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Whole significance of unity : a study of thematic structure in the plays of Christopher Fry Woodfield, James 1971

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THE WHOLE SIGNIFICANCE OF UNITY: A STUDY OF THEMATIC STRUCTURE IN THE PLAYS OF CHRISTOPHER FRY by JAMES WOODFIELD B.A. , University of Bri t i sh Columbia, 1965 A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in the Department of English We accept this thesis as conforming to the required standard THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA September, 1971 In p r e s e n t i n g t h i s t h e s i s in p a r t i a l f u l f i l m e n t o f the requirements f o r an advanced degree at the U n i v e r s i t y of B r i t i s h Columbia, I agree that the L i b r a r y s h a l l make i t f r e e l y a v a i l a b l e f o r reference and study . I f u r t h e r agree t h a t p e r m i s s i o n fo r e x t e n s i v e copying o f t h i s t h e s i s f o r s c h o l a r l y purposes may be granted by the Head of my Department or by h i s r e p r e s e n t a t i v e s . I t i s understood that copying or p u b l i c a t i o n o f t h i s t h e s i s f o r f i n a n c i a l ga in s h a l l not be a l lowed wi thout my w r i t t e n p e r m i s s i o n . Department of £L W Q tf The U n i v e r s i t y o f B r i t i s h Columbia Vancouver 8, Canada Date ABSTRACT In Curtmantle, William Marshal r e c a l l s that Henry's appoint-ment of Becket to Canterbury promised unity, but "the whole s i g n i f i c a n c e of unity was not debated." Christopher Fry i s constantly exploring the nature of unity and seeking i t s s i g n i f i c a n c e . The purpose of th i s d i s s e r t a t i o n i s to examine how the themes of h i s plays are structured i n language and patterns of action which both exemplify unity and reach for o n t o l o g i c a l meaning i n terms of a v i s i o n of a u n i f i e d universe. Fry's work concentrates on a group of c l o s e l y r e l a t e d themes: the p o s i t i v e power of love, both eros and agape; the wonder, paradoxes and unity of existence; the cycle of l i f e , death and renewal; the operation of necessity and the nature of i n d i v i d u a l i t y ; and man's r e l a t i o n s h i p with the universe and with God. A d i r e c t approach could be made on a thematic basis, but the emphasis of th i s d i s s e r t a t i o n i s on the s t r u c t u r a l i n t e g r a t i o n of each separate play, and on the way in.which these themes are expressed through aspects of structure. Many of the themes are common to several plays, and the va r i e t y of forms which Fry develops to express them i s one i n d i c a t i o n of h i s stature as a dramatist. Another possible organization of material would be to group the plays under the headings "secular." and " r e l i g i o u s . " This method would make an a r b i t r a r y distinction'.between plays that have an overt r e l i g i o u s content and those that do not. One of the important r e s u l t s of these analyses i s that the "secular" plays e x h i b i t patterns that make r e l i g i o u s statements as p o s i t i v e as those that deal d i r e c t l y with r e l i g i o u s subjects. The chronological play-by-play approach chosen contains the b u i l t - i n danger of fragmentation. Against this disadvantage stands the advantage that the development of Fry's ideas, techniques and s k i l l can be observed. A unifying factor i s that themes and c o n f i g u r a t i o n s — p a r t i c u l a r l y i n character r e l a t i o n s h i p s — r e c u r and are reworked i n fresh contexts. The dominant d i r e c t i o n of Fry's work i s i n a dual quest, for meaning and for God. Each play i s , i n Fry's own phrase from A Sleep of Prisoners, an "exploration into God," and . " the analyses aim to show how t h i s quest i s pursued i n each play. C r i t i c a l attention has tended to focus on Fry's verse at the expense of a broader view of h i s plays. The poetry i s only one means—albeit an extremely important one—through which the themes are expressed. They also receive i m p l i c i t expression through other aspects of the dramatic structure, dealt with where appropriate. Part of the introduction, which f i r s t places Fry i n a general h i s t o r i c a l and c u l t u r a l perspective, deals with the function of poetry i n modern drama, and with Fry's views on the subject. The choice of poetry as a v e h i c l e for dramatic expression stems from h i s world view: i t i s a natural mode for a man who sees existence as a complex mystery to be comprehended i n t u i t i v e l y rather than r a t i o n a l l y . He i s acutely aware that existence i s not only mysterious and complex, but that i t also has a shape or pattern in which meaning can be found. For Fry, the combination of mystery and pattern finds its best expression in the form of poetic drama. CONTENTS Page Acknowledgements i Preface i i List of Plays and Abbreviations v I Introduction 1 II The Boy with a Cart: Faith and Quest . . . . 29 III The Firstborn: Antithesis and Enigma . . . . 47 IV A Phoenix Too Frequent: Exchange 73 V Thor, with Angels: Sacrifice 96 V I S - M L ^dy' s Not for Burning: Harlequinade . . . 1 1 7 VII Venus Observed: Eros 146 VIII A Sleep of Prisoners: Exploration . . . . 1 6 4 IX The Dark Is Light Enough: Agape 185 x Curtmantle: The Form of Unity 201 XI Conclusion 219 Bibliography 232 Vita Acknowledgements I would l ike to express my sincere gratitude to the following for their help and co-operation: to Mr. Fry for his time and courtesy when I visited him; to the Macmillan Family Fellowship for two years' financial subsistence; to the University of New Brunswick for summer travel grants which faci l i tated completion of the dissertation; to Dr. M. W. Steinberg and the other readers for their crit icism and suggestions; and to my wife, Catherine, for bearing with the inhibitions placed on family and social l i f e by the demands of a dissertation. Preface In Gurtmantle, William Marshal recalls that Henry's appoint-ment of Becket to Canterbury promised unity, but "the whole significance of unity was not debated." Christopher Fry is constantly exploring the nature of unity and seeking i t s s igni-ficance. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine how the themes of his plays are structured in language and patterns of action which both exemplify unity and reach for ontological meaning in terms of a vision of a unified universe. Fry's work concentrates on a group of closely related themes: the positive power of love, both eros and agape; the wonder, para-doxes and unity of existence; the cycle of l i f e , death and renewal; the operation of necessity and the nature of individuality; and man's relationship with the universe and with God. A direct approach could be made on a thematic basis, but I have chosen to place the emphasis of my dissertation on the structural integration of each separate play, and to show how these themes are expressed through aspects of structure. Many of the themes are common to several plays, and the variety of forms which Fry develops to express them is one indication of his stature as a dramatist. Another possible organization of material would be to group the plays under the headings "secular" and "re l ig ious . " This method would make an arbitrary distinction between plays that have an overt religious content and those that do not. One of the important results of my analyses is that the "secular" plays exhibit patterns that make religious statements as positive as those that deal directly with religious subjects. The chronological play-by-play approach I have chosen contains the bui l t - in danger of fragmentation.. Against this disadvantage stands the advantage that the development of Fry's ideas, techniques and s k i l l can be observed. A unifying factor is that themes and configurations—particularly in character relationships--recur and are reworked in fresh contexts. The dominant direction of Fry's work is in a dual quest for meaning and for God. Each play i s , in Fry's own phrase from A Sleep of Prisoners, an "exploration into God," and in my analyses my aim is to show how this quest is pursued in each play. C r i t i c a l attention has tended to focus on Fry's verse at the expense of a broader view of his plays. The poetry is only one means—albeit an extremely important one—through which the themes are expressed. They also receive implicit expression through other aspects of the dramatic structure, which I wi l l deal with where appropriate. Part of my introduction, which f i r s t places Fry in a general his tor ical and cultural perspective, deals with the function of poetry in modern drama, and with Fry's views on the subject. The choice of poetry as a vehicle for dramatic expression stems from his world view: i t is a natural mode for a man who sees existence as a complex mystery to be comprehended intuit ively rather than rationally. He is acutely aware that existence is not only mysterious and complex, but that i t also has a shape or pattern in which meaning can be found. For Fry, the combination of mystery and pattern finds i t s best expression in the form of poetic drama. List of Plays and Abbreviations The Box with a Cart (1939) Boy The Firstborn (1946) Firstborn A Phoenix Too Frequent (1946) Phoenix Thor, with Angels (1948) Thor The Lady's Not for Burning (1949) Lady Venus Observed (1950) Venus A Sleep of Prisoners (1951) Sleep The Dark Is Light Enough (1954) Dark Curtmantle (1961) Curtmantle A Yard of Sun (1970) Yard In each chapter after the Introduction, a play is given i t s f u l l t i t l e when f i r s t mentioned; thereafter, the abbreviated t i t l e is used. Chapter One Introduction Christopher Fry was born at Bristol on Dec. 18, 1907, to Charles John Harris and Emma Marguerite Hammond, the daughter of Emma Louise Fry. Charles Harris, an ex-architect Anglican lay preacher, died in 1910. Derek Stanford records that Fry "retained deep and powerful impressions of his father. The faith and personality of his parent.. . constituted a kind of subconscious idea l . " Stanford suggests that Cuthman's recollections of his father in The Boy with a Cart reflect Fry's own f i l i a l emotions, and that the "missionary urgency" of some of Fry's plays is related to this early influence. Sources for Fry's religious outlook are also to be found in the relationship on his mother's side to the Quaker Fry family, after which he chose to be named, and to the influence of two strongly religious aunts who shared his upbringing. Fry's dramatic career, although late in flowering, began at the age of fourteen when he wrote his f i r s t play, an unpublished and unperformed verse-drama. Another play followed a few years later entitled "Youth and Peregrines;" this was performed in 1934 on the same b i l l as Shaw's A Village Wooing in which Fry played the lead. Fry taught at Hazlewood Preparatory School, Limpsfield, Surrey, from Derek Stanford, Christopher Fry, Bri t i sh Council Pamphlet No.54 (London, 1954), p. 11 . Biographical information also obtained from Who's Who, Stanford's Christopher Fry: An Appreciation (London, 1952), and Emil Roy's Christopher Fry (Carbondale, 1968) . 1924 t o 1931, e x c e p t f o r a b r i e f and u n s u c c e s s f u l e x c u r s i o n i n t o r e p e r t o r y i n 1925. I n 1932 he became d i r e c t o r o f t h e T u n b r i d g e W e l l s R e p e r t o r y P l a y e r s , and, b u t f o r war s e r v i c e , has remained w i t h t h e t h e a t r e e v e r s i n c e . D u r i n g t h e 1930's F r y w r o t e s e v e r a l u n p u b l i s h e d p i e c e s : a comedy, " S i e g e , " i n 1931; m u s i c and l y r i c s f o r a m u s i c a l comedy, "She S h a l l Have M u s i c , " w h i c h p l a y e d a t t h e Savoy i n 1934; a w i d e l y p e r f o r m e d d r a m a t i z a t i o n o f t h e l i f e o f Dr. Thomas Barnar d o e n t i t l e d "The Open Door;" and two p a g e a nts i n 1939, "The Tower" f o r t h e Tewkesbury F e s t i v a l , and "Thursday's C h i l d " f o r t h e R o y a l A l b e r t H a l l . F i n a l l y he a c h i e v e d p u b l i c a t i o n i n 1939 w i t h The Boy w i t h a C a r t , w h i c h had been w r i t t e n i n 1937. T h i s decade was c r u c i a l f o r F r y i n g i v i n g h i m an e s s e n t i a l g r o u n d i n g i n a l l a s p e c t s o f t h e a t r e . A f t e r the war, he c o m p l e t e d The F i r s t b o r n , w h i c h had been s t a r t e d i n 1939, and i t r e c e i v e d i t s f i r s t p e r f o r m a n c e a t the E d i n b u r g h F e s t i v a l on Sept. 6, 1948. By 1955 F r y had w r i t t e n s i x more p l a y s . He had t r a n s l a t e d A n o u i l h ' s L ' I n v i t a t i o n au C h ateau ( R i n g Round t h e Moon) and L ' A l o u e t t e (The L a r k ) , and La G u e r r e de T r o i e n ' a u r a pas l i e u  ( T i g e r a t t h e Gates) by G i r a u d o u x . A l s o he had c o n t i n u e d h i s m u s i c a l v e n t u r e s by w r i t i n g m u sic f o r a p r o d u c t i o n o f A W i n t e r ' s T a l e i n 1951, and e x t r a l y r i c s f o r a f i l m v e r s i o n o f The Beggar's Opera i n 1952. F i l m work began t o t a k e up more and more o f F r y ' s t i m e : he w r o t e a commentary f o r the C o r o n a t i o n f i l m "The Queen I s Crowned," and f r o m 1956 onwards he p a r t i c i p a t e d i n w r i t i n g s e v e r a l s c r i p t s i n c l u d i n g "Ben Hur," " B a r r a b a s " and "The B i b l e . " F r y ' s f i l m work i s n o t r e l e v a n t t o t h i s s t u d y because an e v a l u a t i o n o f t h e s c r i p t s c o u l d be m i s l e a d i n g r a t h e r t h a n h e l p f u l . The medium i s d i f f e r e n t , and t h e w r i t e r ' s i m a g i n a t i o n i s s u b o r d i n a t e d t o t h a t o f t h e d i r e c t o r — a s F r y found when two changes o f d i r e c t o r f o r "The B i b l e " i n v o l v e d two d r a s t i c r e v i s i o n s o f the s c r i p t . D e s p i t e f i l m work, he found t i m e t o t r a n s l a t e two more p l a y s by G i r a u d o u x , Pour L u c r e c e (Duel o f A n g e l s ) i n 1958, and J u d i t h i n 1963. He a l s o w r o t e C u r t m a n t l e , w h i c h was f i r s t p e r f o r m e d i n Dutch i n 1961, and A Y a r d o f Sun, w h i c h appeared a f t e r a l o n g s i l e n c e i n 1970. From t h i s b r i e f o u t l i n e o f F r y ' s c a r e e r i t can be seen t h a t he i s a man o f d i v e r s i f i e d t a l e n t s , and t h a t he has a wide range o f t h e a t r i c a l e x p e r i e n c e . E v e n t s and ac h i e v e m e n t s i n F r y ' s l i f e a r e n o t d i f f i c u l t t o enumerate: i n f l u e n c e s on h i s i d e a s and work a r e more e l u s i v e . H i s b a s i c a t t i t u d e s t o l i f e were f i r m l y formed i n h i s y o u t h : by t h e example o f h i s f a m i l y , t h e B i b l e , Bunyan ( r e a d to him r e g u l a r l y by h i s a u n t ) , S h a k e s p e a r e , c l a s s i c a l myths, and Wordsworth. L a t e r i n l i f e l i t e r a r y and p h i l o s o p h i c a l i n f l u e n c e s ranged from T.S. E l i o t and C H a r l e s W i l l i a m s ( b o t h o f whom F r y knew p e r s o n a l l y ) t o Bergson t o T e i l h a r d de C h a r d i n ( i n whom F r y found an e l o q u e n t e x p r e s s i o n o f h i s own ideas). D r a m a t i c i n f l u e n c e s , t h r o u g h p r a c t i c a l work i n the t h e a t r e as w e l l as wide r e a d i n g , i n c l u d e d most major modern d r a m a t i s t s from I b s e n onwards. I t i s n o t s u r p r i s i n g t h a t he chose t o t r a n s l a t e p l a y s by A n o u i l h ..and G i r a u d o u x . T h e i r l y r i c a l l a n g u a g e , t h e i r t h e a t r i c a l i s m , and t h e i r c r e a t i o n o f f a n t a s y w o r l d s w i t h contemporary r e f e r e n c e f»Tm a s t y l e s i m i l a r t o F r y ' s . As i s e v i d e n t i n A S l e e p o f  P r i s o n e r s and i n C u r t m a n t l e , F r y l a t e r b e n e f i t e d from t h e i r f l e x i b l e s t a g e t e c h n i q u e . Because F r y i s an e c l e c t i c i n b o t h i d e a s and t e c h n i q u e s i t s e r v e s l i t t l e p u r p o s e — a n d c o u l d be invalid—to identify specific influences in the details of his plays, except where there is an obvious debt, l ike the echoes of El iot in The Boy with a Cart. As Fry admits in a letter to Emil Roy, "we are l ike jackdaws: we catch at bright objects everywhere." Before examining the plays of Christopher Fry in detai l , I shall place him in his historical context within the sub-genre of poetic drama, that is to say drama written in verse form with a l l the expectations of image, rhythm and emotion that poetry arouses. This his tor ical sketch identifies Fry as one of several writers in a resurgent Christian poetic drama movement, and thereby provides a pertinent frame of reference for the discussion of the plays. It also leads to a look at Fry's own philosophical position and at some of his c r i t i c a l statements, particularly those concerned with poetry in the theatre, and to a brief discussion of the function and poss ibi l i t ies of poetry in the theatre. Poetry is seen as an aspect of a general ant i-real i s t ic trend in the twentieth-century theatre, and some cr i ter ia for the evaluation of dramatic poetry are established, but more important^, a corrective is applied to the usual approach to Fry which concentrates on his language—much in the manner of a good deal of Shakespearian criticism—by recog-nizing that language functions within the larger structure of the total drama. The golden age of English poetic drama was the early seven-teenth century. Since that time there have been several attempts Roy, Christopher Fry, p. 12. to re-establish the form as viable theatre, but they have met with limited success. The heroic couplets of Dryden's era achieved brief popularity but did not stanii the test of time. During the eighteenth century the form virtual ly disappeared, and in the early nineteenth century, despite the fact that several romantic poets ut i l ized the dramatic form, few achieved any success on the 3 stage although their plays were enjoyed as closet drama. Both Browning and Tennyson wrote poetic drama for the stage, but neither succeeded in finding a style that was simultaneously poetic, dramatic and appealing to their audience, and their plays have rarely been revived. The chief flaw of the nineteenth century poets stemmed from the fact that they were poets f i r s t and dramatists second. Successful poetic drama demands the combination of the talents of both dramatist and poet—in that order of priority—and the foundation of a good dramatist invariably l ie s in his close association with the l ive theatre. In the early part of the present century the poetic drama of Stephen Phi l l ips and James Elroy Flecker achieved some success largely because the audience responded to their delight in the exotic and spectacular, not to any poetic or dramatic quality in their work. The plays of Gordon ^ Coleridge's Remorse enjoyed a week at Drury Lane in 1813, and according to Nico l l ' s Hand-list, only Byron's Marino Faliero was performed during his lifetime (Drury Lane, 1821 ) . N i c o l l suggests that not only were prevailing conditions in the theatre discouraging to the serious writer, but that also the Romantic temperament was too introspective for l ive dramatic form. See Allardyce Nico l l , A History of English Drama 1660-1900 (Cambridge, 1955), i v , 58 f f . Bottoraley, Lascelles Abercrombie, John Masefield, and John Drink-water appealed largely to amateur groups, and again their work has not stood the test of time. During a period which sought social realism, exemplified in Galsworthy's Strife and Justice, i t was not surprising that an essentially unrealistic form found l i t t l e favour. However, the early years of the century saw a growing revolt against realism because of the limitations i t imposed on the exploration of the inner real ity that l ies behind the surface mask of events and characters. Realism seeks truth through the scienti f ic and impersonal observation of rea l i ty . In art i t aims for a l i t e r a l representation of everyday l i f e , and although such exponents of realism as Chekhov can transcend i t s limitations to achieve a "poetic" statement, the reverse does not occur: dialogue cast in the form of verse is antithetical to realism. At the same time that the realists were seeking truth in one direction, the symbolists were seeking i t in the other. Writers such as Maeterlinck and Hofmannsthal strove for l y r i c expression of the inner condition, and later W.B. Yeats sought a similar truth in his symbolic, r i tua l i s t i c and somewhat esoteric plays. As early as 1902 Strindberg's Dream Play pointed the way towards the expressionism of the 1920's and the experimental theatre of the inter-war years? when the growing revolt against realism absorbed symbolism into a mode that sought subjective real i ty through the distortion of surface rea l i ty . That experimentation included the use of poetry because poetry, as a medium for exploring inner rea l i ty , communicates at both a verbal and a supra-verbal l eve l . However, despite these international trends in drama, in England i t was not unt i l the 1930's , when the Church of England encouraged the Christian verse dramatists, that a popular though s t i l l limited audience was found for poetic drama. It i s not surprising that poetry and drama join forces in the expression and presentation of religious themes because the action, as in the history of Becket in E l i o t ' s Murder in the Cathedral (1935) or of Chelmsford in Williams' Judgement at Chelmsford (1939) , can demonstrate the events and the language can explore the religious meaning and mystery behind those events. T.S. E l io t , Dorothy Sayers and Charles Williams were among those whose plays were commissioned for various church festivals, particularly at Canterbury, and in 1 9 3 7 Christopher Fry's The Boy  with a Cart was written at the request of the vicar of Coleman's Hatch to commemorate the f i f t i e th anniversary of Steyning Church. After the 1939-^5 war, the Christian verse drama movement—for there were enough major writers involved with similar aims to warrant this description—entered a second phase in which the overt Christian themes of the 1930 's became subdued or disguised in secular drama. In a programme note Fry wrote for the 1968 Chichester production of The Cocktail Party, he recognizes that El iot "takes the great 2+ William V. Spanos, The Christian Tradition in Modern Bri t i sh  Verse Dramas the Poetics of Sacramental Time (New Brunswick, N. J . , 1967) , p. 16. classical institutions of the human psyche and relates them to the Christian revelation, and then...he presents the sacramental in secular action." Similar examples of the modification or abandonment of religious action in favour of the secular, but retention of the sacramental in the patterns of action and in the implications of poetic language, occur in Williams' The House of the Octopus (19^5), Ronald Duncan's This Way to the Tomb (1946) and, as I shall show, in the bulk of Fry's own plays. William Spanos, in The Christian Tradition in Modern Brit i sh Verse Drama, subjects the movement to sophisticated religious and aesthetic analysis, and provides an invaluable frame of reference. His treatment of Fry is limited to one play, A Sleep of Prisoners, but his general argument is relevant to the explication of many of Fry's other plays. He posits a "sacramental aesthetic" based on the implications of the Incarnation: since the Incarnation occurs in time, in a moment of history, i t absorbs the temporal into the eternal order, extending i t s e l f within h i s t o r y . . . . This theological concept of an eternal Presence requires a sacramental interpretation of history in which time is viewed as an eternal present and events, no matter how distant from one another in time, are perpetually relevant symbolic actions." This view is closely linked to Erich Auerbach's discussion in Mimesis of the figura, a concept in which the f i r s t of two or more 5 Christopher Fry, Programme Notes for The Cocktail Party (Chichester, 1 9 6 8 ) . ^ Spanos, pp. 2 7 - 2 8 . events or persons i n time s i g n i f i e s not only i t s e l f but also those that follow, and the subsequent events or persons encompass or f u l f i l l the f i r s t . Therefore, "since one thing stands for another, since one thing represents and s i g n i f i e s the other, f i g u r a l i n t e r -n pretation i s ' a l l e g o r i c a l ' i n the widest sense," and of course i s closely related to the world of myth. For the Christian dramatist, the Incarnation, the figura and myth provide "the imagery of poetry and the action of drama with transcendent meaning without denying g t h e i r e x i s t e n t i a l v a l i d i t y . " By r e l a t i n g the immediate context to paradigmatic or archetypal events, actions and persons, he i s able to embrace a transcendent dimension within a secular plot. In A Sleep of Prisoners, Fry d i r e c t l y combines B i b l i c a l and modern action, but even i n his least r e l i g i o u s plays a sacramental order of experience can be recognized. In the Incarnation the divine word becomes human flesh, and therefore Christ's body redeems man's soul and "man and nature are reunited with the transcendent form from which they have been Q separated." The eternal-temporal antithesis i s thereby resolved, and by extension, the Incarnation functions to redeem nature and time. Charles Williams uses the term "co-inherence" to describe the "organic and sacramental order created by |~thisj r e c o n c i l i a t i o n E r i c h Auerbach, Mimesis: the Representation of R e a l i t y , i n  Western Literature (Princeton, N.J., 1953), p. 73. g Spanos, p. 22. ^ Ibid., p. 26. of the things of time and eternity. The concept is expressed by Cranmer in Williams' Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury: King Henry had in mind to make a r i tua l for communion, that men should find, by nourishment on the supernatural, the natural moving a l l ways into the supernatural, ^ and the things that are below as those above. From the same play comes another significant and relevant passage. Cranmer, in his moment of realization, kneels to God and declares: Into thee now do I run, into thy love, that which is a l l the cause thou wert man for us, and we are nothing but that for which thou wert man, these horrible sins the cause of thy being man, ^ these sins to thy love the cause of motion in love. In the Incarnation, Christ became man through love, because man's sins drew forth God's grace—in effect, the "fortunate f a l l . " By extension, a l l love acquires sacramental status because i t repeats the pattern of an eternal mystery, although in a temporal context. This view is expressed by Williams in Judgement at Chelmsford: through "our . . . incarnate l o r d , " God makes the love and the loving, the lover and the beloved, the beloved and the lover, into a glorious mystery of himself— In the same manner, the stage action of Christian drama is a sacra-mental process that is multivocal because the pattern of action is simultaneously susceptible of many meanings which extend the action, Charles Williams, Collected Plays (London, 1 9 6 3 ) , p. 2 6 . 