Dragon of Wantley  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Dragon of Wantley is a 17th century satirical verse parody about a dragon and a brave knight. It was included in Thomas Percy's 1767 Reliques of Ancient Poetry.

The poem is a parody of medieval romances and satirizes a local churchman. In the poem, a dragon appears in Yorkshire and eats children and cattle. The knight More of More Hall battles the dragon and kills it. The Wantley of the poem is Wharncliffe, as the dragon lived in a cave on Wharncliffe Crags, five miles to the north of Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Sir Francis Wortley, the diocese ecclesiastic, and the parishioners of Wharncliffe had a disagreement on tithing and how much the parish owed (under the law of "First Fruits"), so the poem makes him a dragon. More of More Hall was a lawyer who brought a suit against Wortley and succeeded, giving the parishioners relief. Thus, this parody romance satirizes Wortley. The author of the poem is unknown.

The Augustan parody

Henry Carey wrote the libretto to a burlesque opera called The Dragon of Wantley in 1737. The opera, with music composed by John Frederick Lampe, punctured the vacuous operatic conventions and pointed a satirical barb at Robert Walpole and his taxation policies. The opera was a huge success and its initial run was 69 performances in the first season; a number which exceeded even The Beggar's Opera. The opera debuted at the Haymarket Theatre, where its coded attack on Walpole would have been clear, but its long run occurred after it moved to Covent Garden, which had a much greater capacity for staging. Part of its satire of opera was that it had all of the words sung, including the recitatives and da capo arias. The play itself is very brief on the page, as it relied extensively on absurd theatrics, dances, and other non-textual entertainments. The Musical Entertainer from 1739 contains engravings showing how the staging was performed *

The piece is at once a satire of the ridiculousness of operatic staging and an indirect satire of the government's tax policy. In Carey's play, More of More Hall is a drunk who pauses to deal with the dragon only between bouts of drinking and carousing with women. A young country woman offers herself as a human sacrifice to More to persuade him to take on the cause of battling the dragon, and she is opposed by a former lover of More's who has interest in him now that a rival has appeared.

The battle with the dragon takes place entirely offstage, and More only wounds the dragon (who is more reasonable than More in his dialogue) in its anus. The main action concerns the lavish dances and songs by the two sopranos and More.

The opera is now rarely performed. A fully staged production is planned by the West London amateur group, Isleworth Baroque, in late October 2012.

The novel

A novel, The Dragon of Wantley, was written by Owen Wister (best known as the author of The Virginian) in 1892. Published by Lipincott Press, the story is a comic "burlesque" (in the author's words), concerning the "true" story of the Dragon. It is a romantic story set at Christmastime in the early 13th century. The book was a surprise success, going through four editions over the next ten years.

Representations

There is a representation of the dragon above More Hall on the opposite side of the valley to Wharncliffe Crags. The snaking stone wall culminating in a carved dragon's head can be found at the southern edge of Bitholmes Wood (Grid Ref:295 959). There is also a representation of the event in the entrance hall to Sheffield Town Hall.





Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dragon of Wantley" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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