ship. It was launched on 22 April 1841 by Robert Hardy.[4]

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ The Vicar of Bray at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^ Wilson, David Sloan and Scott K. Gleeson. A Big Book on Sex (1982) Society for the Study of Evolution
  3. ^ Tannenbaum, Emmanuel and José F. Fontanari. "A quasispecies approach to the evolution of sexual replication in unicellular organisms", Theory in Biosciences, Springer: Berlin/Heidelberg, ISSN 1431-7613, Issue Volume 127, Number 1, March 2008
  4. ^ "Vicar of Bray", MyWhitehaven.net, 6 December 2007

[edit] External links

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