10 Ibid p. 75-• 1 12 Ibid p. 5 7 . Ibid p. 137. whether in the past or the present, to the eternal via the intr ins ic myth, and thereby achieves—providing i t is successful—both unity and universality. It is not necessary to accept Christian doctrine in order to accept the Christian drama because i t s myths are far from isolated. They are repeated in many different ages and cultures, and by definition, a myth is something that a l l men recognize as exemplifying a valid truth of existence. Further-more, the multivocal nature of art is familiar, and i t s degree of resonance is a measure of i ts greatness: the sacramental aesthetic enhances this process by providing a pattern of relationships between the particular and the general that leads directly to the divine. The sacramental view of history endows every separate human action with permanent significance within the larger pattern of time without any loss of i t s unique individual importance. Most great drama, of course, suggests a similar relationship because, whether sacramental or not, i t is impelled by what might be termed a "religious impulse" to find or express significance in man's actions. . The sacramental view takes the combination of uniqueness, significance and unity as i t s a pr ior i assumption. Another view which seeks to express a sense of the unity between diverse things is expressed in Myth and the Christian Tradition by Alan Watts, who declares: the world of conventional, everyday experience appears as a multitude of separate things extended in space and succeeding one another in time. Their existence is always realized by contrast or opposition. That is to say, we realize or isolate the experience of l ight by contrast with darkness, pleasure with pain, l i f e with death, good with e v i l , subject with object. Opposition, duality, is therefore the inevitable condition of this wor ld . . . . However, this world of opposites is conventional and 'seeming', i t i s not the real world. For real ity is neither multiple, temporal, spatial , nor dual. ^ Figuratively speaking i t is the One rather than the Many. Although the philosophical assumptions of Watts' statement may be questioned in that he appears to deny both the possibi l i ty of an experience having value for i t s own sake, and the realization of an experience except through contrast and opposition, his assertion that manifestations of the One give the i l lus ion of multipl icity is particularly useful with regard to Fry, whose expressions of anti-theses and emphasis on the multiple wonders of the world tend to attract more attention than his fundamental belief in the unity of a l l things. For Fry i t is in the repeated patterns of l i f e and death cycles and duality that the singleness of created things l i e s , and i t is in the myth that these patterns are best expressed. The Bible provides Fry with his chief source of myths. B ib l ica l events are not merely history that once happened, or are believed to have happened, but are also endowed with "the tremendous dignity of myth, which i s 'once upon a time' in the sense that jTmyths arej 15 behind a l l time." Watts describes.a myth as a complex of stories—some no doubt fact, and some fantasy— which, for various reasons, human beings regard as demonstrations of the inner meaning of the universe and 14 Alan W. Watts, Myth and Ritual in Christianity (London, 1 9 5 4 ) , pp. 1 6 - 1 7 . 15 of human l i f e . . . . t h e form of the myth is always concrete— consisting of v iv id , sensually in te l l i g ib l e , narratives, images, r i tes , ceremonies, and symbols. Fry repeatedly uses myths both directly as narrative bases for his plots and indirectly as points or patterns of reference. In some plays, The Firstborn and A Sleep of Prisoners for example, the Bible is the direct source, but in others, such as A Phoenix Too  Frequent, the action is analogous to B ib l ica l events, or (as in The Boy with a Cart and Thor, with Angels) takes i t s shape from Christian patterns evolved out of Christian teaching or hagiography. Even in the comedies apparently far removed from such sources, the patterns remain, especially those of death and rebirth and redemption through love. Such patterns are not uniquely Christian, but as I w i l l show, Fry's frame of reference is predominantly Christian. The assumptions of the sacramental aesthetic and the concepts of myth both posit order, unity and purpose as principles of the universe. These three principles underlie Fry's own philosophy and his concepts of drama, as is evident from his plays and con-firmed by his c r i t i c a l statements. Commenting on E l io t ' s assertion, made in 1928, that "the craving for poetic drama is permanent in human nature," Fry argued: " i t follows that human nature has a sense of an order governing l i f e , or at least a taste for i t . Order, and i ts agents form and rhythm, are the reason, flesh and 17 heart-beat of poetic drama." E l io t ' s assertion may be open to ^ Ibid. , p. 9» 1 7 Fry, Cocktail Party Notes. question, but the evidence of art suggests the val idi ty of Fry's argument, which is almost a declaration of his credo. With E l io t , much of his c r i t i c a l comment regarding the poetic drama preceded the practice: Fry reversed the process. He had the advantage of being a man of the theatre as well as a poet, and was able to write some successful verse plays, then defend the c r i t i c a l position which evolved out of them. With Fry, c r i t i c a l theory and philosophical outlook are inseparable. He is neither a l i terary c r i t i c nor a philosopher, but an ar t i s t : his main concern is with feeling, not with theory. His non-dramatic statements, therefore, do not always stand close analysis, but they do indicate his own particular "angle of perception," and establish a context in which the plays may be understood and evaluated. Fry's pronouncements on poetic drama stem from a philosophic attitude which combines existential doubts and questions with intuitive fa i th. He declares: the inescapable dramatic situation for us a l l i s that we have no idea what our situation i s . We may be mortal. What then? We may be immortal. What then? We are plunged into an existence fantastic to the point of nightmare, and however hard we rationalize, or however firm our religious faith, however closely we dog the heels of science or wheel among the stars of mysticism, we cannot really make head or t a i l of i t . In an age of sc ient i f ic and intel lectual sophistication i t i s unusual, and somewhat refreshing, to have the basic problems of existence expressed in so naive a manner. Yet, while he shares the existential perspective, he also recognizes the dangers in a 1 8 Fry, "A Playwright Speaks," The Listener, 43 (23 Feb. 1950), world without God, in which anxiety is inevitably dominant: the vision of an anxious man is l ike ly to dwindle; his anxiety becomes his world, and his world of anxiety may become despair . . . . At such a time he needs a l l his senses and perceptions to keep him aware of what his existence represents. ^ Fry feels that his position of faith does not constitute a barrier between him and his audience, because we are a l l involved in a process which i t is simpler to ca l l God than anything else; and i f I can manage to write about—not theories—but what i t feels l ike to be a l iv ing man in fact, I am writing about what every man feels, even i f in doubt or rejection.^0 He believes the individual is on a "brief v is i tat ion" to the world and is a continuation of an age-long process . . . . And the theatre we should always be trying to achieve is one where the persons and events have the recognizable ring of an old truth, and yet seem to occur in a lightning ^ spasm of discovery. That . . . i s the province of poetry. Behind a l l the tragedy and comedy of l i f e , the old truth and the new discovery, Fry sees "the fundamental drama of his jjnan'sj ever 22 existing at a l l , " which is also the "province of poetry". Thes statements indicate Fry's aims which are to renew our sense of faith and wonder and to encourage a new perspective on the world. One c r i t i c observes that by shadowing the known with the unknown, y Fry, "The Play of Ideas," New Statesman and Nation, XXXIX (22 A p r i l , 1 9 5 0 ) , k$8. 2 0 Fry, "Talking of Henry," Twentieth Century, CLXIX (Feb., 1 9 6 1 ) , 189 . 21 Fry, Listener, 3 3 2 . 2 2 Ibid . , 3 3 1 . and by "placing the ordinary in a cosmic setting," Fry suggests that "fundamental drama" of existence. In his opinion, Fry fa l l s short of dramatizing i t , but this is a matter to be evaluated in the examination of the plays. Fry recognizes that "the race of time and the brooding of eternity are continually at war" in the playwright, and because "each is an essential part of our story. . .so each is an essential 2k part of the theatre." He believes that while an audience is entertained i t must "also feel there is more going on than we have 25 yet had time to discover," and that poetry in the theatre can suggest this deeper mystery while at the same time i t can help "us 26 to see ourselves and the world freshly." Also, by setting his plays in the past, Fry believes he can sharpen this perspective by getting a "clearer look at what you might ca l l the permanent 27 condition of man." His historic settings are not rea l i s t ic recreations of the past, nor are they "pegs on which to hang; costumes, but jljtheyj are genuinely significant; for each play 28 embodies the spir i tual climate of a historical period." But 23 Eleazar Lecky, "Mystery in the Plays of Christopher Fry , " Tulane Drama Review, IV, i i i (i960), 8k. 2k Fry, "Author's Struggle," New Y o r k Times, Sec.II (6 Feb., 1955), 3. 2 5 Ibid . , 3. 26 Fry, Listener, 331-2 7 Fry, Twentieth Century, 189. 28 Monroe K. Spears, "Christopher Fry and the Redemption of Joy," Poetry, LXXVIII (Apr i l , 1951), 37-the climate is not exclusive to that period, i t is only the dominant mode at that time, and is present in some degree at a l l times, and therefore relevant to our own day. Another aspect of history which relates to Fry's preference for historical settings is indicated in a comment on T.5. E l io t by Ronald Peacock, who sees the modern sense of history characterized by- "the voracious expansion of a l l his tor ical knowledge regarding human c iv i l i za t ion . . . the awareness 29 of time's accumulations, or the past in the present." He notes that in the drama the method of allusiveness and l i terary reference is abandoned as unsuitable, and that the same sense of history is conveyed in r i t u a l : E l io t , he declares, integrates "drama into the framework of r i t u a l . P e a c o c k ' s comments might also be applied to Fry (especially with regard to the ut i l izat ion of Christian and pagan myths and legends), and when they are combined with Fry's own sense of a conflict between time and eternity and the historical implications of the sacramental aesthetic discussed earl ier , the poss ibi l i ty arises that the significance of the historical setting of each play may be not only a " sp ir i tua l climate" as Spears suggests, but also a v i t a l statement of Fry's perspective of "the permanent condition of man." Fry's perspective of wonder, the way in which he uses the past, his r i tua l patterns, and his use of verse, a l l tend away 2 ^ Ronald Peacock, The Poet in the Theatre (New York, 1946), pp. 12-14. ^ ° Ibid . , p. 5. from formal realism. Fry rejects the "surface r e a l i t y " of post-Ibsenite drama, which deals with the "domestication of the enormous miracle" of existence, and he turns to poetry because in "a world so wildly unprosaic as t h i s one i s , what else can be done, 32 i f we mean to be r e a l i s t i c ? " This i s a somewhat sophistical defence of a medium recognized as a r t i f i c i a l i n r e l a t i o n to every-day speech. E l i o t argues that there are three l e v e l s of speech— prose, verse and ordinary speech—and that "prose on the stage i s as a r t i f i c i a l as verse: or a l t e r n a t i v e l y , verse can be as natural 33 as prose." Fry recognizes the esse n t i a l unreality and a r t i -f i c i a l i t y of the stage, which no amount of simulated realism can disguise, and he exploits i t to come to terms with the paradoxical unreality of r e a l l i f e . He declares that " r e a l i t y i s incredible, r e a l i t y i s a whirlwind. What we c a l l r e a l i t y i s a god, the 34 d u l l eye of custom." We have, therefore, two kinds of r e a l i t y in the theatre: realism or v e r i s i m i l i t u d e — t h e surface r e a l i t y , 35 what Archibald MacLeish terms the " i l l u s i o n of the a c t u a l " — a s d i s t i n c t from "the i l l u s i o n of the r e a l , " the higher r e a l i t y . 31 I use the term "realism" to i d e n t i f y those elements common to the schools of Realism and Naturalism, p a r t i c u l a r l y the emphasis on o b j e c t i v i t y and the l i t e r a l representation of actual l i f e . 32 Fry, c i t e d by Stanford, Christopher Fry, p. 23-5 5 T.S. E l i o t , On Poetry and Poets (London, 1957), p. 73. 34 Fry, Listener, 331. 35 Archibald MacLeish, "The Poet as Playwright," American  Playwrights on the Drama, ed. Horst Frenz (New York, 1965), pp. 105-108. Written i n 1955-.,36 Despite his declarations rejecting the rea l i s t ic theatre, Fry tends to follow the example of many of his contemporaries—James Bridie, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Mi l ler , Anouilh, to name a few— who blend the two forms of realism by incorporating extra dimensions into the rea l i s t i c framework. For Fry, the most important dimension—or aspect of structure--for extending what Una Ellis-Fermor terms the "frontiers" of drama, is poetry. He contends that in the theatre, poetry "must have a direct surface meaning, an immediate impact of sense, but half i t s work should be going on beneath that meaning, drawing the ear, consciously or unconsciously, into a certain experience of being. It i s only poetry, he believes, that can express that deeper experience, because poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement. It is the language in which he says heaven and earth in one word. . . . And i f you accept my pro-position that real i ty is altogether different from our stale view of i t , we can say that poetry is the language of r e a l i t y . * ' In the drama, he says, poetry is part of the larger pattern of action which should have a meaning in i t se l f , above and beyond the story; the kind of meaning which gives everlasting truth to myths and legends...a meaning not so conscious as a parable or so contrived as an allegory, but as i t were tracing a figure_which the poetry can naturally and inevitably f i l l . ™ 5 6 Fry,"Why Verse?" Playwrights on Playwriting, ed. T. Cole (New York, 1961), p. 127. Writt en in March, 1955« 37 Fry, Listener, 331. 3 8 Fry, "Why Verse?" p. 129-The assumptions behind these and similar statements are that the language i t s e l f i s " i n action" and that verse, through the richness of poetic images and the throb of rhythm, can rank beside myth and such elements as the chorus, masks, settings, and music, in expressing the inner r e a l i t y of dramatic action. It i s one thing to set up claims for the role and potential of poetic drama, but another to overcome the problems of making the form acceptable to a modern audience. William Archer, writing in 1923, welcomed the fact that "the two elements of the old drama, imitation and l y r i c a l passion, have at l a s t consummated the i r divorce. For l y r i c a l passion we go to opera and music drama, for interpretation through imitation we go to the modern r e a l i s t i c 39 play." In the twenties and t h i r t i e s i t was also believed that b a l l e t or expressionistic "spectacle" techniques could best communicate emotion too deep for words. The aim was to create, in Cocteau's terms, "poesie du theatre" rather than to have merely "poesie au theatre." Recognizing the psychological barrier as well as the technical problems involved, Fry remarked that as there i s no present {j96l^ established t r a d i t i o n of verse i n the theatre, you seem to have to start to make i t every time you st a r t a new play: not only creating the finished a r t i c l e , as i t were, but also the to o l you are going to create i t with. You have to f i n d language which i s right i n texture and speed for the subject, and which at the same time has the c o l l o q u i a l rhythms of our time. 0 5 9 William Archer, The Old Drama and the New (Boston, 1923), p. 387. Fry, Twentieth Century, 188. E l i o t had already stressed the need for poetry to be close to the idiom of i t s own day, especially i n dramatic verse where the poet 41 speaks through his " t h i r d voice','1 his characters. Fry questions E l i o t "with diffid e n c e " because he feels that " i f we are to use form at a l l we have to adjust the rhythm of common speech to the 42 rhythms of our form," and although in practice he modified his s t y l e , he never followed E l i o t ' s path away from verse. Fry believes that "a verse play i s not a prose play which happens to 4 3 be written i n verse. It has i t s own nature." Quoting himself, he continues: "the poetry and the construction are inseparate... the poetry i s the action, and the action—even apart from the words— i s the figure of the poetry...." In other words, the verse i s a st r u c t u r a l element, not a mere decoration, and i t must j u s t i f y i t s e l f accordingly i n a u n i f i e d action where the "figure" expresses a rhythm of form. Verse then constitutes a subtle l i n k rather than an intrusive barrier between author and audience. The p r a c t i c a l problems of the modern theatre also impose certain demands on the language. Fry, with his wide experience i n the theatre, i s acutely aware of the p o s s i b i l i t y of d i s t r a c t i n g noises or actions, i n a u d i b i l i t y , or the spectator's tendency to dwell on a s t r i k i n g phrase and lose what follows. Consequently, he says, the playwright 4 1 E l i o t , On Poetry and Poets, p. 34. ^ 2 Fry, "Poetry and the Theatre," Adam, XIX, 214-215 (1951). 10. ^ Fry, An Experience of C r i t i c s (New York, 1953), pp. 26-27. The embedded quotation i s from "Poetry and the Theatre," 10. must make the "main theme, or conflict of his play as bold as he 44 dare," but he must not descend into didacticism because poetry works by implication. He believes that the present environment keeps "words flying past us at an enormous rate, so that to deal with them at a l l our understanding has to take them in broadly, by 45 phrases or by paragraphs." It wi l l be seen that Fry's technique of a "tide of sound1,'.' with i ts tendency to repeat, expand and play with an idea, is a style of poetry especially suited to the dramatic form. In one of his earliest pronouncements on poetic drama, El iot advocated the method of adapting existing forms. The poet, he said, should "take a form of entertainment and subject i t to the 46 process which would leave i t a form of ar t . " Although there are times when his verse may be accused of intruding, E l io t ' s own plays after Murder in the Cathedral exemplify this process. The  Family Reunion, for example, has the form of the familiar house-party and murder "whodunit", and The Cocktail Party ut i l izes the form of drawing-room comedy. Both plays are "a form of art" because they embrace dimensions beyond the mere working out of plot . Peacock declares that E l io t ' s reuniting of verse and drama "was a restoration to drama of poetic conventions that intensify i t s 'degree of form,' to use E l io t ' s phrase. The f ie ld of verse 44 Fry, Listener, 332. ^ 5 Fry, "Author's Struggle," 3-T.S. E l i o t , The Sacred Wood (London, i960), p. 70. i s widened again; the form of drama heightened." There i s , therefore, a r e c i p r o c a l benefit to poetry and drama. There are two senses in which the term "form" i s used in these quotations. The f i r s t i s the mechanical, or conventional form in which the work i s moulded; the second i s the innate or organic form that of Fry's plays w i l l arrive at an appreciation of their organic form through a study of the organization and i n t e r - r e l a t i o n s h i p of some of the more mechanical aspects of structure. Despite Fry's c r i t i c a l condemnation of the modern " s t a l e " view of r e a l i t y , and the l i m i t a t i o n s of r e a l i s t i c theatre, he does not discard the framework of fourth-wall realism, p a r t i c u l a r l y as conventionalized i n "bourgeois" drawing-room comedy. Like E l i o t , but with greater popular success, he u t i l i z e s i t s forms. This i s most evident in the three "comedy of seasons" plays, where, as I w i l l show l a t e r , he imbues the form with a v i t a l sense of inner l i f e and of wider s i g n i f i c a n c e . Because Fry's a r t i s t i c v i s i o n of l i f e i s one of a "unity of difference," a sense of unity l i e s behind his pronouncements on form. For example, he sees a precarious, narrow bridge between tragedy and comedy, and he explains: grows from within. It i s intended that the following discussion Peacock, p. 3-to affirm l i f e and assimilate death and persevere i n joy.^o No matter what ov e r a l l form the play takes--tragedy, comedy or even farce—each, he declares, "has i t s own p a r t i c u l a r c o n f l i c t , tension and shape, which...will point the way to the play's purpose." Fry thereby narrows the gap between d e f i n i t i o n s of form by implying that a dramatic action not only has i t s own organic form, but i t also creates i t s own mechanical form. Between tragedy and comedy Fry sees a q u a l i t a t i v e difference, a difference between experience and i n t u i t i o n . In the experience we s t r i v e against every condition of our animal l i f e . . . . In the i n t u i t i o n we trust to the arduous e c c e n t r i c i t i e s we're born to, and see the oddness of a creature who has never got acclimatized to being created.5® Comedy does more than recognize man's e c c e n t r i c i t i e s . Fry per-ceives that there i s an angle of perception where the dark Qsf tragedy^ i s d i s t i l l e d into light...where our tragic fate finds i t s e l f with perfect pitch, and goes straight to the key which creation was composed i n . And comedy senses and reaches out to t h i s experience. It says, i n e f f e c t , that, groaning as we may be, we move in the figure of a dance, and, so moving, we trace the outline of the mystery.51 For Fry, comedy and f a i t h are inseparable, and he sees comedy as an agent of good against e v i l , a means of redeeming joy from the Fry," "Comedy," Tulane Drama Review, IV, i i i (i960), 78. 49 Fry, Listener, 3 3 2 . 5 0 Fry, TDR., 78. 5 1 Ibid., 77. devil ' s side: "comedy is an escape, not from truth but from belief in the perceptive and redemptive properties of the comic mode, but because of his awareness of the "tragic experience" he frequently incorporates tragic elements in comic structures, and the result is a dist inctly ironic pattern which is reinforced by his fondness for contrast, enigma and paradox. Fry's essay on "Comedy" concludes that laughter "is a truth, not a fantasy, a truth voluble of good which comedy maintains."*' 3 The ironies of the plays tend to contradict such relatively simple, optimistic assertions: through their dramatic form the plays reveal a more complex understanding of l i f e ' s rea l i t i e s . One of the reasons for Fry's success is that he succeeded in bringing verse to familiar dramatic forms without restrict ing his appeal to a narrow, esoteric group. The challenge of bridging the gap between rea l i s t ic plays designed for the commercial theatre and verse plays designed for the closet or for a limited cultural audience has stimulated a wide range of comments. Archibald MacLeish says that the poet-dramatist must not write reflective poetry, but must "people the stage again with actions that are at once poetry and drama." Maxwell Anderson believes he must despair: a narrow escape into f a i th . " 52 Fry may assert his create 52 Ibid 7 7 . 53 Ibid . , 7 8 . MacLeish, p. 111. a fable which w i l l be of immediate interest to his time and hour, and relate i t in a fashion acceptable to his neighbours... . He wi l l also try to make that fable coincide with something within himself that he wants to put into words.^5 Anderson goes on to assert that i t i s the poet-dramatist's duty to take up again the consideration of man's place and destiny in prophetic rather than prosaic terms. It i s incumbent on the dramatist to be a poet, and incumbent on the poet to be a prophet, dreamer and interpreter of the rac ia l dream.5° El iot sees the poet-dramatist reaching to the fringe of expressible emotions and motivations, into a range of sensibi l i ty only music can express, and presenting simultaneously "the two aspects of dramatic 57 and musical order," yet without losing contact with the daily world. His art, E l io t continues, must impose order on real i ty and thereby show the order in real i ty and "bring us to a condition of 58 serenity, s t i l lness and reconci l iat ion." This catalogue of high aims for the poet-dramatist, which specifies the nature of poetic vision in relation to the drama, can be supplemented by more practical c r i t e r i a . El iot has set up over a period a series of almost unassailable precepts. One prime law is "that poetry must not stray too far from the ordinary everyday language which we use and hear . . . . cannot afford to lose i t s contact with the ^ Maxwell Anderson, "Poetry in the Theatre," American Play-wrights on the Drama, p. 16. Written in 1939« 5 6 Ibid . , p. 19. 5 7 E l io t , On Poetry and Poets, pp. 86-8?. 5 8 Ibid. , p. 87-changing language of common intercourse." It must also " j u s t i f y i t s e l f dramatically" so that the audience i s "too intent on the play to be wholly conscious of the medium."^ The test of the dramatic quality of a passage i s that " i t does not interrupt, but i n t e n s i f i e s the dramatic s i t u a t i o n . " The author must "try to extract the poetry from the character, rather than impose his 62 poetry upon i t . " E l i o t ' s emphasis on the dramatic sit u a t i o n and action i s an important corrective to the tendency to view the language as something d i s t i n c t from the rest of the play. The success of the drama depends on the coherence of a l l the separate parts of an organized whole. Another c r i t i c sums up the problem: i f poetic drama i s to be reinstated as a l i v i n g genre, i t must be as an experience i n which language i s one of the formal elements working with a l l i t s resources i n conjunction with other s t r u c t u r a l elements. 3 I have outlined Fry's h i s t o r i c a l context, the "sacramental aesthetic" of Christian verse drama, the unifying quality of myth, Fry's own philosophical and c r i t i c a l attitudes, and some of the aims of and c r i t e r i a for verse drama as propounded by E l i o t and others, i n order to establish a frame of reference for the 5 9 Ibid., p. 29. 6 0 Ibid., p. 72. ^ Ibid., p. 83. 6 2 Ibid., p. 95. 63 Donna Gerstenberger, "Perspectives of Modern Verse Drama," Modern Drama, I I I , i (i960), 26. examination of Fry's plays. My examination of the thematic structure of each play which follows wi l l bear in mind the integral nature of a l l the elements in drama, and wi l l therefore include consideration of dramatic structures and devices to the extent that they contribute to the expression of theme. My discussions wi l l be directed towards an appreciation of the way in which Fry consistently explores several central themes in an overall search for meaning and significance in a complex universe, and ultimately, for God. Chapter Two The Boy with a Cart: Faith and Quest Fry's f i r s t published play, The Boy with a Cart, is a "festival play" written on request for a church occasion. The commission provided Fry with an opportunity to explore a theme that was to remain central in his subsequent work: "the joint action of root and sky, of man/And God." This interaction i s asserted in the opening lines by the Chorus of The People of South England, and the story of Cuthman shows i t in operation. The People have discerned i t from their doorways in April evenings, in f i r s t and last twi-light, and on October nights when they "experienced alteration/ Beyond experience" ( 2 ) . They have Guessed at divinity working above the wind, Working under our feet ( l ) , and "have almost known" the touch of divinity in their daily labours. Their knowledge is intuitive, a simple faith confirmed by a simple account of miraculous events in the l i f e of a saint. The Chorus of People, which always speaks in verse, is a timeless commentator, both Cuthman's contemporary and our own, and i t functions as inter-mediary between the legend and the audience. It serves to intro-duce the specific account of Cuthman, to offer the general experience and to suggest a universal significance for the action. The shifts 1 See Introduction, p.7» Christopher Fry, The Boy with a Cart, 2nd ed. (London, 19^5). p. 1. Subsequent page references in parentheses. between Chorus and action ensure that the s p e c i f i c i n the general and the general i n the s p e c i f i c are both given adequate expression, because an understanding of t h i s i n teraction helps towards an understanding of the nature of the divine hand i n the t e r r e s t r i a l world. The action i n the story of Cuthman i s a simple i l l u s t r a -t i o n of the divine at work i n the l i f e of one i n d i v i d u a l endowed with an unshakeable f a i t h . Fry does not expect his modern audience to accept the account l i t e r a l l y — h e n c e the humorous treatment of the Mowers and Mrs. F i p p s — b u t he does ask them to accept a pattern of in t e r a c t i o n between God and man. This chap-ter examines how t h i s pattern i s expressed both i n the language and i n the structure of the play. Boy has proved a success, especially with amateur groups, despite certain s t r u c t u r a l weaknesses such as a t h i n plot l i n e , inadequate c o n f l i c t and the resolution of problems mainly by super-natural intervention. However, i t does have strengths of structure that help to compensate for these flaws and for the dramatic weak-ness of the material supplied by the account of Cuthman i n Fry's source, The Worthies of Sussex. Because the legend offers l i t t l e scope for anything except a dir e c t , simple treatment, Fry focuses on the pattern of experience represented by Cuthman's "sorrows" and the triumph of his f a i t h . The Play relates how Cuthman, an immature innocent, has his i d y l l i c l i f e shattered by the unexpected death of his father and consequent loss of home and lack of money. His choice to move away from his native v i l l a g e takes him on a journey towards a new home, the c o n s t r u c t i o n of a church, and p e r s o n a l m a t u r i t y . Along the way he encounters o b s t a c l e s which are dramatized i n a s e r i e s of c r i s e s c u l m i n a t i n g i n t h a t of the k i n g - p o s t . The o b s t a c l e s are overcome by a combination of h i s own w i l l and s u p e r n a t u r a l i n t e r v e n t i o n , and a s a t i s f a c t o r y r e s o l u -t i o n i s a c h i e v e d . F r y r e c o g n i z e s t h a t he i s r e t e l l i n g a legend i n which the p a t t e r n of experience i s more important than the n a r r a t i v e of events, so he d e l i b e r a t e l y e l i m i n a t e s suspense by r e v e a l i n g the o u t l i n e and the c o n c l u s i o n of the p l o t i n the opening chorus. The theme of i n t e r a c t i o n i s expressed i n an e p i s o d i c s t r u c t u r e which takes Cuthman on a p h y s i c a l journey from h i s n a t i v e v i l l a g e t o S t e y n i n g , on a moral journey from youth to m a t u r i t y , and on a s p i r i t u a l journey from nature to God. In the f i r s t episode, Cuth-man launches i n t o a b r e a t h l e s s d e s c r i p t i o n of s p r i n g which i s a p p r o p r i a t e to him a t t h i s p o i n t because he i s a c h i l d - l i k e innocent, a l t h o u g h he does possess an unusual awareness. We know from the p r e d i c t i o n of "three sorrows" to come upon him t h a t h i s joy i s not t o l a s t , and can d e t e c t i r o n i e s i n the "Lenten c h o i r b o y s " who must mourn a time of death and s u f f e r i n g before they c e l e b r a t e r e b i r t h , a s u g g e s t i o n r e i n f o r c e d by the death r e f e r e n c e a few l i n e s l a t e r t o "the webs of w i n t e r " which have passed away. The Old King, Cuthman's f a t h e r , has d i e d , and Cuthman, unaware of h i s new r o l e , i r o n i c a l l y d e c l a r e s , "I've king'd/Myself on the rock" ( 3 ) . Through r e p e t i t i o n , a t t e n t i o n i s focused on the word "rock", and because the audience a l r e a d y knows that Cuthman i s going to be seen " b u i l d i n g at last a church," an immediate association is set up between Cuth-man and the rock which i s a traditional symbol for the Church of God. The rock image is subsequently transmuted into images of stones, walls, p i l l a r s , and the church at Steyning. The action is precipitated by the death of Cuthman's father. His f i r s t reaction to the reality of the event is one of guilt: Did I steal God away From my father to guard my sheep?... ...Was i t a boast on the rock, The garrulous game? What have I done to him? (6) The Chorus comments in images of a dying day "pulled up by the root" while "Heaven i s quarried with cries," and thereby elevates the disturbance of individual death to a macrocosmic level. Cuth-man turns from guilt to self-reproach for being unaware of the event, for not perceiving the omens and going to his father to see How he put down his cup and dried his mouth And turned as heaven shut behind him (7). The Chorus asks, "How is your faith now, Cuthman?" This focuses on a question which the play f a i l s to develop as an internal con-f l i c t : can faith, especially when nurtured in comfort, withstand the t r i a l of adversity? In Fry's terms,^ the words of the Chorus are "in action," expressing an eternal conflict between faith and doubt in natural images: You see how sorrow rises, Cuthman, How sorrow rises like the heat Even up to the plumed h i l l s And the quickest feet (7). ^ See Introduction, p.20, and "Why Verse?", p. 126. The active voice dominates the language: f a i t h "spread[sl", sorrow " r i s e s , " and pain "grows." The short verses give a sense of immediacy which i s complemented by direct statements that people are " a f r a i d ; " "sleepless," "cold," and "desperate." Cuthman sur-vives his f i r s t t r i a l through recognizing he has "stayed too long the substance" of l i f e (8), and he takes his f i r s t step towards manhood by praying for a more mature perception: Let me see now with truer sight, 0 God Of root and sky; l e t me at l a s t be f a i t h f u l In perception, and i n action that i s born Of perception, even as I have been f a i t h f u l In the green recklessness of l i t t l e knowledge (8). The f i r s t episode concludes with a passage savouring strongly of E l i o t , i n which the Chorus comments on the pattern of action: Out of t h i s , out of the f i r s t i n c i s i o n Of mortality on mortality, there comes The genuflexion, and the p a r t i t i o n of pain Between man and God; there grows the mutual action, The perspective to the v i s i o n (10). - At t h i s point there i s a s h i f t to prose, which helps to bring out the change i n Cuthman. He i s no longer the enthusiastic youth, but a young man conscious of his r e s p o n s i b i l i t y and opportunity. He has a r a t i o n a l explanation for the move which appeals to his i s inexplicable, because i t arises from the f a i t h that "God w i l l look a f t e r us" (14). The s h i f t to prose marks a s h i f t i n tone, which indicates a s h i f t to a comic l e v e l of action, an opportunity for the audience to relax and enjoy the humour. As Cuthman and ventured the reflection/And not mother' s vanity and sense of r e s p e c t a b i l i t y , but the r e a l impulse his mother set o f f on the i r journey, the Chorus provides a verse bridge to the next episode. The tone of the verse indicates that t h i s i s no ordinary journey, but an archetypal journey which forms part of Cuthman's r i t e s de passage. A series of images evokes Cuthman's labours: the r e p e t i t i o n of the phrse "stone over stone:" the physical s t r a i n of his " j a r r i n g muscle and aching/Back" ( 1 5 ) which "crunch the fading country into/Dust;" the natural obstacles to be overcome l i k e "the pot-hole £which] tugs the foot;" the i s o l a t i o n i n which . the shut door and the ministering f i r e Have shrunk across the f i e l d s to a dog's bark ( 1 5 ) ; and the deprivation of basic comforts, l i k e having to sleep on the ground "Where limbs and prayers could stretch between root and/ Hoot" ( 1 6 ) . The scene with the Mowers, when the rope breaks, s i g n i f i e s both the human opposition and the physical problems that obstruct Cuthman's purpose. Counter to these are the r a i n which punishes the Mowers and the renewal of v i s i o n Cuthman receives by the stream. The punishment of the Mowers seems somewhat severe because t h e i r laughter would appear warranted by the comical tumble of Cuthman's mother from the cart, and her indignant protests: "Of course I'm hurt. I'm more than hurt, I'm injured" ( 1 7 ) . However, they make no e f f o r t to a s s i s t and continue to jeer at Cuthman. The incident i l l u s t r a t e s the tension between f a i t h and unbelief, and the Mowers' punishment serves to show the divine hand at work on Cuthman's behalf. It also prepares the way for the moment of v i s i o n . The Chorus comments on the ra i n i n fi v e stanzas that v i v i d l y render the physical fact so that the audience can see and f e e l the "Rain r i d i n g suddenly out of the a i r " ( 1 9 ) . Down at the stream where Cuthman cut the withies, he says "there wasn't even a shower," but sunshine and a sense of divine presence s I f e l t the mood Of the meadow change, as though a tide Had turned i n the sap, or heaven from the balance Of creation had sh i f t e d a degree ( 2 1 ) . Again, the s h i f t to verse i s a s h i f t i n tone which indicates the tr a n s i t i o n from the humorous and mundane to the serious and s p i r i -t u a l . Cuthman's v i s i o n t e l l s him that where God breaks the withies, he must s e t t l e and bu i l d a church. Cuthman i s aware he has taken another step towards manhood, but s t i l l has further to go: The church And I s h a l l be b u i l t together; and together Find our significance ( 2 2 ) . The Chorus indicates how t h i s purpose takes hold of Cuthman's mind. Following Cuthman as he journeys, i t sees the small dogged Pinhead of dust, by whose desire A church s h a l l struggle into the a i r ( 2 3 ) . There i s a further i d e n t i f i c a t i o n of Cuthman with the church, for Already the b e l l climbs i n the steeple, The belfry of his shaggy head, And the choir over and over again Sings i n the chancel of his brain ( 2 3 ) . At Steyning, Cuthman rededicates himself to his purpose. Now no longer the sorrow, but The consummation climbs on to the h i l l . ...God guide the hammer and the plane. As the root i s guided. Let there be a church - (29). The tension between faith and unbelief is reintroduced when Demi-wulf and Alfred Fipps, like the Mowers who jeered at the "baby boy," object to this "ninny hammer of a boy" who has diverted the village from i t s amusements to building a church, and later the incident of the yoking of the Fipps brothers indicates Cuthman's growing strength. Their direct interference with the work of building the church touches his core: "there's one fire in me that no man shall put out. I am dangerous as I stand over the foundations of the church" (32). The spell he puts on them is as much an exercise of his will as evidence of supernatural interference. It i s an example of the power of faith which strips malice, silences "surly tongues" and puts the devil to God's use. Forecasting the action, a neighbour comments: It is the same stress that we see Knotting his forearm and kneading his forehead To drops of sweat when he wrestles With timber in the framework of the church (33). The supernatural intervenes again to remove the indignant Mrs. Fipps, a comic scene which i s given a symbolic perspective by the Chorus, who declares that the upheaval of Mrs. Fipps indicates the turmoil caused by the "turbulent boy.../Who has stampeded into his manhood" (3^). The stage action is expanded in the verse to extend the range and to present vivid action in words: jCuthmanj has slammed back the ocean's stable-doors And slapped the sturdy bases of the earth, Wrenched and worried into the heart of heaven And dragged a bellowing Lucifer to ground (35). I f we are surprised and s c e p t i c a l about the supernatural or i r r a t i o n a l , the Chorus reminds us that We're apt to take the meticulous Intervention of the sun, the s t r i c t Moon and the seasons much too much for granted (36). As the Chorus declares, events are "huddling together," the poet i s increasing the tempo of "the tune of the t a l e " and the c r i s i s approaches. At f i r s t there i s a slackening of tension as Cuth-man 's mother announces her engagement to Tawra and assures everyone that the church i s "getting on n i c e l y , " then i t tightens with the terse despair of the v i l l a g e r s : 1ST NEIGHBOUR: I t ' l l never be done. 2 N D NEIGHBOUR: I t ' l l never be finished now. 1ST NEIGHBOUR: The r e ' l l be no church...The king-post has beaten us (37). The f i r s t Neighbour describes the nature of the problem i n clear, economical prose, and the second gives a v i v i d description of Cuthman's struggle: For days he has tugged and tusselled with us, with the blood i n his face and the veins pushing i n his head. And now he has gone into a ghost. He smoothes (sic]the stone with his hand as though i t were i n a fever and sleepless. He pats i t as though i t were a horse that had brought him safely through b a t t l e . And then he stands heavily i n the a i s l e with his misery staring to the east (38). Cuthman enters running i n the manner of a Greek messenger to des-cribe the off-stage events. His v i s i o n of "the carpenter" i s the climax to which the whole play has been working. The e a r l i e r supernatural events and constant r e i t e r a t i o n of "root and sky" imagery have established a pattern of interaction between the divine and the human. The f i n a l v i s i o n i s an event of far greater int e n s i t y than the vi s i o n by the stream or the defeat of the Fipps family. Cuthman has experienced a unique manifestation of the divine: There under the bare walls of our labour Death and l i f e were knotted i n one strength I n d i v i s i b l e as root and sky ( 3 9 ) • There i s no need for the Chorus to elaborate t h i s experience because Cuthman has acquired a stature which enables him to express the f u l l significance of the event himself. The closing l i n e s of the Chorus, which has constantly acted as interpreter i n the trans-l a t i o n of the action into terms acceptable to a modern audience, remind us that the truth of Cuthman's experience i s eternal, that the modern man, no less than the medieval, desires understanding of the mystery of l i f e and communion with his source of being. The play i s characterized by a strong sense of progression. The f i r s t section moves towards the point where Cuthman and his mother leave t h e i r v i l l a g e , the second i s the journey to Steyning, and the t h i r d section progresses towards completion of the church. Uniting each section i s the movement towards Cuthman's maturity and towards an expression of stronger f a i t h and deeper understanding. The three-part structure can also be seen i n a broad sense as Cuthman's three sorrows: the sad events which precipitate his departure from his home v i l l a g e ; the t r i a l of his journey; and the labours of building the church. A progressive concentration of the action and the language also occurs. In the f i r s t section there i s a celebration of the breadth and glory of nature, of God's created world, which is expressed by the Chorus in i t s opening account of the glories of the cycle of the seasons and in Cuthman's joy at the arrival of spring. The language of the f i r s t section, even when not directly describing the natural scene, contains a multitude of natural images. Cuthman's sorrow and self-reproach are couched in such terms: I have ears stopped with earth Not to have heard the door-catch as he went, The raven gulping dew, the crow on the stock, ^ Nor grasped the warning of the howling dog...(?)• The choral comment on his sorrow i s similarly informed with images drawn from the world of nature: The day is pulled up by the root and dries, And the sun drains to the hollow sea. Heaven i s quarried with cries. Song dies on the tree (6). Nature i s predominately sympathetic to man, and man living close to nature is intuitively aware of "the grip/Of the hand on earth and sky in careful coupling" ( 2 ) . Cuthman's contact with nature in spring feels like "laying {his} face on gold," and he sees him-self as a "lutanist...playing the responsive h i l l s " (3) which l i e friendly at his feet "like collies." His father's death disturbs this i d y l l i c rapport: "The circle i s broken and the sheep wander"(8). Now that he realizes he has seen only "the reflection/And not the Mr. Fry pointed out that "guling dew" in the text i s a misprint. substance" (8), the s u p e r f i c i a l magic of nature i s shattered and he must proceed to a new awareness. The journey towards th i s awareness leads him through a very di f f e r e n t experience of nature. It i s no longer sympathetic, but antagonistic: the t h i r s t y bramble Begs at the sleeve, the pot-hole tugs the foot (15). The Mowers' song reminds us that Grass, the year, and a merry friend A l l at l a s t come to an end ( l 6 ) , and the h o s t i l e aspect of nature i s evident i n the " f l a g e l l a n t r a i n " which fl a t t e n s the Mowers' crops. Cuthman achieves a resolution of the c o n f l i c t i n g aspects of the natural world when by the stream he senses a change of mood i n his surroundings: the balance Of creation had s h i f t e d a degree. ...timber And f l e s h seemed of equal and old significance (21). From t h i s point on, there i s a s h i f t away from concern with the natural world towards an increasing concentration i n action and language on the task of building the church. After the v i s i o n there i s an important passage i n which the chorus bridges the end of the journey and the commencement of the l a s t section. The l i n e length shortens to indicate concentration of purpose and "the even-ing battlement of h i l l s " i s a t r a n s i t i o n a l image which indicates the s h i f t of focus away from the natural to the concern with building which f i l l s Cuthman's head and dominates the action and language of part three. The arrival at Steyning, conversations with new neighbours and the interlude with the Fipps brothers, are a l l in prose because of the focus on physical action, but the problem of building the church remains central. In the c r i s i s of the king-post there is a concentration of language, both prose and verse, that i s in marked contrast to the more general style of the f i r s t section. The narrative is superbly economical" I told him: i t i s the king-post. He stretched his hand upon i t . At his touch It l i f t e d to i t s place. There was no sound. I cried out, and I cried at last "Who are you?" I heard him say "I was a carpenter"...(39)• Images of confinement and destruction are contrasted with images of escape and creation: the "bereaved air" lay "between walls"; Cuthman's voice " s l i d to the ground/Like a crashed pediment;" and he envisages dogs and picnic parties despoiling the collapsed stones. But on the appearance of a man "carved out of sunlight" the air leaps up, the sun "flooded i t s banks" and the early passage when Cuthman la i d his "face on gold" in the h i l l s is echoed by the man's voice, which drew i t s e l f up from a chine of silence As though i t had longtime lain in a vein of gold (39). The break in the circle has been repaired, and in a new awareness Cuthman knows that God, man and nature are once again "indivisible as root and sky." Text prints "crushed pediment" in error. P a r a l l e l with the progressive concentration of action and language i s the progressive maturing of Cuthman. His f i r s t step from childhood to early manhood has already been noted (p.33). It i s marked in action by the building of his cart and departure from home, and i n language by a change in tone from effusiveness to troubled s i n c e r i t y . The second step comes from his v i s i o n by the stream. He acquires a purpose, and r e a l i z e s that the church And I s h a l l be b u i l t together; and together Find our significance (22). His i n i t i a t i o n into f u l l manhood, the journey i n quest of an achieved s e l f and the building of the church are mutually dependent objectives. When Cuthman arrives at Steyning, he i s recognized as a charismatic leader, despite his youth, but he cannot reach f u l l stature u n t i l the church i s completed and he has experienced a revelation. This f i n a l achievement i s what distinguishes the saint from ordinary mortals, who can only hope with the Chorus of People that Between Our b i r t h and death we may touch understanding As a moth brushes a window with i t s wing (*t0). In addition to the horizontal movement of the play, there i s a constant v e r t i c a l movement between root and sky. In terms of the action, t h i s movement i s evident i n the supernatural elements when the r a i n from above punishes the Mowers and the wind carries Mrs. Fipps away. In the f i n a l v i s i o n , Cuthman's declaration that the figure he saw was "carved out of sunlight" and as i t approached him "the sun/Flooded i t s banks and flowed across the shadow" (39), suggests that the figure i s part of the sun and comes down from above. The dominant sense of v e r t i c a l integration comes from the language. The opening Chorus sees in spring "Sky and root i n j o i n t action," an image repeated f i v e times i n the opening para-graphs and several times i n the course of the play. As sky and root work together, so God and man i n t e r a c t . Death and destruction are aspects of l i f e that must be accepted. The Chorus sees the hand of God i n action, Despite the jibbing, man destroying, denying, Disputing, or the late f r o s t l ooting the land Of green (2). The natural cycle prepares the way for an acceptance of Cuthman's father's death. Just as winter must destroy, so i t too dies i n turn to allow the b i r t h of spring, and the father must die before the son can reach f u l f i l l m e n t . Out of the pain of his father's death, "there grows the mutual action,/The perspective to the v i s i o n " ( 10). The father's death not only permits the son to mature, but also brings him closer to God. The breaking of the rope on the cart i s an action which symbolizes the process. The f i r s t time i t occurs, i t leads d i r e c t l y to Cuthman's f i r s t v i s i o n , and the second time he knows that where God breaks the withies, He s h a l l b u i l d his answer i n plank and brick, ...Breaking and building In the progression of t h i s world go hand i n hand (22). The breaking of Cuthman's father leads to the building of the cart, and the breaking of the cart's ropes to the construction of the church. The completion of the church i s a consummation of God's plan, because when creation's tide crawled on i t s f i r s t Advance across the sand of the a i r , and earth Tossed i t s tentative h i l l s , t his place of i d l e Grass where we are i d l i n g took the imprint Of a dedication... ( 2 9 ) . God's hand has worked to bring together a l l elements required to complete His purpose—the s i t e , the materials, and the builders. Cuthman prays: God guide the hammer and the plane. As the root i s guided. Let there be a church - ( 2 9 ) . And the church i s the supreme symbol of the interaction of root and sky because i t s foundations are "deep and rugged" i n the earth, and i t s steeple reaches into the a i r and holds " i n i t s sanctuary the l a s t l i g h t " of the sun. Through an account of Cuthman's l i f e , Boy exemplifies a pattern of development from childhood to maturity, from naive b e l i e f through experience and f a i t h to passionate conviction. It can be regarded as an allegory, with Cuthman i n the role of Fai t h s t r i v i n g to build God's Church. Early calamity shakes him, but through prayer he strengthens his resolution. On his journey he must bear a symbolic burden i n the form of his mother and the cart. He must overcome both the physical obstacles which impede the pilg r i m on l i f e ' s journey, and the human opposition of the Mockers of the world. The task of building the church i s opposed by the devil's agents, the brothers Fipps and their mother, but firm f a i t h removes these. F i n a l success i s not obtained u n t i l man's physical e f f o r t s have been combined with prayer and bring the di r e c t assistance of God. Such an assertion of f a i t h i n action and language suggests that t h i s i s a thesis play, but i t does not have the didactic elements that this term suggests. It i s non-didactic partly because of the simple miracle structure. There i s no overt attempt to persuade the audience: the evidence i s presented i n the action and expanded i n the language. As E l i o t has observed, tr y i n g to persuade people to r e l i g i o n i s the task of the preacher, not the a r t i s t , who can only show what i t i s l i k e to f e e l r e l i g i o u s experience. Fry does not attempt to persuade, nor does he attempt a thesis that f a i t h leads to s p e c i f i c rewards. His proposition i s that through f a i t h we glimpse something of the r e a l i t y of God. The miracle sequence of Boy i s a simple statement of th i s r e a l i t y , which i s supplemented by the poetry i n direct images and i n passages of incantation by the Chorus. The play i s weak dramatically because the plot lacks c o n f l i c t — b o t h i n t e r n a l and external—and consequently the audience i s not involved either emotionally or i n t e l l e c t u a l l y . It i s also weak because i t i s lacking i n human relationships, a deficiency which i s not f u l l y r e c t i f i e d u n t i l A Phoenix Too Frequent. The language of the play tends to be derivative, e s p e c i a l l y i n the echoes of E l i o t , but i n i t s energy, f e l i c i t y and concentration of imagery i t adumbrates the l a t e r work. The main theme of interaction between God and man, which i s well structured i n language and i n action, also looks forward to the l a t e r plays i n which Fry continues to explore this v i t a l r e l a t i o n -ship—an exploration he repeatedly structures in the form of a journey or quest. In Boy the quest for meaning is not disturbed by the existential doubts evident in the later plays, which are more complex both in structure and in content. The miracle-legend framework of Boy is a non-realistic attempt to portray a pattern of real experience, and the dramatic experience i s a simple encounter with faith which expresses an uncomplicated mode of spiritual awareness. Chapter Three The Firstborn: Antithesis and Enigma The Firstborn was begun in 1938 at a time when the conflict between the ideology of absolute power vested in a dictatorship and that of democratic individualism was reaching an explosive point. The war that intervened before the play's completion made the theme of authority and the individual no less imperative. Firstborn was completed in 19^5, f i r s t performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 19^8, revised after this production, and revised again for the New York production in 1958. The main reason for the revisions was to increase the dramatic impact by removing super-fluous lines and thereby to accelerate the action. The last scene in particular was shortened to heighten the dramatic effect of Ramases' death. Fry omitted statements by Anath and Seti con-cerning their feelings towards Ramases so that the focus f e l l on the wider meaning of his death. Fry's foreword to the second edition explains that he intended "the figure of l i f e which take a central place from his f i r s t entrance to the end." The death of a l l Egypt's firstborn liberates the Hebrews, and Fry intends that the death of Rameses should provide a parallel action on an individual basis leading to Moses' resurrection, after a "momentary physical death," into a rebirth that "carries with i t Christopher Fry, The Firstborn, 3rd ed. (London, 1962), p. v i i . Subsequent page references in parentheses. something of the l i f e of" ( v i i ) . There were no major revisions made in the play, and although Fry succeeded in sharpen-ing some of the language and dramatic effects, he made no changes radical enough to alter the dramatic dominance of Moses. may stand for the good qualities on the enemy's side, but in the dramatic conflict he i s overshadowed by his father as well as by Moses, and he remains a peripheral rather than a central character. At his death, Seti crumbles, and the focus of attention f a l l s on Rameses as the morning light reaches him, but by then i t is too late to alter the balance of relationships. This balance is structured as a series of oscillations and antitheses which cast a l l but the two major contenders into subordinate positions, and reflect complexities and faith that Boy barely suggests. Boy has a simple progressive structure which expresses a simple faith: Firstborn has a more complex structure which searches for meaning in the face of a problematic l i f e and an enigmatic God. In this play, Fry begins to grapple with paradoxes that suggest the apparent i r r a t i o n a l i t y — o r absurdity—of existence, and to seek solutions to the metaphysical problems that arise out of an awareness of mystery in terms of an acceptance of wonder and a faith in man's purpose as an individual. The mechanical structure of the play establishes a pattern of oscillation between palace and tent. The seven scenes are set alternately in the Egyptian Royal Palace and in Miriam's tent among the Hebrews. The characters are similarly balanced in two groups, each of four complementary figures: Moses and S e t i , Miriam and Anath, Shendi and Rameses, and Aaron and Teusret. Each group i s closely related by blood and the public actions of i t s members are determined by or are i n c o n f l i c t with t h e i r feelings of family a f f e c t i o n or r e s p o n s i b i l i t y . Moses appears i n every scene, which indicates his possible function as a bridge between the two groups. He dominates the play because he appears on stage far more than any other character and because his passage between the two groups re s u l t s i n a c l e a r l y defined i n t e r n a l c o n f l i c t . Emil'. Roy notes that the play has an "X" structure, the upward stroke representing 2 Moses' career, the downward S e t i ' s . The f a l l of a man from high estate to low i s a t r a d i t i o n a l tragic pattern, as i s the death of a hero whose pote n t i a l i s cut off by a fate over which he has no control. The f a l l of the house of Egypt i s therefore a tragic l i n e , but i t i s subordinate to the upward movement comprising the maturation of Moses and the release of the Hebrews. This a n t i -t h e t i c a l pattern of movement i s also evident i n the language and staging, where tragic motifs of darkness and death are counter-balanced by positive motifs of l i g h t and resurrection. Fry may have f a i l e d to express a concept i n his mind indicated by the t i t l e and the preface, which indicate an emphasis on Rameses, but the play succeeds on i t s own terms because i t f u l l y integrates a series 2 Emil Roy, "Structure, Characterization and Language i n the Drama of Christopher Fry," Diss., U. of Southern C a l i f o r n i a (l96l), p. 73. of related antitheses i n action, theme and language. The opening scene immediately establishes the theme of death. The background shows "an incompleted pyramid", Seti's future tomb, which Anath i r o n i c a l l y thinks " w i l l cast a pretty shadow when i t ' s done" The pyramid-tomb i s an important v i s u a l image, present in each of the palace scenes either d i r e c t l y from the terrace or through the window that overlooks i t . A scream precedes the entrance of Anath and Teusret, who are to be innocent bystanders to death throughout the play. Anath r e a l i z e s that "Some man i s dead. That scream was password to a grave" ( l ) . The scream i s echoed by Miriam when she describes the l i f e of slavery: The shout of command kicking at the r i b s , A l l human words torn to a scream (22). It i s e f f e c t i v e l y repeated twice i n III, i i , when a "wild cry" r i p s the darkness (79) before Moses' a r r i v a l , and when Anath reports the a r r i v a l of the Angel of Death at the palace: An owl i n mid-air Has wrenched i t s e l f upward screaming, and smashed Down i n the y a r d . . . ( 8 4 ) . The association of a bird's f l i g h t and death has also been estab-l i s h e d early i n the play to suggest that even the greatest of physical freedoms may possess an ambiguity wherein i t contains i t s own a n t i t h e s i s . Birds are associated with the f i r s t death when they f l y up s t a r t l e d by the scream. Death and r i s i n g birds are linked again when describes " a l l the indignant wings of the marshes" (9 ) seeking to escape his spear, and the birds-death-darkness groups of images are brought together a few l i n e s l a t e r as Rameses describes the speared b i r d : I watched his nerves f l i n c h i n g As they f e l t how dark that darkness was. I found myself tryi n g to peer into his death (9). The expanding pattern of death images becomes associated not with S e t i , but with Moses. The opening incident leads Anath to r e c o l l e c t Moses and the reason for his departure—he had k i l l e d an Egyptian who had beaten a Jew. hunting i n the marsh connects with Moses, because he passes by, and Rameses r e c a l l s seeing Moses there "walking ahead of us, as absolute/As a man's death" (32). Moses appears to be between two worlds, or two selves. The f i r s t i s dead, ...he k i l l e d His Egyptian s e l f i n the s e l f of that Egyptian And buried that s e l f i n the sand (6), and to S e t i his appearance i s "so ghostly a homecoming" (11). Moses' second s e l f i s not yet born, and the action of the play traces the anguish of that b i r t h . Moses' declared purpose i s appease the unconsummated Resourceless dead, to join l i f e to the l i v i n g (42). His double purpose indicates the antithesis of l i f e and death that forms a central concept of the play. The release of the Hebrews from a l i v i n g death i s equated with b i r t h : " i t ' s time for p a r t u r i -t i o n , " declares Moses, and a f t e r the f i r s t plagues, Anath bewails "no b i r t h i s worth this labour." The deliverance of the Hebrews i s not only a release from c a p t i v i t y but also a r e b i r t h into a new l i f e , i r o n i c a l l y achieved through death and symbolized i n the Passover r i t u a l . There i s also a l i f e - d e a t h irony i n the prospect of marriage between and Phippa. Her a r r i v a l i s predicted i n terms of a new l i f e which the audience knows i s never to be f u l f i l l e d . For Rameses, she i s the alternative future to Moses ( 3 2 ) , a symbol of love, l i f e and hope, yet her a r r i v a l coincides with his death. In this f i n a l action, the antithesis of l i f e and death i s reconciled because "death and l i f e are moving to a c a l l " ( 8 7 ) , and the death of the f i r s t b o r n i s simultaneously the moment of deliverance for the Hebrews and of r e b i r t h for Moses into a new s e l f . The opening scene, with i t s somewhat long-winded exposition, directs a l l interest towards the a r r i v a l of Moses. The incident of the I s r a e l i t e ' s death triggers Anath's r e c o l l e c t i o n of him, and in response to Teusret's aroused c u r i o s i t y , she relates his history. Fry takes many l i b e r t i e s with Exodus, especially i n making Moses a "General of Egypt" 3 who had led her armies to victory u n t i l he witnessed the beating of a Jewish bricklayer. Then, i n a moment of recognition, " i t was/As though an inward knife scraped his eyes clean" (5) , and i n a surge of t r i b a l knowledge, "he knew his own seed" (6) . Moses' former role i s a s k i l f u l dramatic slanting of the story because i t opens the way to a temptation for Moses and possible i n t e r n a l c o n f l i c t , to the p a r a l l e l action of Shendi's 3 In a marginal note to my f i r s t draft, Mr. Fry wrote: "An idea found i n my research reading for the play." commission i n the Egyptian army, and to an intimacy with the palace that enables him to move freely between i t and the Hebrew tents. After Anath has aroused considerable interest i n the figure of Moses, S e t i enters with the immediate question: "Where i s Moses?" (6). He needs him for p o l i t i c a l reasons, because he i s "a general of excellent perception" (7), and S e t i i s prepared "to comb Midian to i t s shadows" to f i n d him. He i s prepared to forget the past, to welcome Moses as a "prince of Egypt," and to restore his posi-t i o n . Moses spurns the of f e r because The prince of Egypt died. I am the Hebrew Smitten out of the shadow of that prince, Vomit^ed out of his dry l i p s , the cry Whipped off the sanded tongue of that prince of Egypt (12). Rameses puts the temptation i n persuasive terms: You'll become inseparable from Egypt's safety} Then he Q?eti) w i l l l i s t e n . Then you can direct His goodwill past yourself to these I s r a e l i t e s (,2k). Aaron sees t h i s course as "a r e a l i t y of a kind," but Moses recog-nizes i t as "adultery." Moses i s not to be tempted, and Fry discards the p o s s i b i l i t i e s of inner c o n f l i c t i n favour of an objective dramatization of the alternative i n Shendi's defection. Shendi seizes the opportunity of co-operating with the Egyptians for purely s e l f i s h reasons, not even on the basis of a promise to treat his people well. He sees Moses' advice to refuse the commission as evidence of Moses' pride, and even suspects Moses of planning to i n t e r f e r e and prevent his success. His mother, astonished at the two events of the evening, unwittingly defines Shendi an o f f i c e r ! W i l l t h i s be what we want at last ? As the Nile Happens into blood. Shendi an o f f i c e r ( 4 9 ) . Shendi develops from a frightened boy into an arrogant youth. He abuses Moses for making the Hebrew labourers "undisciplined/With his raving of freedom which t h e y ' l l never get" ( 7 1 ) , and he i s completely incapable of comprehending the quality i n Moses that elevates him above ordinary men. The fear of death f i n a l l y leads him to tear off his Egyptian uniform, but too l a t e , and he runs into the darkness to his death. Shendi's career provides an a n t i t h e t i c a l movement to that of Moses. He i s nurtured by his Hebrew mother, defects to the Egyptians to a "new l i f e " that i s a betrayal of his own kind, turns against his own people and "drives the Hebrews harder than any Egyptian" (60), and f i n a l l y brings death on himself. Moses i s nurtured i n the Egyptian royal palace, gives up his position of greatness i n the cause of his own people, becomes the upholder of t h e i r rights, and f i n a l l y achieves a re-b i r t h for himself when he delivers them. The most important ef f e c t i n casting Moses i n the role of ex-general i s that i t enables Fry to unify the plot development by giving Moses adequate stature to deal with S e t i and his family on a basis of equality. His background also provides the basis of his sense of a f f i n i t y with, and gives him credible motiva-t i o n for tryin g to save Rame-ses from death. Moses' physical movement from palace to tent i s part of the play's rhythm of antithesis. In both places he meets an opposing reaction, Snendi in one, Seti in the other. Seti 's chief fa i l ing is his reluctance "to outgrow the security of part ial blindness" (14), and his great e v i l i s that he takes away l i f e in the belief that he has . . .put men to a purpose who otherwise Would have had not the least meaning (15). Moses retorts: Not the least meaning, except the meaning Of the breath in your lungs, the mystery of existing At a l l ( 1 5 ) . Seti ' s failure to recognize the worth of each individual l i f e is the basis of his conflict with Moses, whose plea for l i f e in i t s fullest extent for the Hebrews is a plea for the recognition of the sanctity of the individual . Stanford notes that, although the play deals with the tyranny of power, i t "does not oversimplify things by making the Pharaoh the v i l l a i n of the piece. Instead, i t shows him as a dedicated man dominated by imperial abstractions— if by notions which history was seeking to transcend." Seti i s con-cerned with the maintenance of order and with the perpetuation of his dynasty. His blindness, which results in such "merciless mischief," i s that his methods bring about inevitable destruction. His knowledge is that of the sun, the hot, merciless Egyptian sun that maddens and k i l l s , as opposed to that of the darkness, Moses' sp i r i tua l knowledge which inspires and brings l i f e . Seti is a Derek Stanford, "Comedy and Tragedy in the Drama of Christopher Fry , " Modern Drama, I I , i (May, 1959), 7. "." • prosaic materialist. Like Shendi, he is unable to believe that Moses is the instrument of God, and he scorns Rameses for being "afraid of magic" and for believing "that this t a l l Moses can make a business/Out of curses" ( 5 8 ) . Seti believes the calamities that beset Egypt are "a chain/Of black coincidences" which Moses takes advantage of, and thereby "presumes upon the eternal" ( 5 6 ) . Their conflict represents the antithesis of authority versus the individual and of everyday, practical real i ty versus the mira-culous, true rea l i ty . As in most of Fry's plays, the characters can be differentiated according to the degree in which they possess a sense of wonder. Moses and Seti represent opposite poles—the fully awakened man who is in touch with the numinous and the unamazed pragmatist. Anath is close to Moses in intuitive awareness. Her role is choric when she recounts Moses' history and when she comments on the action, and rises to the prophetic when she condemns Seti ( 5 3 - 5 7 ) . Her account of the plagues is a superb incantation of "sweet made foul" by the stubbornness of Set i . He accuses her of being the victim of superstition. "I am superstitious," she replies, We are born too inexplicably out Of one night's pleasure, and have too l i t t l e security: No more than a beating heart to keep us probable ( 5 6 ) . The same sense of the wonder and precariousness of existence is expressed by Teusret when she asks: What are flowers? What is the bridge to be crossed, I wonder, From a petal to being a wing or a hand? ( 3 7 ) Her awareness i s l i m i t e d by her innocence and lack of experience, but Rame,ses, on the threshold of manhood, i s acutely aware of the possible depths of existence. He has an introspective tempera-ment that enables him to empathi ze with the b i r d k i l l e d i n the marsh, and to be acutely conscious of the uniqueness of any given moment which . . . i s true for us now, but not t i l l now, and never To be again. I want i t for myself. This i s my l i f e (33). It i s t h i s aspect of his nature that renders him unable to rule according to his father's pragmatic p o l i c y . He cannot subordinate himself, as S e t i does, to the demands of Egypt, and asks desperately, Is there nowhere Where I can come upon my own shape Between these overbearing ends of Egypt? Where am I to look for l i f e ? (80) Ramases' assertion of i n d i v i d u a l i t y , Anath's prophetic i n t u i t i o n and Teusret's simple wonder form an a n t i t h e t i c a l movement against S e t i within the palace group. This complements Moses' demand for freedom for the Hebrews i n which to f u l f i l l themselves as individuals i n both physical and s p i r i t u a l terms. . The balance i n favour of Moses i s offset dramatically by a counter-motion i n his own group. Miriam believes that the Hebrews "no longer have the s p i r i t to support a God," and she i s sunk in apathy: Vile have A way of l i v i n g . We have the habit. Well? It becomes a kind of pleasantness ( 2 1 ) . In fact, she withdraws from any kind of r e a l i t y other than a mechanical day-to-day existence, and opposes any suggestion, of change. The main opposition to Moses among the Hebrews comes from Shendi, who can see no further than his own immediate s e l f i s h existence. He i s an example of the state of degradation into which a man can f a l l when i n a state of slavery. He has no ideals and no sense of wonder. He summarizes his outlook when he asks, can we be scrupulous In a l i f e which, from b i r t h onwards, i s so determined To wring us dry of any serenity at a l l ? (70) Aaron i s i n i t i a l l y part of the balance against Moses i n the Hebrew tents. His awareness i s at f i r s t r e s t r i c t e d to p r a c t i c a l reason and everyday realism. Even the miracle of water into blood i s A contradiction of what we have always known To be conclusive: an ugly and impossible Mistake i n nature (46), and when Moses asserts "we l i v e i n mystery," Aaron begs him to "stay with r e a l i t y . " Moses1 reply, " I f I can penetrate so f a r , " silences him, and from then on, as Aaron sees Moses manipulate "man a f t e r man into consciousness" (69), his own outlook changes, and he declares, I've begun to believe that the reasonable Is an invention of man, altogether i n opposition To the facts of creation...(6 9 ) . Man's i n a b i l i t y to understand the apparent i r r a t i o n a l i t y of existence i s a central concept i n a l l Fry's work. His sense of i r r a t i o n a l i t y , which goes hand i n hand with his sense of wonder, i s not confined to the material world, but extends to man's relationship with God. It i s t h i s wider aspect that leads Fry to choose material for many of his plays from the Bible, legend and myth. These sources provide him with an established base where the wonders they contain are part of an accepted t r a d i t i o n , and therefore do not need further v a l i d a t i o n i n terms of plot c r e d i -b i l i t y . His aim, i n A r i s t o t e l i a n terms, i s to build a probable plot on the framework of a given (rational) i m p o s s i b i l i t y . In Boy he uses a l i t t l e known legend, and i s obliged to recount i t i n i t i a l l y through the chorus. In Firstborn he does not need to recount the story of the miracles, but assumes the f i n a l outcome to be known. It i s generally recognized that "the r e p e t i t i o n of a known plot d i s t r a c t s attention from the c r e d i b i l i t y of the story, and places a convenient emphasis on i t s values." Foreknowledge of the outcome also enhances the audience's sense of i n e v i t a b i l i t y , whether tragi c or not, and the playwright can exploit situations for t r a g i c irony. The emphasis on values i n Firstborn i s evident i n the dominant pattern of l i f e and death already discussed. The balancing of the two groups, so that neither i s a l l white or a l l black, d i r e c t s attention away from the issue of plot to that of the fundamental problem of good and e v i l . Moses i s faced with the moral paradox that the "good" of the Hebrews' release i s to be achieved through the " e v i l " of harm to the innocent of Egypt. Early i n the play, Moses sees the issue simply. He knows We have a God who w i l l support the s p i r i t , 5 J.L. Styan, Dark Comedy (Cambridge, 1962), p. 288. ...But s t i l l I need to know how good Can be strong enough to break out of the possessing Arms of e v i l (22-23). He i s convinced that "good has a singular strength/Not known to e v i l " (31-32): i t has only to be harnessed. S e t i i s equally convinced of the cause of Egypt, and he i s outraged that Anath should sympathize with Moses. She summarizes the human dilemma when she exclaims, "Oh/The gods, how we fumble between right and wrong" (61), and the paradoxical nature of the problem i s expressed i n a succinct image by Miriam: Take e v i l by the t a i l And you f i n d you are holding good head-downwards ( 6 8 ) . The sequence of appalling events f i n a l l y leads Moses to lament that "Good has turned against i t s e l f and become/Its own enemy" ( 8 4 ) . How can the good of one group be achieved at the cost of e v i l to another? Moses unsuccessfully attempts to j u s t i f y the agony to Anath: For three hundred years the pangs of t h i s coming deliverance Have been suffered by my people, while Egypt played. But now Egypt suffers, and she says This i s a new h e l l . But h e l l i s old; . . . u n t i l now It fed on other women, that i s a l l . ANATH. And a l l i s the innocent as well as the g u i l t y ( 6 4 ) . Moses* attempt to save Rameses i s evidence of the anguish of his conscience. Some c r i t i c s have condemned the action because Moses should know that i t i s obviously f u t i l e , and they f e e l i t i s inadequately motivated by a nebulous sense of sympathy between the two through their similar boyhoods. If regarded as a desperate attempt to expiate a sense of gui l t , the meaning of the action becomes clear. Fry has established a strong sense of guilt in Moses over the k i l l i n g which sent him into exi le : "does one deed then/Become our immortal shape?" (7^). The responsibility for more death and destruction burdens an already guilty conscience, and the attempt to save Rameses becomes part of the r i tua l pattern of recognition of s in , confession and expiation before absolution and renewal. The violence is—unfortunately for Fry, who abhors it—inherent in the story; no amount of explanation can justify i t , nor solve the problem of the intertwining of good and e v i l . Working on the multiple levels of action, language and myth, the play explores the apparent i rrat ional i ty of the operation of violence and e v i l in a good cause, but offers no solution, and we are referred f inal ly to "the necessity of God" ( 8 6 ) . The resolution of the play in a submission to "necessity" is a logical outcome of i t s direction. Despite the appearance of choice and the pattern of osc i l la t ion, Moses is governed by an external force beyond his control. The opening scene, which provides a dramatic build-up for Moses' entrance, also establishes a sense of the inevitable. Anath's recollections and Seti 's sudden desire to find Moses are followed by Rameses' report of a t a l l , strange, yet unaccountably familiar Jew, who can be none other than Moses. By exploiting a known myth, Fry eliminates suspense regarding the outcome of the plot, but by introducing a pattern of compelling necessity he creates a tension between that necessity and the aspirations of his characters which provides an alternative to plot suspense. This tension is especially apparent in the career of Moses. He feels the ca l l to return to Egypt in his blood, which "heard my blood weeping/Far off l ike the swimming of fear under the sea" (13). The ca l l of blood is part of a mystical compulsion which controls him. Seti refers to "the frantic compulsion which f i r s t fetched man forming/And breathing out of the earth's dust" (35), and Moses sees his task of l iberation in similar terms: _ _ I was born this action. Despite you (_Setij , through you, upon you, I am compelled (42). A "long cracking sound of thunder" (an old but effective theatrical c l iche) , follows this declaration as though the Creator was con-firming his divine plan. When the f i r s t of the plagues occurs, Moses believes that We with our five bare fingers Have caused the strings of God to sound (45). God may respond to men, but Moses comes to recognize that i t i s he who is God's instrument: You appeal to Moses, But Moses is now only a name and an obedience. It is the God of the Hebrews, a vigour moving In a great shadow, who draws the bow Of his mystery, to loose this punishing arrow Feathered with my f a t e . . .(64). Moses scorns Rameses' suggestion that he himself is a god (23). He i s , however, in "a terrible neighbourhood," a "space between/The human and the inhuman" acting as a "go-between for God" (75). As such, he has no control over the outcome of events, and can only play a given role in the operation of God's necessity. Moses is not alone in recognizing a necessity operating in the affairs of men, but i t s nature varies according to viewpoint. P o l i t i c a l "necessity" was the cause Anath gives for the slaughter of " a l l the boys of Jewdom" (4), and a similar p o l i t i c a l reason makes Moses' return "necessary" to Seti ( 7 ) . Anath herself recognizes that " i t i sn ' t we who make the bargains/In this l i f e , but chance and time" (58), echoing Aaron's belief that "time/Is preparing for us with timely unrest" (48). Their view of necessity i s a type of fatalism, and even Moses is aware of this passive form: "what we are is sinking/Under the disposition of what wi l l be" ( 7 1 ) » Rameses finds a necessity inherent in the outcome of an action: I did not know How the things we do, take their own l i f e After they are done. . . (60). He discovers the consequences of power and is appalled by the responsibility which devolves upon him for the ultimate results of his actions. His reaction is in contrast to Seti who denies the process of ultimate responsibility, and asks: Why am I to be blamed For a l l the elemental poisons that come up fungoid Out of the damps and shadows which our existence Moves in? (54), He cannot see that his obstinacy and his deceit are bringing the plagues upon Egypt.' awareness of the discrepancies between idea and action foreshadows that of Moses when he is brought face to face with the consequences of his actions and r e a l i z e s the price of revolt even i n a noble cause. Necessity, therefore, may be a force impelling man's actions, or one to which he must submit passively, or one that directs the consequences of his actions far d i f f e r e n t l y and far beyond his intentions. Firstborn considers each of these p o s s i b i l i t i e s and f i n a l l y embraces them a l l i n the ultimate "necessity of God" which directs a l l things, good and e v i l , to the divine purpose. Despite the ultimate reliance on the purpose of God, a central problem the play presents, and f a i l s to resolve, i s the perplexing ambiguity of God. The ambiguities of creation are seen as "a quarrel i n God's nature" (27), but God's nature i t s e l f i s open to question. S e t i warns Moses that the gods' creative plan "is/Not to count the cost but enormously/To bring about" (41), and i t i s i r o n i c that the non-spiritual pragmatist s t r i k e s a truth Moses f a i l s to r e a l i z e u n t i l the end of the play. Anath challenges Moses and the God he represents by asking, What i s th i s d i v i n i t y Which with no more dexterity than a man Rips up good things to make a dif f e r e n t kind of good? (65) Moses has no answer, other than to accept the severance of personal t i e s that his course demands, because of God's inscrutable distance from man. Moses' God i s always presented i n distant terms: the " i n f i n i t e eavesdropper" (42), "eternity's birdsmith" (27), "a vigour moving/In a great shadow" (64). He i s e s s e n t i a l l y a mysterious creator to be regarded with great awe, and even Moses i s reduced to admitting "I do not know why the necessity of God/ Should feed on grief; but i t seems so" (86). God's ambigidty i s evident in the paradox that he must destroy to create and that he must work apparent ev i l to bring about good. There is also a second concept of God in the play which is not that of an Old Testament God of Wrath, but one closer to Fry's personal view. Moses demands release for his people in order that they might f u l f i l l the demands of a form of l i f e force: Deny Life to i t s e l f and l i f e wi l l harness and ride you To i t s purpose. My people shall become themselves, By reason of their own god who speaks within them ( 4 l ) . This concept is not distant, but personal, and is amplified in the later plays. Divinity is seen in terms of the fulfillment of the individual, but the b ib l i ca l narrative forces Fry to accept an external God, transcendental and mysterious, whose existence— rather than the evidence of the action--leads to Moses' optimism: "And what does eternity bear witness to/If not at last to hope?" (86). But as Moses declares in the beginning, We're not concerned with hope, Or with despair; our need is something different: To confront ourselves, to create within ourselves Existence which cannot f a i l to be f u l f i l l e d (31)« The play may be, as Roy sees i t , "a quest for God," but the God Fry seeks in Firstborn is the God within. As individuals, We must each find our separate meaning In the persuasion of our days Unti l we meet in the meaning of the world (87). Roy, "S tructure . . . , " p.107. The resolution of the conflicts , tensions and ambiguities of l i f e f inal ly rests in the individual self . In the course of the preceding account of the structure and themes of Firstborn, many quotations have been used to show how the language expl ic i t ly states the antitheses and to show how certain images operate to reinforce the action and themes. Re-current motifs of birth and death, sun and darkness, and good and e v i l dominate the language, and such symbols as the sun, birds, heat, and darkness are particularly effective because of their ambiguity. The sun, for example, causes the heat that inflames violence and makes men mad, yet towards the end of the play i t signifies freedom. Black clouds obscure the sun, and Moses declares "only Seti can let the sun free again" (66). Seti visualizes as "the male sunrise" which wi l l protect Teusret, and he admits he has "grown too t a l l and {jteepsjj out the sun" (79)• The release of the Hebrews is therefore a release into sunlight, but sun of a different order from the deadly sun of Egypt. Simi-lar ly the darkness is ambiguous. Moses dwells in a spir i tual darkness in which he "sees" more than those whose inward eye has not yet been scraped clean. His darkness is a "shadow" that threatens Egypt and is objectified in the dark clouds of the plagues and in the darkness that descends at the end of Act II . Moses expresses the paradox when he hopes that "Seti/May see better without the l ight of day" (65). In an early speech, Moses refers paradoxically to the "drouthy overwatered world," and he summarizes the paradox of creation in the example of a hawk: What sp i r i t made the hawk? a bird obedient To grace, a bright lash on the cheek of the wind And drawn and ringed with feathered earth and sun, An achievement of eternity's birdsmith. But did he Also bleak the g l i t ter ing charcoal of the eyes And sharpen beak and claws on his hone of lust? (27) The hawk image is echoed in the f inal act: Tonight, at midnight, God wi l l unfasten the hawk of death from his Grave wrist, to let i t rake our world . . .(72)• The same dilemma underlies Anath's disgust at "the primal putrescence/ We keep hidden under our thin dress of health" ( 5 5 ) , and i t i s objectified in the earwig that drops from the garland Teusret gives The garland i t s e l f i s ambiguous, as is her song, because both are as applicable to death as to marriage. In the last act brightness within darkness becomes objectified in the image of a star. Aaron is aware of a difference in the night: there's such a brightness Such a swinging s t i l lness , the sky has transfixed i t s e l f ; As though i t hung with every vigorous s t a r . . . ( 7 0 ) . Anath's f i r s t statement in the next scene links her with Aaron in awareness: "How the stars have taken possession of the sky tonight" ( 7 7 ) • The traditional symbol of hope is also treated ambiguously, because the stars are associated with the angel of death. Shendi ignores Aaron's warning to keep himself "unseen/By that inquisition of stars out there" (75) , and once the angel has passed, "the sound of wings is quiet/And the stars are fading in silence" (85) as though their work i s done. Fry's manipulation of repeated images serves both to suggest the ambiguities inherent in a l l creation and to unify the structure of the play. Another unifying device is his fondness for l inking speeches by having a speaker seize on the last word, phrase or idea expressed by the previous speaker, and then expand i t s meanings SETI. men.. .'Would have had not the least meaning. MOSES. Not the least meaning, except... (15).. AARON. In the belly of our misfortune We find our hope. MOSES. We're not concerned with hope...(31). MIRIAM. He came back from Midian a madman. AARON. His madness seems to be a kind of extended sanity (69) • These brief examples may serve to show how this catching of a previous idea serves to forward the action within the language. A ful ler example shows how a group of images and ideas expands and takes on the forward movement of poetic action. MOSES. We have agonized This land with anger for too many days. ANATH. You And he together. No birth is worth this labour. MOSES. For three hundred years the pangs of this coming deliverance Have been suffered by my people, while Egypt played. But now Egypt suffers, and she says This is a new h e l l . But he l l i s old; And you yourself s i t t ing in the sunlight Embroidered on i t with your needle. Hell Is old, but unt i l now It fed on other women, that is a l l . ANATH. And a l l i s the innocent as well the guilty; A l l i s the small farmer and the singing fisherman And the wife who sweeps; tomorrow's boy as well As yesterday's. A l l these, while Seti twists To have his way, must go to your f ire l ike s t icks c (63-64). This passage i l lustrates the expansion of the idea of suffering and birth which are then associated with he l l and fire on the one hand, and with elementary family l i f e on the other. The simplest individual action is thereby placed on the same level as the national action and is given equal significance within a wider frame. The action l i e s in the expanding significance which is presented through the language—not only in the immediate passage, but also in frequent references to the same ideas throughout the play. A unity of tone is evident in the s V l e of verse which con-sistently ut i l izes deliberate rhythms. Frequently the verse rises to incantation, which is particularly appropriate for con-veying a sense of awe and for underscoring the sense of anti-realism essential to the myth structure. Incantation suggests the quality of numinous experience' It i s the God of the Hebrews, a vigour moving In a great shadow, who draws the bow Of his mystery, to loose this punishing arrow Feathered with my fate; he who in his hour Broke the irreparable dam which kept his thought, Released the cataract of birth and death To storm across time and the world; He who in his morning Drew open the furious petals of the sun; He who through his iron fingers Lets a l l go, lets a l l waste and go, Except, dearly retained in his palm, the soul: He, the God of my l iv ing , the God of the Hebrews, Has stooped beside Israel And wept my l i f e l ike a tear of passion On to the iniquity of Egypt (64-65). This is a passage of fine rhetorical cadence and diction. The sequence of "he . . .he . . .he" plus the active verbs "draw.. .broke.. . released...drew...stooped...wept" combine to suggest a succession of great actions, culminating in "a tear of passion." The active metaphors of "bow...arrow...fate" and "dam...cataract...storm" are contained within an overall metaphor of God as a force moving with great speed and power. Thematically the beat and movement of the verse equates with the concept of "necessity" impelling actions and events. Another example occurs ear l ier : My blood heard my blood weeping Far off l ike the swimming of fear under the sea, The sobbing at night below the garden. I heard My blood weeping. It i s here i t wept and weeps. It was from here I heard coming this drum of despair, Under your shoes, under your smile, and under The foundations of your tomb. From Egypt (13) « A l l aspects of language—meaning, image, rhythm, diction, and sound— are here unified for maximum dramatic effect. The poetry in F i r s t -born functions to unify the play at a verbal and conceptual level , but above a l l both figurative language and rhythm suggest a pattern of experience and mode of consciousness that exist on a less specific, metaphysical plane above and beyond the immediate action of the play. In Firstborn both the mechanical and the organic structure present the same patterns of antithesis and ambiguity. Stanford believes that the key impression of the play is that "the individual 7 i s the authentic pivot of existence" within the context of an n Derek Stanford, Christopher Fry, An Appreciation (London, 1951), p. 89. impregnable mystery. The principle of individuality is something which is perhaps asserted in successive statements rather than shown in the action. It i s a concept that Fry is formulating at this stage and is to reveal in dramatic action later (especially in The Lady's Not for Burning and The Dark Is Light Enough). The f inal statement of Firstborn l ie s in the presentation of a series of antitheses in language and action that portray man's relation-ship with God and the universe. This statement certainly includes an assertion of individuality, particularly in the rebirth of Moses, but the dominant impression is a sense of the paradoxes and perplexities of l i f e which are objectified in the many.antitheses presented and cut through by the inevi tabi l i ty of the historic process, which is the working out of the divine purpose of a God whose authority impinges on the quest for freedom for the individual in a manner l i t t l e different from that of Seti on his vassals. The just i f ication of ev i l in terms of ultimate good—whether that of society or of a divine plan—is the argument of tragedy. As suggested earl ier , Firstborn has a partly tragic shape in the f a l l of Seti and the death of However, despite the misfortunes and sufferings of Egypt, because the focus is on Moses the pattern of action is one of triumph rather than despair, of gain rather than loss, of comedy rather than tragedy. Northrop Frye suggests that g " i n comedy the moral norm is not morality but deliverance." The operations of the divine wi l l in Firstborn certainly confound any g Northrop Frye, "The Argument of Comedy," English Institute  Essays. 19^8, ed. D.A. Robertson Jnr. (New York, 1965)» P« 71. humanistic morality, but the perplexities are resolved in the deliverance of the Hebrews which is a definitive moral norm that completes the Dante-like Commedia with a figural resurrection— a resolution that concludes almost a l l of Fry's plays. Chapter Four A Phoenix Too Frequent: Exchange A Phoenix Too Frequent was written soon after Fry completed The Firstborn. The two plays share a central concern with the theme of death and resurrection, but in Phoenix Fry's perspective undergoes some important changes. The earl ier play receives a dist inctly tragic treatment, but then Fry crosses the narrow bridge 1 into comedy, and despite the moment of horror when Tegeus returns to the tomb, Phoenix sets up and maintains a comic expectation. The key factor in the appeal of Fry's comedy is i t s sense of v i t a l i t y . The characters in Phoenix, as in The Lady's Not for  Burning, Venus Observed, and even the less comic The Dark Is Light  Enough, are engaged in the fundamental act iv i t ies of self-preserva-tion or self-assertion. As Susanne Langer points out, these act iv i t ies are part of the biological "organic processes that 2 produce the l i f e rhythm," and comedy celebrates l i f e in i t s triumph over the vicissitudes of fortune and over death in i t s patterns of triumphant victim, f e r t i l i t y and rebirth. Fry also moves from a direct treatment of the Old Testament to an indirect treatment of the New. Such a sequence is not altogether accidental or unusual as i t reflects the traditional Christian practice of 1 See Chapter One, p.23. Susanne Langer, Feeling and Form (London, 1953), P« 3^6. setting events with similar symbolic content side by side. In the medieval illuminated manuscripts, for example, "the Tree of Know-ledge stands opposite the Tree of the Cross, the Exodus opposite the Resurrection, the assumptions of Enoch and El i j ah opposite the Ascension, and so forth. " These juxtapositions indicate some-thing of the Christian attitude to time: the past is part of the v i t a l present because the meaning of events transcends their his tor ica l context to inform the present and the future. Such a transcendence of time i s the quality possessed by a myth. Both The Boy with a Cart and Firstborn ut i l ized myths, and by focusing on the pattern of events tried to express the meaning and the truth of the pattern for a modern audience. Nevertheless, the plot was provided by the events recounted in the myth. Phoenix differs in that the plot i t s e l f , although based on an old story, is not a myth: the patterns of myth are implicit in the play's actions and associations. This chapter intends to establish the mythic pattern, especially the Christian, in the action, structure and language of the play, and to show how the made relevant to the modern audience. The success of the play with both c r i t i c s and audiences indicates the degree to which Fry has caught the eternal in the particular, the modern relevance in the past event. In a chapter on "Myth and the Literary Scruple," Francis 3 Watts, p. 24. See also Auerbach, Mimesis, pp. 42-43, 64-6?, for the concept of the figura. Fergusson turns to Malinowski for a rough classif ication of myths into three categories: Legends, which are stories of the past deemed to be based on his tor ical fact; Folk or Fairy Tales, told for entertainment without reference to truth; and Religious Myths which represent "basic elements in the creed, the morals and the levels . The his tor ica l legend, as Fry states, "was got from Ephesian woman no doubt does have some histor ical basis of fact, but the legend has more of the qualities of a fable of ingenuity than any suggestion of mythic properties on the grander scale. In the hands of Jeremy Taylor, the legend becomes material for a moral exemplum on the fickle nature of a woman's passion. The soldier "escaped the present danger, to possess a love which might change as violently as her grief had done."^ As wi l l be shown, Fry draws a somewhat different conclusion from the same set of facts. At the level of Fairy Tale, the t i t l e indicates the traditional pattern Fry wishes to evoke in the mind of the audience of the fabulous bird, the symbol of love, which is consumed in flames only to emerge from i t s ashes with renewed youth to l ive out a Francis Fergusson, "Myth and the Literary Scruple," The  Human Image in Dramatic Literature, (New York, 1957), p. 163. c Christopher Fry, A Phoenix Too Frequent (London, 1964), n .n. Subsequent page references in parentheses. ^ Jeremy Taylor, The Whole Works, ed. Rev. Reginald Heber, revd. Rev. Charles P. Eden, (10 vols . ; London, 1862), III, 449; social structure of three Jeremy Taylor who had i t from Petronius." The story of the further cycle. Also in the Fairy Tale tradit ion, Dynamene is a Sleeping Beauty awakened by her Prince. On the level of Religious Myth, Phoenix is a comic analogue for the Christian pattern of atonement and resurrection. The action of the play takes place at and shortly before dawn on the third day in the tomb, the time of Christ 's r i s ing . The removed body is taken from a holly tree, symbolic of the cross, and 7 there is also a "eucharistic intertwining of feast and sacr i f ice , " the taking of wine and bread with a background of death. Finally Doto drinks to "The Master. Both the masters" (43), dead and l iv ing simultaneously. Working on the clue "section six, para-graph/Three in the Regulations" (40), Stanley M. Wiersma relates Phoenix to Romans 6 which is usually divided into three paragraphs, g 1-11, 12-22 and 23* He sees Fry's themes related to Paul's, and finds significant Christian patterns in the focus on naming and renaming: Just as baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection, just as the resurrection of baptism confers a new identity to the object of i t , and just as Christian dogma and practice associate baptism with naming, so the three characters of Fry's play undergo burial and resurrection, so each gains a new identity, and so each either has his name exchanged for another or has a change in the name's meaning." 7 Nelvin Vos, The Drama of Comedy: Victim and Victor (Richmond, V a . , 1 9 6 6 ) , pp. 8 1 - 8 2 . g Stanley M. Wiersma,"A Phoenix Too Frequent: A Study in Source and Symbol," Modern Drama, VIII, i i i (Dec. 1 9 6 5 ) , 2 9 3 - 3 0 2 . 9 y Wiersma, 2 9 9 • The obvious example is Tegeus, whose name suggests "tedious." This reflects his disenchantment with a corrupt world, but, as with the ironical ly named V i r i l i u s , is the opposite of his nature. The root of his name is the Latin tego, to cover. When he te l l s Dynamene his name, she remarks "That's very thin for you/It hardly covers your bones" (20). She refuses, however, to t e l l Tegeus her name, and condemns the human preoccupation with naming: The genius of dumb things, that they are nameless. Have I found the seat of the weevil in human brains? Our names. They make us broody... (20), However, she does rename him Chromis, the Greek for colour, and with his change in name comes a change in personality from relative reserve to self-assertion. Changes in character and the relation-ship of such changes to names and the process of rebirth are matters to be considered elsewhere in the chapter. Wiersma identifies Paul's themes as the problem of doing ev i l and omitting good and that of "the law of the members warring against the law of the mind; there is a moral ambivalence, but also a psychological 10 one." He sees each of Fry's characters conscious of a moral and/or psychological ambivalence, and notes the relevance of the adjacent Romans 5 and 7, the former concerned with s in, death and grace, and the latter opening with a specific statement on marriage: Do you know, brethren...that the law is binding on a person only during his l i f e . Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he l ives ; but i f her husband dies she is discharged from the law Wiersma, 295.-concerning her husband...if her husband dies she is free from that law, and i f she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Romans 7 ; 1 - 3 -Wiersma's contentions, although stretched concerning the moral and psychological ambivalence in each character, certainly illuminate some of the specif ical ly Christian patterns of the play. Vos outlines the general pattern of atonement and redemption: for Fry, the operation of grace is not in some ethereal realm, but in the f inite i t s e l f . It i s through the flesh that a l l is mediated. The usual action in his plays therefore is a portrayal of s ac r i f i c i a l love of one individual who atones for the other, or, in l i terary terms, one who provides the comic redemption for the other.' 1 1 The Christian pattern inevitably has parallels in other mythologies. Tegeus, for example, comes to resemble "a persona which simultaneous-ly f u l f i l l s the archetypes of Adam, Prometheus and Christ . Allusions to apples and dust, f ire and chains, and Tegeus"fear of crucifixion appear often enough to l ink Tegeus with these mythic 12 characters." The effect of these mythic associations is to suggest that behind the surface comic action l i e s a pattern of meaning which has a timeless significance. The Christian cycle is not isolated, but is a recurring phoenix-like pattern with modern relevance. It i s not, however, sufficient for a playwright to rely on mythic patterns or references in themselves to carry the weight of a universal truth to his modern audience. Francis Fergusson 11 Vos, p. 9 6 . Roy, "Structure . . . , " p. 52. observes that "one of the most s t r i k i n g properties of myths i s that they generate new forms ( l i k e the d i f f e r i n g children of one 1 3 parent) i n the imaginations of those who try to grasp them." The myth nourishes the writer's imagination, and i n turn "fecun-d a t e s " — t o use Fergusson's term—that of the audience or reader. The writer's f i r s t problem i s the presentation of his time factor when i t i s not e n t i r e l y set i n the present. The action may take place at an indeterminate time or place i n the past, and thereby suggest a perennial s i g n i f i c a n c e — t h e method of the Fairy Tale. A l t e r n a t i v e l y , past events and present action may be juxtaposed and i n t e r r e l a t e d — t h e method adopted i n E l i o t ' s The Rock, Charles Williams' Judgement at Chelmsford and Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners. A t h i r d method i s to make the time and place s p e c i f i c , but to endow the action with a c y c l i c a l pattern and to avoid mere h i s t o r i -c a l romance by making the past as relevant as possible to the present—the method of Murder i n the Cathedral up to the epilogue, Williams' Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, Firstborn to a certain extent, and Phoenix. The most obvious means of making a past event a l i v e to a contemporary or future audience i s to provide well-motivated, v i t a l characters whose actions transcend the l i m i t a t i o n s of the i r s o c i a l milieu. A great deal of the success of Phoenix l i e s i n Fry's creation of such characters, whose in t e r n a l changes and external relationships capture the imagination of the audience. The play Fergusson, pp. 1 6 2 - 1 6 3 . opens with a recognizable stock comic character, the somewhat bawdy female servant, introducing serious themes of love, l i f e , and death in a comic manner despite the portent^ous surroundings of "an underground tomb...[andJ a l ine of trees on which hang the bodies of several men" ( l ) . Doto's name, as well as suggesting her "doting" nature, has the connotation of the foolish Dodo and, 14 as Wiersma suggests, of the Latin for a dowry. She is a widow's dowry from V i r i l i u s to Dynamene, and becomes a bride's dowry to the new master. The earthy humour of her discourse is completely independent of time and place, and ensures her a sympathetic reception from a l l but the most prudish audience. Doto's humour is a f o i l for Dynamene's intel lectual sentiments and she functions as the structural antithesis of her mistress. Dynamene is also an attractive, credible character. Her romantic nature has obviously been thwarted by the prosaic V i r i l i u s . Her attempts to praise his virtues a l l reveal his l imitations: Where is the punctual eye And where is the cautious voice which made Balance-sheets sound like Homer and Homer sound Like balance-sheets? (5) She seizes the opportunity of his death to cast herself in the romantic role of a Jul iet choosing death< rather than l i f e without her Romeo. The tone and unconscious manner in which she undercuts her early statements create the impression that she is playing a role in which her true emotions are not really engaged. This Wiersma, 300.' . . impression is endorsed by her delight in intel lectual sparring with Tegeus, and her transfer of love to him is an inevitable exploita-tion of her situation. Tegeus is a romantic of more intense nature. Like his successor Thomas i n Lady, he is deeply moved by the sight of beauty in distress, and he immediately idealizes the woman who can sacrifice a l l for love. He had become disil lusioned with the world, which he had "begun to see as mildew, verdigris , / Rust, woodrot..." ( 1 2 ) . Despite his ab i l i ty to idealize, Tegeus has a practical side which provokes him to interrupt Dynamene's "perfection of purpose" (24) in the interest of his growing love for her, and he prevails on her to give up her attempt to die by rat ional izing: " I , / I f I had been your husband, would never dream/ Of expecting you" ( 3 1 ) • Dynamene and Tegeus both possess a v i t a l i ty which expresses i t s e l f in their speech, and a desire for deep emotional experience which has been frustrated, so that they must express i t by romanticizing their actions and situations. The movement of the play is satisfying because i t shows them passing from this stage through a developing awareness of each other to a "love for each other...Infused with l i f e , and l i f e infused with. . . love" ( 3 1 ) • In a pamphlet on Charles Williams, Fry's friend and mentor, J . Heath-Stubbs says that Williams held that a l l personal relationships involved sacrifice—a free giving to others of part of the personality—and exchange. The idea of exchange finds i t s supreme embodiment in Christ 's giving of Himself as a sacrifice for Man's s in . 1 l u t i t i s t n e tyP e o f a l l other relat ionships . . . This concept of exchange, with the religious background made expl ic i t by means of r i t u a l , informs the structure of movement in Phoenix. Tegeus and Dynamene start at a distance: she i s asleep and he regards her completely dispassionately, although he declares an intuitive sympathy for her action. It i s Not curious; I've had thoughts l ike i t . Death is a kind of love. Not anything I can explain ( 8 ) . Their relationship develops in a pattern of movement that brings them closer together at each step, but not in a steady direction. He asks her, What is your opinion of Progress? Does i t , for example, Exist? Is there ever progression without retrogression? (25) On the plane of personal relationships, the answer is obviously negative. "Would you consider we go round and round?" (26), Dynamene asks him, and he replies, We concertina, I think; taking each time A larger breath, so that the farther we go out The farther we have to go in (26). Their relationship concertinas as they approach and withdraw, culminating in a kiss which is followed by a separation threatened by the ultimate separation of death. Each coming together involves an exchange of "part of the personality" and a consequent revita l iz ing of one another. Dynamene has given up her w i l l to l ive and has 15 John Heath-Stubbs, Charles Williams, Writers and Their Work: No. 63 (London, 1955), p. 26. chosen to die. One interpretation of her name suggests a fusion of the words "die" and "mean": she means to die. Tegeus also admits to a lack of the wi l l to l i ve , but the sight of her is something, i t ' s more than something, It 's regeneration, to see how a human cheek Can become as pale as a pool (12), and he declares she has "renewed [his] faith in human nature" (24)— his f i r s t step in finding "a reason for l i v ing " (25). Despite the harmony that builds up in their dialogue, and in the joint 16 recollections of childhood scenes in Pyxa, Dynaraene reasserts her desire to join V i r i l i u s : I'm going to my husband, I'm too far on the way To admit myself to l i f e again(30). This separation requires a deep breath from Tegeus and an eloquent appeal where he casts himself in the role of the dead husband. "Stop, stop," she cries, "I shall be dragged apart" ( 3 1 ) , but she closes with him in an embrace. Tegeus arouses in Dynamene her latent "dynamic" l i f e force, which he indicates he fears by his reluctance to pronounce her name. But the force, once aroused in her, arouses passion in him, and the exchange turns Tegeus into Chromis. His love redeems her from death, and she replaces her idealism with some of his more practical aspects of personality. This exchange is exemplified in her scheme to u t i l i ze the body of V i r i l i u s to save Tegeus in a f inal "sacrif ice" which gives "death/ 16 The name "Pyxa" suggests "pixie-land", the world of chi ld-hood and fantasy, but an associated connotation is the "pyx", a vessel. in which the consecrated bread of the sacrament is placed. The power of l i f e " (43). The reported relationship between Dynamene and V i r i l i u s i s also one of exchange, but i s limited by his lack of human q u a l i t i e s . V i r i l i u s was Dynamene1s moral ( i n the sense of conventional) mentor, the "peroration of nature," who exemplified a r i g i d code of conduct and taught f a c t s . In exchange, Dynamene declares to his s p i r i t , "I taught you/In your perceptive moments to appreciate me" (5)• The f i n a l irony i s that V i r i l i u s , who denied the l i v i n g q u a l i t i e s and experiences of l i f e , i s the s a c r i f i c i a l exchange through which Tegeus i s saved and Dynamene enjoys a love denied to her during V i r i l i u s ' l i f e . In this f i n a l exchange V i r i l i u s , whose name hitherto has been i r o n i c , i s the agent of l i f e , and he earns Dynamene's true, emotional love, for she commands Tegeus to love her as she loves him and V i r i l i u s . Whereas the f i r s t method by which Phoenix i s made relevant to a modern audience i s through the provision of "well-motivated, v i t a l characters whose actions transcend the l i m i t a t i o n s of t h e i r s o c i a l milieu," the second method i s through the use of an accepted mythological pattern of death and resurrection which incorporates Ch r i s t i a n r i t u a l s . The relationship between the characters indicates a pattern of atonement. Dynamene and Tegeus a t t a i n a • r e c o n c i l i a t i o n through the s a c r i f i c e of V i r i l i u s i n reparation for Tegeus' si n of l o s i n g the body and for Dynamene's s i n of choosing to die and condemning her servant to do so "without/Any f a i r reason" (36). The atonement brings resurrection a f t e r death, but not before a series of r i t u a l s have been enacted s i g n i f y i n g the 17 process. Four of the Seven Sacraments are performed during the play. Baptism i s e x p l i c i t i n the renaming of Tegeus, and forms an ess e n t i a l step i n his regeneration. His new name, Chromis, "has a bread-like sound" (22) which associates him with the taking of bread and wine at Mass: Here's a new r o l l with honey. In the gods' names Let us sober ourselves ( 2 6 ) . When Dynamene f i r s t takes the wine, she drinks to "My husband, and a l l he stood for" ( 1 9 ) ' Tegeus corrects her to the present tense, "Stands f o r " : the dead master i s s t i l l a l i v i n g presence. There i s a suggestion of Penance i n Dynamene's regrets that she was g u i l t y of "not having made a better marriage of i t ; she carries her s e l f -18 punishment to the point of wanting to die." Holy Matrimony i s symbolized when the lovers k i s s , and i s blessed i n the f i n a l action when they pledge th e i r love with a sacramental toast to V i r i l i u s which confers grace on the i r marriage. These r i t u a l s form part of our modern consciousness, and the i r e f f e c t i s to suggest a deeper content i n the play's action. The i n t e r f u s i o n of death, l i f e and love forms the central concern of the play. Doto associates the three i n her opening 17 Watts, p. 2 0 0 . The Seven Sacraments are Baptism, Holy Chrism or Confirmation, The Mass, Penance or Absolution, Holy Matrimony, Holy Order, and Extreme Unction. 18 Wiersma, 2 9 7 * . "• - ' speech: . . . l i f e and death Is cat and dog in this double bed of the world ( 1 ) . Tegeus declares "death is a kind of love" ( 8 ) , and later admits that death "may be l i f e ' s reason" (25). Dynamene, whose love for V i r i l i u s expresses i t s e l f in the desire to join him in death, comes to realize the adumbration of the Christian message in the sacri-fice of V i r i l i u s : I loved His l i f e not his death. And now we can give his death The power of l i f e . Not horrible: wonderful! (43). Phoenix and Firstborn have a similar death-and-resurrection pattern, but an essential difference in Phoenix, in addition to the comic rather than the tragic expectation, is the emphasis on love. The regenerative power of love is suggested in Firstborn in the potential which is implicit in the union of Ramases and Phippa, and Seti asserts that Love is the dominant of l i f e , to which a l l our changes Of key are subdued in the end ( 8 1 ) , but the idea is not expanded or f u l f i l l e d in the action. In Phoenix the whole pattern of action evolves from the burgeoning love between Dynamene and Tegeus. "Love is the only d i sc ip l ine , " she declares, "And we're disciples of love" (41-42). Just as Moses is driven by a force of fate, so Tegeus feels a force impelling his footsteps: "0...why/Was I led here? What stigmatism has got/Into my stars?" ( 1 5 ) , and he says his arr ival "was more than coming. I followed my future here . . . " (21). Love is a prime agent of fate: We're set upon by love To make us incompetent to steer ourselves, To make us docile to fate (38-39). Through the suggestion that love i s a cosmic force, Fry lin k s the eros of sexual love with the agape of brotherly or divine love. S i m i l a r l y , an appreciation of the world of the senses i s not opposed to an appreciation of the s p i r i t u a l world—rather i t i s an ess e n t i a l step towards i t . "Rendering to l i v i n g i t s r i g h t f u l poise i s not/Unimportant" (19)1 declares Tegeus, and Dynamene r e p l i e s ; A mystery's i n the world Where a l i t t l e l i q u i d , with flavour, quality, and fume Can be as no other, can hint and f l u t e our senses As though a music played i n harvest hollows And a movement was i n the swathes of our memory. Why should scent, why should flavour come With such wings upon us? Parsley, for instance ( 2 0 ) . Fry's attitude i s that of the Affirmative Way, that God i s immanent as well as transcendent, and "mystery and goodness and beauty are primarily mediated through created things, i f not wholly through 19 them." Although the world of the body and the senses often "confuses/The nature of the mind" (18), i t i s fortunate for us that Nature "winds her fur t i v e stream a l l through/Our reason" ( 2 4 ) , because we can then act not i n accordance with the doubtful d i c -tates of our conscious minds, but through the impulses of sub-conscious l i f e - f o r c e s . We then avoid being deceived by the 19 Carnell, "Creation's Lonely Flesh: T.S. E l i o t and Christopher Fry on the L i f e of the Senses," Modern Drama, VI, i i (June, 1 9 6 1 ) , 1:45. discrepancy between appearance and real i ty , And what is madness To those who only observe, is often wisdom To those to whom i t happens (31). The l i t e r a l real ity of the phoenix may be questioned, but the real i ty of the love-phoenix r is ing from i ts ashes, of the inter-relationship of l i f e , death and love, is an unquestionable pattern of truth which the play reasserts. Despite the Roman setting, Fry succeeds in giving the play a dist inct ly modern flavour. The language captures the contemporary speech idiom demanded by E l io t , broken only by references to the gods—Zeus, Aphrodite, "Koeos, Krios, Iapetos, Kronos, and so on" (16)—whose names are valuable mainly for their humorous and euphonic effects. Fry is extremely successful in combining the poetic and colloquial styles. For example, Dynamene declares: For me The world is a l l with Charon, a l l , a l l , Even the metal and plume of the rose garden, And the forest where the sea fumes overhead In vegetable tides, and particularly The entrance to the warm baths in Arcite Street Where we f i r s t met;--all!—the sun i t s e l f Trai ls an evening hand in the sultry river Far away down by Acheron (5). Here poetic imagery and association shift smoothly into the mundane and back to the poetic. The movement in language between the two styles parallels the concertina-like structure of the action. There is no harsh juxtaposition for effects of contrast, rather a blending of style with style and subject with subject to show the essential unity in diversity: an exchange of .levels of language in which the poetic acquires an everyday quality and the colloquial some of the stature of poetry. Another example is Dynamene's berating of Tegeus: If I were s t i l l of the world, and not cloistered In a colourless landscape of winter thought Where the approaching Spring is desired oblivion, I should write sharply to your commanding officer. It should be done, i t should be done. If my fingers Weren't so cold I would do i t now. But they are, Horribly cold. And why should insolence matter When my colour of l i f e is unreal, a blush on death, A part ia l mere diaphane? I don't know Why i t should matter. Oafish, non-commissioned Young man! The boots of your conscience wi l l pinch for ever If l i f e ' s dignity has any self-protection. Oh, I have to s i t down. The tomb's going round 0 4 - 1 5 ) . Fry also gives the events of a past era modern connotations. For example, Doto explains how Dynamene circumvented the eternal o f f i c i a l mind: . . . a t f i r s t Madam had di f f iculty with the Town Council. They said They couldn't have a tomb used as a private residence. But madam told them she wouldn't be eating here, Only suffering, and they thought that would be a l l r ight(9). This comic encounter with authority foreshadows the more serious life-and-death matter of the missing body. The Regulations of social institutions can "snuff the great/Candles of creation" (42), as they have done with the six men hung on the thinnest of pretexts: both the ludicrousness and the inhumanity of institutions, Fry implies, are by no means confined to past eras. The materialism of V i r i l i u s , who even died "checking the pence column as he went" (6), is another facet of l i f e that is both ancient and modern. His inabi l i ty to appreciate the world of emotion, art and nature—the wonder of existence—is the deficiency in modern l i f e that Fry i s constantly endeavouring to rect i fy . The assertion of Phoenix is that in any era, love can transcend senseless k i l l i n g , the oppression of institutions and deadening materialism. It has already been suggested that the flow of language parallels the structural movement between antithetical positions, and results in a blending of the oppositions. A further language-structure-theme paral le l is the manner in which the imagery reinforces the comic pattern of action by affirming a positive view of the world. Dynamene exultsj What a mado blacksmith creation is Who blows his furnaces unt i l the stars f ly upward And iron Time is hot and polit icians glow And bulbs and roots sizzle into hyacinth And o r c h i s . . i(6). The dialogue between Dynamene and Tegeus when she f i r s t drinks some wine indicates a multiple harmony in nature between antitheses, between the couple and nature in their awareness, and between each other in their rapport: DYNAMENE. TEGEUS. It has a twin nature, winter and warmth in one, Moon and meadow. Do you agree? DYNAMENE. Perfectly; A cold bel l sounding in a golden month. TEGEUS. Crystal in harvest. DYNAMENE. Perhaps a nightingale Sobbing among the pears. Just as the action is predominantly comic but includes a real threat, so the pattern of imagery stresses the positive aspect of antithesis but recognizes the negative as a distinct alternative. Contrasts of death-life, dark-light, cold-hot, and down-up, pervade the language, revealing the tensions of which l i f e is comprised, yet always asserting the positive. It is this assertion that helps to establish the comic tone and avoids any sense of anxiety concerning the outcome. The opening lines of the play establish that the dark is "Nothing but the harmless day gone into black" ( 1 ) . It i s soon dispersed by the Promethean lamp flame. The same speech indicates which side of the life-death antithesis is to be weighted: " l i f e andufeath/Is cat and dog in this double-bed of a world" ( l ) . The negative thought of death is outweighed by the humour of the metaphor and by the positive sexual connotations of the"double-bed". As the play develops, the outside darkness comes to represent the evils of society, epitomized by the six bodies, but moonlight so bright that Dynamene thinks i t i s dawn that relieves this darkness. Tegeus becomes associated with the moon because he appears out of the dark and uses "the lamplight and the moon so sk i l fu l ly " (29) to enhance his appearance. Dynamene is constantly associated with bright l ight and the sun. At f i r s t , asleep, she is " a l l dark','" but Tegeus soon sees her as "luminous with sorrow," and as their love grows her l ight dazzles him. Coming to; her, he leaves the darkness and cold of "wrenching ice/To walk in the sun" (30). The design on his drinking bowl, which echoes Dynamene's dream, also symbolizes the action of the play and encapsulates the imagery: The corded god, t i e d also by the rays Of the sun, and the astonished ship erupting Into vines and vine-leaves, inverted pyramids Of grapes, the u p l i f t e d hands of the men (the r a i d e r s ) , And here the headlong sea, i t s e l f almost Venturing into leaves and t e n d r i l s , and Proteus With his beard braiding the wind, and this Held by other hands i s the drowned s a i l o r - ( 1 7 ) . The "corded god" i s Tegeus himself, t i e d by the rays of Dynamene's sun. V i r i l i u s has already been described as a ship which "flew figurehead foremost into the sun" ( 2 ) and his eruption into vines and grapes forecasts the f r u i t f u l outcome, despite the threat of the raiders who represent society and the r e a l p o s s i b i l i t y of death i n the drowned s a i l o r who represents the executed men. Dynamene picks up the images and adds the mind-body dichotomy to emphasize the tenacity of l i f e : Oh, how the inveterate body, Even when cut from the heart, i n s i s t s on l e a f , Puts out, with a separate meaningless w i l l , Fronds to intercept the thankless sun. How i t does, oh, how i t does. And how i t confuses The nature of the mind.... When the thoughts would die, the i n s t i n c t s w i l l set s a i l For l i f e . And when the thoughts are a l e r t for l i f e The i n s t i n c t s w i l l rage to be destroyed on the rocks ( 1 7 - 1 8 ) . The description of the bowl, and the manner i n which the images i n i t are echoed and reworked, i s c h a r a c t e r i s t i c of Fry's poetic method of treatment by expansion, as noted i n Chapter Three, and of his integration of language, theme and structure. In Phoenix, as i n Firstborn, Fry i s manipulating antitheses to show that ultimately they form a unity which transcends their difference. The alternatives are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent. Death and resurrection form the overriding pattern, but the treatment i s di f f e r e n t from the anguished manner of Fi r s t b o r n . The deeper concern i s distanced by the comic pattern, and less v i t a l antitheses present f i g u r a l patterns of the basic archetype. It i s therefore quite v a l i d to regard the 20 play as "a debate between convention and the l i f e force" as Stanford does, provided the relationship to a more intense l e v e l i s not forgotten. In the characters, convention i s presented i n terms of r a t i o n a l and s o c i a l expectation, and the p a r t i c u l a r sensi-b i l i t y t h i s produces. It clashes with the i n t u i t i v e desires of the individuals who f i n d i n the r e a l i t y of personal relationships a more v a l i d mode of f e e l i n g and perception. The differences i n class between the characters serve to objectify the modes. Doto represents a lower c l a s s — " I was born nether, madam" (36)—whose amoral conduct i s guided e n t i r e l y by her "lower centres," to use Lawrence's term. Dynamene represents the other end of the s o c i a l scale, an upper, p a t r i c i a n class, guided by s o c i a l etiquette and convention rather than i n t u i t i o n . Tegeus i s neither a common so l d i e r nor an o f f i c e r ; he i s almost independent of class, and his attitude i s a successful v i a media i n which his i n t u i t i o n i s not a slave to his passion, nor his i n t e l l e c t a prohibitor of sensual enjoyment. He therefore represents a balance between 20 Derek Stanford, Christopher Fry, An Appreciation (London, 1951), p. 60. a n t i t h e t i c a l modes i n which the t e n s i o n of o p p o s i t e s i s r e s o l v e d . The i n t e r n a l t e n s i o n s of the p l a y l e a d to a s e r i e s of d e l i g h t f u l l y comic i r o n i e s , which Spears observes are neat and symmetrical: her p e r f e c t i o n of purpose r e v i v e s h i s f a i t h i n human nature and d e s i r e to l i v e ; h i s lo v e makes her give up her p e r f e c t i o n of purpose; he converts her so completely t h a t she v o l u n t e e r s to negate her former f a i t h . . . s o t h a t they may l i v e and l o v e . Thus the l o v e -phoenix r i s e s from i t s ashes; cosmic l a u g h t e r a f f i r m s j o y . 2 1 The "cosmic l a u g h t e r " i s perhaps the audience s a t i s f a c t i o n a t w i t n e s s i n g a neat r e s o l u t i o n of the t e n s i o n and an a f f i r m a t i o n of l i f e which enables them, l i k e Tegeus, " t o f e e l as the gods f e e l " ( 3 2 ). The experience of Phoenix i s one i n which the dark i s 22 " d i s t i l l e d i n t o l i g h t , " n i g h t g i v e s way to dawn. The movement of the p l a y does t r a c e "the f i g u r e of a dance" as Dynamene and Tegeus c o n c e r t i n a , and the " o u t l i n e of the mystery" of l i f e i s t r a c e d i n the e t e r n a l p a t t e r n of death and r e s u r r e c t i o n which i s embodied i n both the C h r i s t i a n and the Phoenix myths, and s i g n i f i e s the u n i t y of being t h a t u n d e r l i e s a l l c r e a t i o n . F r y ' s s h i f t from the r e l i g i o u s to the s e c u l a r , from the Old Testament to the New, from the d i r e c t r e l i g i o u s myth to the i n d i r e c t echoes of mythic p a t t e r n s , and from tragedy to comedy, a l l i n d i c a t e the g e n e r a l s h i f t i n the d i r e c t i o n of human r e l a t i o n -s h i p s which c h a r a c t e r i z e s h i s "middle" p l a y s . The d i v i n e i s never 21 Monroe K. Spears, " C h r i s t o p h e r F r y and the Redemption of Joy," Poetry, LXXVIII ( A p r i l , 1951), 34. ' See Chapter One, p. 24. very far out of sight, but the implicit statement of Phoenix and the plays that follow is that meaning and redemption are to be sought in terms of human individuality and relationships within a context of unity of being that underlies a l l creation. Chapter Five Thor, with Angels: Sacrifice In the fest ival play, Thor, with Angels, written for the Canterbury Festival in 1948, Fry returns to the direct treatment of the spread of Christianity which he began in The Boy with a Cart. The plot of Thor is a series of episodes structured in a similar manner to those in Boy. Each episode leads to i t s own climax which resolves i t , and the play moves on to the next. Both plays reach a f inal climax close to the end which is both the high point in the plot and the moment of highest religious illumina-t ion. In Boy the forward movement is sustained by the journey and the quest to build a church: in Thor the same quest motif is evident in Cymen's desire to discover the nature of his spir i tual disturbance, to "Rid the brain of uncertainty, r id the heart/Of i t s fears," and to "learn what i t i s I've learnt to dread" (26). In addition to the unifying quest pattern, Thor contains plot sus-pense, absent in Boy, f i r s t because of the constant opposition to Hoel by those desiring his death, and second because of the unknown nature of the outcome. The play's action does more than suggest the possible patterns of Christian conversion in pagan communities because, l ike A Phoenix Too Frequent, i t also adumbrates the sacri-fice of Christ and i t s language explores the problems of l i f e , 1 Christopher Fry, Thor, with Angels (London, 1 9 5 7 ) , p. 1. Subsequent page references in parentheses. death and resurrection. Despite the s imilari t ies of structure, and to some extent theme, Thor is a work of greater maturity and sophistication than Boy. In Boy, Fry's chorus, language and versif ication imitate the El iot of The Rock (193^) and Murder in the Cathedral (1935) without emulating him. By the time of Thor Fry has found that he can dispense with a stylized chorus, as El iot did in The Family Reunion (1939)> although, l ike E l io t , he does s t i l l require someone to perform a choric function, which is assigned to Merlin. He also has found his own "voice" in a verse medium that can move freely between the colloquial and the poetic and bears a characteristic stamp in style, image and content. In Boy Fry's concern is with a pattern of miraculous experience that i l lustrates the "root and sky" interaction of God and man. Thor recounts a similar interaction in which Cymen, through a series of unnatural experiences bordering on the miraculous, moves from a vague awareness of spir i tual forces operating on him to a firm "courage to exist in God" ( 5 * 0 . In Boy the reported vision of the "carpenter" is a rather weak dramatic device because i t places the most v i t a l action of the play offstage. In Thor Fry avoids this error by re-enacting the crucifixion of Christ on stage with Hoel as surrogate, thereby gaining dramatic intensity and thematic focus on the question of man's relationship to Christ 's sacri f ice. The play opens with a humorous exchange between Quichelm and Colgrin that raises comic expectations through both i t s action— Colgrin looking for his sword—and i t s language, where Fry displays his s k i l l with a l l i terat ive abuse. However, Colgrin senses that "there's trouble coming" (3), and the reiteration of "cloud" and "mist" suggests that complexities are to follow in which some truth is veiled. Quichelm relates the f i r s t of the miraculous happenings which precipitate Cymen on the path to spir i tual aware-ness. His father, he declares, behaved " l ike a madman"—-the term in Fry becomes almost synonymous with those who have greater sp ir i tua l awareness than their fellows. To save the Briton, Cymen Burst in among us, blaspheming against Woden, Broke his sword in the air—he swore i t broke Against a staggering light—and stood roaring, Swaying in a sweat of wax, bestraddled Over the fallen Briton (4). Cymen enters in a disagreeable temper, and the account of his actions brings him to "tears of rage" and to a Thor-like thundering and cursing against the land that had deceived his forefathers. Despite his rage and the urging of his family, Cymen refuses to k i l l Hoel because he fears something which he believes Hoel can identify for him: I say I fear myself, or rather That not-myself which took my w i l l , Which forced a third strange eye into my head So that I saw the world's dimensions altered (11). The clash of this quest for knowledge with the desire for a blood sacrifice to appease the offended gods forms the central dialectic of the play v.-and.: informs each climactic incident. Opposing forces within the play group themselves around the two polarities of peace and violence, of the angelic and Thor, good and e v i l , l i f e and death. On the one hand there is Cymen's desire for spir i tual knowledge and peace of mind, Hoel's love of l i f e , the love between Hoel and Martina, Merlin's love of nature, St. Augustine's mission, and the pervading plea for pacifism: on the other there i s the background of war and i t s i rrat ional hates, the lust for sacrif ice, the violence of the wolves, and the fear of the unknown. The f i r s t movement towards knowledge reaches a climax when Cymen's internal conflict whether to sacrifice or spare Hoel is miraculously resolved by the culmination of his long paean to the sun in the astonishing toast to the gods—'"Let us love one another'" ( 1 4 ) . This is followed by the even more surprising attack on his own son in the belief that he is attacking Hoel. Clodesuida urges Cymen to rest, but ironical ly does so in terms that suggest baptism: Dip him In sleep, that blue well where shadows walk In water over their heads, and h e ' l l be washed Into reason (15). The cleansing process of baptism is an essential f i r s t step in the attainment of spir i tual knowledge. Watts explains that what is necessary for Baptism is not at a l l the acquisition of knowledge but rather the getting r id of it—"knowledge" in this sense meaning the taking seriously of the conven-tional vision of l i f e . It requires, too, not the making of an effort, but the giving up of every effort—in the sense of effort made to cling to the past, to hold on to death. 2 2 Watts, p. 182. This is precisely what Cymen is required to do before he can "master this mystery" in which the "dist inction JjDf former know-ledgej has gone" (15). The second movement of the play focuses on Hoel and on his developing relationship with Martina. Her pacific nature is shown when she urges her brother not to beat Colgrin: "Let's be affable" (3) she pleads. Later i t is confirmed by her kindness to the ancient Merlin and to the prisoner. Martina, Hoel and Merlin establish a positive harmony which counteracts the negative, quarrelsome Jute family, and starts to build up a respect for Christian values in Cymen. The "Christian land" that Merlin recalls is condemned as weak by Cymen because i t s God had allowed i t to be destroyed. Cymen declares: What I'm aff l icted with Is strong, destroying me with a cry of love, A violence of humility arrogantly Demanding a l l or possess or have ambitions for, . . .Th i s doesn't come From any watery light of what you think you remember. A lashing logic draws me away from my gods. Let it; face me l ike a man! ( 28 -29 ) He is aware of a power Merlin's mysticism fa i l s to account for. The incident of the wolves' attack fa i l s to grow out of the drama-t ic situation, but i t functions to deny Cymen's crit icism of weakness because Hoel, who had been baptised and imbued with the force of Christ ianity, is shown to possess great strength and courage which he does not hesitate to employ in defence pf his avowed enemies, an indication to the fearful pagan mind that his god is not weak. Anna1 s announcement of the wolves' attack indicates i t s metaphoric value: So many wolves, the fields Are a bear-garden—ma'am your brothers!—grey, Snarling, vicious, a terrible pack...(30). The brothers are thereby associated with the wolves, and Hoel's defeat of the "grimmest" foreshadows his ultimate triumph over the brothers and the wider triumph of the Christian world over the pagan. In terms of organized plot, the incident appears imposed, but in terms of the pattern of meaning that the play i l lustrates i t i s part of the organic shape because concrete evidence must be provided in the plot to show the hidden strength of Christianity. The fact that Hoel has long lost direct contact with active Christian faith establishes the power that l ies in i t s f i r s t baptismal touch: "The sp i r i t i s very tenacious of such water" (30). Hoel's action does not bring mercy but a renewed determination for his sacrifice to propitiate the gods and prevent further retribu-t ion. However, Cymen is now ready for the next step in his conversion: the rejection of the old. He denies the value of sacrifice because "the fears go on" (37), and man remains separate from the gods and an "eternal alien/In [_hisj own world" (38). In k promethean act of defiance he destroys the altar and challenges the gods: "Come down and silence me!" (38). The answer comes as an anti-climax: not a thunderbolt, but a summons to attend the king and hear the word of Augustine. Cymen, in his growing aware-ness, recognizes that We're in the path Of change. And I must go to meet the change, Being unable to l ive unaltered (40-41). The f inal movement of the play is in two directions. Just as Ramases dies before Moses can achieve rebirth for himself and the Hebrews, so Hoel is sacrificed before Cymen achieves a complete conversion to and rebirth in the new fai th. This counterbalancing of death with l i f e , of the tragic with the comic, is a frequent 3 pattern in Fry. In The Firstborn and later in The Dark is Light  Enough, the emphasis tends to f a l l on the tragic aspect, in A Phoenix Too Frequent on the comic, but in Thor a balance is achieved whereby the anguish of a sacrifice is immediately converted into the triumph of a spir i tual truth. One of the main reasons that Hoel's death does not arouse too much feeling in an audience is that his character i s not developed in the play: he i s a somewhat negative victim, despite his action against the wolves—reported, not seen—and the budding romance with Martina. The audience can therefore retain a detachment which enables them to focus on the significance of the pattern of action: the re-enactment of Christ 's crucifixion leading to a closer interaction of God and man. The downward movement of Hoel's fate is counterpointed by the r i s ing movement in Cymen's awareness. He leaves the farmstead cleansed of the old, his mind ready for the message of the "One God" in the 3 Robert B. Sharpe, in Irony in the Drama (Chapel H i l l , 1959) , p. x i , argues that drama characteristically reaches "beyond the discord, the mockery, the pain, of l i f e ' s contradictions into a lo f t ier harmony, a vision of two warring truths reconciled by a divine third, a high irony of compassion." See Chapter Eleven, pp. 228*229. mouth of "a man from Rome," and returns having "heard/Word of Qloel ' s ] God" (51-52) and seen a vision of the crucif ixion. The significance of Hoel's death l ie s in Cymen"s acceptance of guilt for his death by crucifixion, and thereby a l l men's for Chri s t ' s . "Forgive me for the sorrow of this world," he asks Hoel, for " A l l make a l l " (53). The play's movement in terms of religious ideas shows the displacement of the old, pagan religion by the new faith of Christ ianity. However, Fry does not merely label the old "bad" and the new "good," but shows how the faults of pagan concepts of worship are precisely those of modern distortions of religious belief and practice. At f i r s t this is done humorously: Quichelm swears by "Woden" and asks for his "Wodenfearing mother," and Colgrin demands "where the Valhalla" his sword i s . The direct transpositions of Woden for God and Valhalla for Hell are easy laughs, but when Clodesuida is seen to conceive her spir i tual l i f e as merely a matter of conforming to r i tua l with the aim of being "well-thought-of by the gods" (5)> the implicit crit icism of modern attitudes is apparent. Clodesuida represents those whose rel igion today consists merely in conforming to external r i tua l s . She declares: I wear myself out securing us to the gods With every device that's orthodox, sacrif icing To the hour, to the sp l i t minute of the risen sun (21). Her main concern is to keep on the right side of the gods, and she lacks any sp i r i tua l , moral or ethical basis for her conduct: wk "Gui l t , forgiveness, humility? What next?/Are you mad?" (7). The chief means of placating the gods is sacrif ice, not of the self in a sp ir i tua l cause, but of animals at appropriate occasions and of human l i f e . She cal ls for Hoel's death: "A sacrif ice, Cymen,/ This one sacrifice for our peace of mind" (12). Her brothers and sons constantly reinforce the demand for Hoel's sacrif ice, but Cymen has begun to realize the f u t i l i t y of "sacrifice without end" (26) because i t brings no peace. The reason, Merlin declares, i s that "Death is what conquers the k i l l e r , not the killed"(27)• "What do I do by sacrifice?" Cymen demands of the gods, The blood flows, the ground soaks i t up, The poisoned nightshade grows, the fears go on, The sacrifice is despair and desperation! (37) Hoel's death is designed both in action and in words to simulate that of Christ . He is "fastened to a tree with his arms spread" (50) and when Martina calls "Father! Father!" he cries "Son and -i ;i-. brooding dove./Call him again" (50), but the r i tua l sacrifice of a scapegoat cannot be prevented: OSMER. We set this house Free from fear and guilt and the working of darkness. QUICHELM. We clean our hearts. TADFRID. The sun flows on the spear. The spear answers the sun. They are one, and go To the act in the concord of a sacrifice ( 5 0 ) . Cymen returns imbued with the new knowledge of Christianity that teaches never again need we sacrif ice, on and on And on, greedy of the gods* goodwill But always uncertain; for sacrifice Can only perfectly be made by God And sacrifice has so been made by God To God in the body of God with m a n . . . ( 52 ) . A l l men share in the guilt for that act, because The sacrifice of God was brought about By the blind anger of men, and yet God made Their blindness their own saving and lonely flesh Welcome to creation ( 5 3 ) . This is the argument of the "fortunate f a l l , " that man's sins draw forth God's grace—particularly in the Incarnation and subsequent if sacrifice of Christ. Watts asserts that In the Old Testament the self-offering of man to God represented in the burning of bulls and goats upon the altar was, from the Christian standpoint, an ineffectual shadow of the only offering which can restore human nature to i t s proper union with God. For the perverted human w i l l cannot make a genuine surrender of i t s e l f to the divine w i l l , so that there can be no true sacrifice unless God himself enters into man, and, as man, makes the " f u l l , perfect, and sufficient," sacrifice which was consummated in the death of the God-man upon the Cross.^ Coming after Christ, the sacrifice of Hoel would be a futile act except for the fact that i t re-enacts that of Christ and operates as a typological symbol. In so far as Hoel's death is a factor in confirming Cymen's conversion, i t is the ultimate gift in a pattern of exchange, similar to that between Tegeus, V i r i l i u s and Dynamene in Phoenix, whereby Hoel's sp ir i tua l power is transferred to Cymen. From their f i r s t encounter, Cymen is aware of a " l ight k Watts, p. 9 5 . See Chapter One, pp. 8-9 . 5 6 See Chapter Four, p. 8 2 . flung" to him from Hoel, and he describes the experience As though a sp i r i t in you [Hoel], l ike A wild fowl hiding in the mere of your flesh, Heard the sound far off and flew up clamouring Rousing a sp i r i t in me (ko). He is aware of a " third strange eye" (11) forced into his head which alters his perception. Hoel in turn has a similar experience: I've known nothing except Your mercy; that indeed was a kind of l ight to me (29), and when he is about to be k i l l ed he prays for further illumination: Death, be to me like a hand that shades My eyes, helping me to see Into the l ight (50). Through their relationship, and the pattern of exchange i t exempli-fies, each experiences a new perception and a spir i tual awakening: Hoel's dormant faith is revived and Cymen is prepared for conversion. Although Hoel's death leads Cymen to an awareness of gui l t , i t is ironic because i t serves so l i t t l e purpose. Dramatically, the effect is powerful because his death conveys a sense of tragic inevi tabi l i ty and waste, and thematically, in addition to expanding the Christian pattern, i t exemplifies the mode of violence which the play condemns. A mysterious, almost supernatural force leads Cymen to protect Hoel in the battle, and causes him to act strangely, but there are also human forces at work in the cause of peace. Martina is a peacemaker, Hoel's own desire is to l i ve , even Clodesuida is in favour of mercy after the wolves' attack, and Merlin sees the pettiness and f u t i l i t y of man's squabbles: Who, apart From ourselves, can see any difference between Our victories and our defeats...? Not beast nor b i r d , . . . A l l indifferent. Much more so your gods Who l ive without the world, who never feel As the world feels in springtime the stab of the spear And the spurt of golden blood, Winter's wound-in-the-side, the place where l i f e begins ( 2 6 - 2 7 ) . Metaphorically, Merlin makes the connection between the violent mode of the old gods who l ive outside the world and the Christian mode of love and peace which Christ, l iv ing in this world, established on the Cross. Merlin has seen the cycles of war, love and rel igion many times: And men broke their swords in the love of battle, And broke their hearts in the love of women, And broke the holy bread in the love of God ( 2 8 ) , but now his perception has become too dimmed To be able to distinguish one thing from another, The storm-swollen river from the tear-swollen eyes, Or the bare cracked earth from the burnt-out face, Or the forest soughing from the sighing heart. What is in one is in the o ther . . . (3 2 ) . The f i r s t step, therefore, in ending violence is to perceive things in a different manner. Cymen, having had his vision changed, can see the "huge debt of pain" on earth, and above a l l the "blundering cruelty/Of man" (53) » and his f inal speech is a pacifist plea for "forgiveness,/Mercy, and compassion" ( 5 3 ) . Hoel's death, i ron i -cally precipitated by Martina's display of affection, is at once the culmination of violence and an expression of the f u t i l i t y , waste and sheer inhumanity of such acts. The mode of perception which can avoid the course of violence i s that of Augustine Sent by Gregory of Rome who on a market-day Saw angels where we see our enemies (39). S i m i l a r l y , Hoel declares: What simple things the affections are, That can't perceive that people are enemies Or friends (48). Despite the fact that he i s an enemy, Martina i s attracted to him and t h e i r relationship indicates the harmony that a new perception could bring to the a f f a i r s of men. Thor not only demonstrates the p o s s i b i l i t i e s for man's peace and for his communion with nature and God that are inherent i n the Christian perception, but also indicates both s t r u c t u r a l l y and verbally the forces at work on behalf of the new dispensation. The force that moves Cymen to act i n strange ways i s the same force that Merlin sees persuading men to their destiny: I observe the very obdurate pressure Edging men towards a shape beyond The shape they know (46). The action of the play, with i t s reliance on acceptance of the supernatural, bears out the theme announced and expanded in Merlin's central speech. Merlin i s given a double task: f i r s t to present a pantheistic mode as an alternative to the pagan and a prelude to the Christian, and second to act as a choral commen-tator who transcends time and elaborates the meaning of the action. He views the whole of creation i n a semi-Platonic manner i n which the things of nature are A l l dreams out of the slumbering rock Each dream answering to a shape Which was i n dream before the shapes were shapen; And above the shapes of l i f e , the shape Of death, the s i n g u l a r shape of the dream d i s s o l v i n g , Into which a l l o b e d i e n t l y come. And above the shape of death, the shape of the w i l l Of the slumbering rock, the end of the throes of s l e e p Where the stream of the dream wakes i n the open eyes Of the sea of the love of the morning of the God (45-46). M e r l i n i s "more than h a l f / A pagan" because, although h i s avenue t o God i s the e a r t h r a t h e r than the s p i r i t , h i s p h i l o s o p h y i s an e s s e n t i a l aspect of the concept of "co-inherence" and p r e s e n t s a p o s i t i v e answer to Cymen's q u e s t i o n i n g of the " S i l e n c e upon s i l e n c e upon s i l e n c e " (55) t h a t forms an impenetrable b a r r i e r between man and the gods. One weakness i n the p a t t e r n of Cymen's co n v e r s i o n i s t h a t he does not appear to accept M e r l i n ' s p o s i t i o n before a t t a i n i n g h i s f u l l c o n v e r s i o n : i t i s a stage t h a t i s presented a t the v e r b a l l e v e l to the audience, but i s not i n c o r p o r a t e d i n t o a c t i o n or c h a r a c t e r . Cymen r e t u r n s to the farm having heard the H i s f i n a l i l l u m i n a t i o n of the l o v e of God o p e r a t i n g w i t h i n the world complements M e r l i n ' s l i n e a l view of the g o a l of c r e a t i o n . Not only i s man i n t e g r a l and "welcome to c r e a t i o n , " a p a r t i c i p a n t i n the " r o o t and sky" i n t e r a c t i o n of God and H i s u n i v e r s e , but he i s a l s o i n v o l v e d i n a p u r p o s e f u l process t h a t i s d e v e l o p i n g by Word of [Hoel's] G o d i f e l t our l o n e l y f l e s h Welcome to c r e a t i o n . The f e a r f u l s i l e n c e Became the s i l e n c e of great sympathy, The q u i e t of God and man i n the mutual word (52). See Chapter One, p. 9-s t a g e s — " T h e gods reformed a c c o r d i n g to the shape" ( 4 6 ) —towards a d i v i n e d e s t i n y . Although the s t r u c t u r e of Thor i s e p i s o d i c , the i n c i d e n t s are s e t up i n a p a r a l l e l manner, the f i r s t foreshadowing the second or the two complementing one another. C o l g r i n ' s attempt to f i n d h i s sword and k i l l Quichelm c o m i c a l l y foreshadows Cymen's a s s a u l t on h i s son. S i m i l a r l y , the a t t a c k of the wolves r e l a t e s to the J u t e ' s a t t a c k and the k i l l i n g of Hoel. Martina's humane a c t i o n i n f e e d i n g M e r l i n i s f o l l o w e d by her f e e d i n g of Hoel, and Cymen's i n a b i l i t y to s l e e p i s p a r a l l e l to M e r l i n ' s i n a b i l i t y to d i e . Cymen's f i r s t r e t u r n , when he i s confused and c u r s i n g , forms a s i g n i f i c a n t c o n t r a s t to h i s second r e t u r n from h e a r i n g Augustine when h i s v i s i o n has been c l a r i f i e d and h i s mind e n l i g h t e n e d . Cymen's b r i e f r e s t , when i n h i s t u r m o i l i s c o n t r a s t e d with Hoel's s l e e p from which he wakes with a heavy h e a r t but without the u n c e r t a i n t y and f e a r t h a t harass Cymen. The e f f e c t of p a r a l l e l i n g events i s to s e t up an a l t e r n a t i v e p a t t e r n to a s t r i c t l i n e a l development of a c t i o n . In the same manner that knowledge of the outcome i n Boy and F i r s t b o r n focuses a t t e n t i o n on the p r o c e s s r a t h e r than the p l o t , so t h i s method of 9 p a r a l l e l i n g — w h i c h i s perhaps p a r t compensation f o r a weak p l o t — • focuses a t t e n t i o n on the s i g n i f i c a n c e of events i n r e l a t i o n to the p a t t e r n of e x i s t e n c e they r e p r e s e n t r a t h e r than on t h e i r f u n c t i o n An o c c a s i o n a l shadow a c r o s s my bed from a c l o u d Of weariness, [andj the g l a r e of the b r a i n p e r s i s t e d (24), in a logical sequence of cause and effect. There is no internal logic for the appearance of the wolves, for example, nor for the messenger that calls Cymen away, nor for the "mad" actions of Cymen, but each appears to be externally controlled and therefore reinforces the assertion of an "obdurate pressure," an external divine force, compelling the affairs of men. The language of the play indicates a pattern of interpenetra-tion that stands as a metaphor for the co-inherence of man, time, nature, and God. As Roy observes, the sun and i t s attributes form the "focal centre" of the play's imagery in contrast to i t s g polarit ies of darkness, cold and winter. The religious connota-tions of the "sun" are tradit ional , and from the opening scene onwards, the natural action of the sun r is ing and clearing the mists is recognizably multivocal. Quichelm arrives "blaspheming in the thick of the mist" ( l ) , then Colgrin announces "The sun's risen" (2), and Cymen, after the account of his Saul-like experience when his sword "broke/Against a staggering l ight" ( 4 ) , declares "the sun puts down/The mist at last and looks out across the day" ( 1 3 ) • In the r i tua l k i l l i n g of Hoel, Tadfrid echoes Hoel's cry, "Son and the brooding dove," when he sees that "The sun flows on the spear./The spear answers the sun" (50). These lines play on the sun-Son association and subsume the pagan attributes of the sun into a Christian context in a manner similar to Cymen's apostrophe to the sun that culminates not in a pagan toast, but in Q Roy, "Structure . . . , " p'. 170. the command of Christ : "Let us love one another" (14). The time of the action is spring. Merlin recalls the Christian Arthurian era, the time of such events as "old Joseph's faithful staff/ Breaking into scarlet bud in the fa l l ing snow" ( 3 8 ) , but miracles no different from the "commonplace" miracle which "staves of chestnut wood/And maywood and the l ike perform...every year" ( 2 8 ) . The period between Arthur's era and A.D. 596 had been one of winter: Merlin has a vision of the men of Rome Returning, bringing God, winter over, a breath Of green exhaled from the hedges.. .(33)• The return of Christianity i s a spring renewal, a rebirth after the death of winter, when once again men like the "primrose and v i o l e t . . . ["can^ j Gather l ike pilgrims in the aisles of the sun" (33) • Fry indicates two possible false attitudes or relationships to the sun. Clodesuida relies on the r i tua l of "sacrificing/To the hour, to the spl i t minute of the risen sun" (21) without any comprehension of spir i tual meaning, and the exiled Britons have "for years . . . l a in furtively in the setting sun" (19), possessing the knowledge but, l ike Hoel, allowing i t to l i e dormant. Water, in rain, rivers and wells, i s associated with light in the regenerative process. Cymen's need for sleep, for example, is expressed in baptismal terms of washing in water, and Hoel welcomes sleep in similar terms: Sleep, yes. My fields need rain. Sleep Can drench down and welcome ( 4 5 ) . Merlin, in his near-sighted old age, recognizes the identity of the natural and the human: he is unable to distinguish one thing from another, The storm-swollen river from the tear-swollen eyes. . . (32). Metaphors from nature are, therefore, the most appropriate to describe human experience, and by extension, because the world of nature is a manifestation of the divine, the human world is linked to the divine through the natural, and the spir i tual knowledge that "our lonely flesh |jlsJ/Welcome to creation" (32) is reinforced by awareness of our involvement in the total process of creation: l i f e , death and resurrection. In Thor Fry straddles the narrow bridge between the comic and the tragic, which would suggest that the mode is tragicomic. Roy sees the tragicomic effect in this play dependent on symmetrical contrasts: Cymen's gradual, humane enlightenment is balanced against his superstitious relatives ' wrong-headed normalcy, Merlin's lofty, enlightened mysticism with the l ive ly earthiness of C o l g r i n . . . . Colgrin's sloth, cowardice and irreverent wit obliquely confirm Merlin's v i s i o n . . . . Reason and emotion, ecstasy and r idicule are tenuously weighed, each qualifying the extremes of i t s opposite. 9 These effects, however, do not in themselves establish a tragicomic mode, which Guthke, in his book Modern Tragicomedy, declares is not a mere juxtaposition of the tragic and the comic or playing with constrasts, but the identity of tragic fear and comic laughter 10 which the audience perceives simultaneously xn the one experience. 9 Emil Roy, "Christopher Fry as Tragicomedian," Modern Drama, XI, i (May, 1968), k2. 10 Karl S. Guthke, Modern Tragicomedy (New York, 1966), pp. 25, kk. In Hoel's death there is something of this duality because there 11 is what Ionesco terms a "dramatic synthesis" of the two modes, the tragic death and the comic ending being achieved almost simultaneously with the resultant dramatic impression one of ambivalence. Even here, the two are sequential rather than simultaneous. It is more valuable, perhaps, to see the structure of Thor as i ronic . Guthke sees one form of the tragicomic 12 ut i l i z ing an "irony of the course of events" which victimizes the protagonists—who do not rise to tragic stature. Hoel f i t s this category, but this is the only aspect of Thor which does align i t with the modern tragicomic. The result of Martina's love for Hoel is the culmination of a series of ironies in the play. Fry is constantly playing on the discrepancy between the spoken assertion and the evidence in action, or between expectation and real ization. For example, Colgrin's bold words while he searches for his sword ironical ly parody the oaths and actions of war: Frog-man, fen-fiend, werewolf, oul, e l f , Or whatever unnatural thing you are Stand away from the swiping of my sword. (Where the thunder did I put it?) (1) The i n i t i a l comic expectation is not f u l f i l l e d , despite recurring moments of humour with Colgrin and the promise of romantic comedy in the Hoel-Martina relationship. Cymen's words repeatedly lead 11 Ionesco, quoted in Guthke, p. 51• ^ 2 Guthke, p. 82. up to one expectation but the action is a marked ironic contrast. His toast to the gods is "Let us love one another" (14); his attempt to k i l l Hoel is directed against his own son; his sacri-fice to the gods turns to destruction of the altar ; and his defiance of them brings the unexpected, anticlimactic messenger from the king. The implications of the language also contain ironic reversals. For example, i t is ironic that Hoel is "Too black for a swan" (49), that Martina's whiteness should be called "Leper-flesh!" (49), and that Osmer should assert that by sacrif icing Hoel they "set this house/Free from fear and guilt and the working of darkness" (50). Similarly, there is irony in Cymen's "golden future our fathers died for" (9) because the promised land is a. mirage. In his discussion of the Tragic Mode, Northrop Frye identifies the hero of the ironic form as "a man who deprecates himself," who appears less than he i s , who "gets isolated from his 13 society," and who becomes a scapegoat that is neither innocent nor guilty: He is innocent in the sense that what happens to him is far greater than anything he has done provokes.. . . He is guilty in the sense that he is a member of a guilty society, or l iv ing in a world where such injustices are an inescapable part of existence.^ Like Adam, he may be "inevitably" ironic by virtue of "being human nature under sentence of death," and l ike Christ he may be "incon-grously" ironic by being "the perfectly innocent victim excluded 13 Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (New York, 1967), pp. 40-41. l 2 f Ib id . , p. 41. from human society." Hoel's role f i t s this pattern perfectly, so that the play, in one aspect or another, incorporates a complete range of irony. Furthermore, irony is the most effective means of i l lus t ra t ing paradox, so that the structuring of Thor in a series of ironies in both language and action serves to illuminate the ultimate paradox of sacrifice where a death is required to ensure rebirth: Hoel's death for that of Cymen and the Jutes, Christ 's for a l l men. Thor does not assert the same v i t a l i t y and redemptive qualities of close human relationships as exemplified in Phoenix, but i t does repeat to some extent the same pattern of exchange, although in a manner that recalls Firstborn, where Ramases' l i f e is given for Moses' rebirth. Thor shares aspects of tragedy with Firstborn, and as in the earlier play, the emphasis is on the redemptive, l iberating pattern of death followed by rebirth. Because Thor repeats some of the themes and structural aspects of Boy and F i r s t -born without following up the developments of Phoenix, i t may be seen as a step backwards for Fry, but i t does continue his "explora-tion into God" in i t s concern with the mysteries of sacrifice and in i t s expansion of the concept of co-inherence adumbrated in Boy. Chapter Six The Lady's Not for Burning: Harlequinade The Lady's Not for Burning follows the pattern of antitheses which characterizes the structure of the preceding plays. The underlying pattern of action also has much in common with the earl ier work because Lady is a reworking of the death-and-resurrec-tion cycle which is fundamental to the structure of The Firstborn and A Phoenix Too Frequent. The climate is one of comedy, with tragedy a thundercloud on the horizon, as in Phoenix, but to the comedy Fry adds a stronger breeze of lyricism than in any of his earl ier plays—although, of course, they do include l y r i c a l passages. Lady also shares with Phoenix an underlying al legorical structure which juxtaposes Christian and pagan myth. Christian concepts of damnation and salvation, and s in, guilt and expiation, are interwoven with the superstitions of witchcraft and with pagan attitudes to nature. The play reconciles these antitheses both in terms of narrative outcome and in terms of language. Despite the fact that the action and language of the play uphold the unconventional, the structure is conventional romantic comedy built on the "well-made-play" scheme of a sequence of heightening tensions and complications leading to a happy, comic outcome. Act I builds up to the entry of Jennet and ends with a cry from Thomas that indicates the direction of subsequent events: " F o r God's s a k e h a n g me, b e f o r e I l o v e t h a t woman!" H a l f o f A c t I I i s t a k e n up w i t h t h e d e v e l o p i n g r e l a t i o n s h i p b e t w e e n J e n n e t a n d Thomas, b u t c u l m i n a t e s i n t h e " c o n f e s s i o n " c r i s i s . A c t I I I r e s o l v e s t h e c o m p l i c a t i o n s w i t h s o m e t h i n g o f a d e u s e x m a c h i n a i n t h e r e b o r n S k i p p s , a n d t h e p l a y e n d s w i t h a c o n v e n t i o n a l u n i t i n g o f l o v e r s . T i m e ' s r e v i e w e r d e c l a r e s t h a t " t h e p l a y i s n o t t o be d r e d g e d f o r l a r g e m e a n i n g s . . . . I t s f o r t e i s f i r e w o r k s , n o t i l l u m i n a t i o n . " H o w e v e r , w i t h i n t h e f r a m e w o r k o f c o m i c s t r u c t u r e a n d i n c o r p o r a t e d i n t h e d i s p l a y o f f i r e w o r k s t h e a n t i t h e s e s a r e a g a i n w o r k e d o u t i n t e r m s o f a n a l o g o u s a c t i o n a n d m e t a p h o r . The Time a r t i c l e on F r y w h i c h a c c o m p a n i e s t h e r e v i e w r e c o g n i z e s t h a t " F r y ' s c h o s e n t o p i c s a r e n o t s o c i a l p r o b l e m s . They a r e p e r h a p s s m a l l e r , p e r h a p s much l a r g e r . " They a r e s m a l l e r i n t h a t t h e t o p i c s c o n c e r n i n d i v i d u a l s , n o t s o c i a l d y n a m i c s , a n d l a r g e r i n t h a t t h e y a r e u n i v e r s a l r a t h e r t h a n p a r o c h i a l . The c o n v e n t i o n a l c o m i c f o r m i s n o t a S h a v i a n " s u g a r i n g o f t h e p i l l , " n o r i s i t u n c r i t i c a l o p t i m i s m , b u t i t i s an e x p r e s s i o n o f F r y ' s f u n d a m e n t a l a t t i t u d e t h a t comedy i s "an e s c a p e , n o t f r o m t r u t h b u t f r o m d e s p a i r : a n a r r o w e s c a p e i n t o f a i t h . " The " l a r g e r m e a n i n g s " a r e c o n t a i n e d 1 C h r i s t o p h e r F r y , The L a d y ' s N o t f o r B u r n i n g , 2nd e d . ( L o n d o n , 1950), p. 35- S u b s e q u e n t page r e f e r e n c e s i n p a r e n t h e s e s . 2 "The L a d y ' s N o t f o r B u r n i n g , " T i m e , L V I ( N o v . 20, 1950), 46. 5 I b i d . , 48-49. k F r y , "Comedy," 77. i n the a t t i t u d e s which u n d e r l i e the p l a y and become ev i d e n t when the p a t t e r n s of a c t i o n and language which Fry i s m a n i p u l a t i n g are r e c o g n i z e d . The c e n t r a l c o n f l i c t of the p l a y i s between two groups, the " o u t s i d e r s " and the " i n s i d e r s . " Those o u t s i d e Tyson's house who come i n , b r i n g i n g magic, enchantment and r e v e l a t i o n , f i n d t h e i r unorthodoxy opposed by the orthodoxy of o f f i c i a l d o m . T h e i r uncon-v e n t i o n a l d e s i r e s or a c t i o n s c l a s h with the p r o p r i e t y of the esta b l i s h m e n t because they pose a t h r e a t to i t . Although the comedy t r e a t s Tyson, Tappercoom, Margaret, the Devize b r o t h e r s , and the C h a p l a i n g e n t l y , i t nonetheless r i d i c u l e s them i n t h e i r v a i n attempts to maintain a u t h o r i t y , p o s i t i o n or convention. The weight of a p p r o v a l f a l l s on the comic v i c t i m s who triumph and emerge as v i c t o r s i n the end. As Vos p o i n t s out, the v i c t i m - v i c t o r p a t t e r n i s a C h r i s t i a n analogy: "amid s a c r i f i c e and f e s t i v i t y , the c e n t r a l movement of both Thomas and Jennet from v i c t i m to v i c t o r i s embodied i n an a c t i o n a n a l o g i c a l to the nuances of the atonement of 5 Jesus C h r i s t . " No one c h a r a c t e r i n the p l a y r e p r e s e n t s C h r i s t . There i s no need f o r a C h r i s t s u r rogate because i t i s the p a t t e r n which i s v i t a l . Jennet i s perhaps the c l o s e s t because she i s a v i c t i m of both the i g n o r a n t mob and the unimaginative o f f i c i a l s . Her death i s demanded as a s a c r i f i c e to expurgate e v i l from the community and thereby atone f o r i t s s i n s . Thomas i s a l s o a v i c t i m of a s o c i e t y which has brought about i n him a d i s i l l u s i o n m e n t with 5 Vos, p. 97. the nature of the world, despite his appreciation of i t s exterior beauty. Like Tegeus i n Phoenix he i s a d i s i l l u s i o n e d romantic, but his greater self-awareness leads to a voluntary atonement because, he declares, I Am a figure of vice and cr i m e — ...Guilty Of mankind. I have perpetrated human nature (58). Richard and Alizon are both involved i n the pattern because they are outside victims forced to conform to authority. Richard's "miraculous" b i r t h i s a comic analogy for the incarnation of a god: "I wasn't born," he declares, I was come across. In the dusk of one Septuagesima A p r i e s t found an infant, about ten inches long, Crammed into the poor-box His "purgatory-colour" indicates his position "on the way to grace" (6) i n a quest for salvation. Although Alizon says she i s "quite usual," her b i r t h was "a great surprise to £her) parents" (5), and she was at f i r s t married to God. Her divine associations are reinforced by her appearance which evokes the exclamation "Whsst! Revelation I" (3) from Thomas. The l a s t of the outside group i s Mathew Skipps, whose miraculous resurrection i s both a parody of Christ's and an affirmation of the pattern for a l l degrees of mankind. Opposing the outsiders are the i n s i d e r s : Tyson and Tapper-coom representing authority; Humphrey and Nicholas representing man's baser nature; Margaret representing convention; and the C h a p l a i n r e p r e s e n t i n g those whose n a t u r a l i n s t i n c t s have been suppressed i n t o conformity with the c u r r e n t mores of s o c i e t y . The o f f i c i a l mind i s r i d i c u l e d i n Tyson's comic r e p e t i t i o n s — " T h i s w i l l a l l be gone i n t o / A t the proper time" (2j)—his f e a r of being laughed at and h i s h o r r o r a t "Awful unorthodoxy" (26). He i s q u i t e h e l p l e s s i n the face of a s i t u a t i o n f o r which the r u l e s have not been l a i d down, and h i s inadequacy i s e x e m p l i f i e d i n the c o l d — " t i r e s o m e c a t a r r h " ( 1 ? ) — f r o m which he s u f f e r s . Tappercoomi's p h y s i c a l c o n d i t i o n s i m i l a r l y e x e m p l i f i e s the nature of o f f i c i a l d o m as he "mountainously £rollsJ up and down the room" (36). A dominant reason f o r the acceptance of a u t h o r i t y i s expressed by Humphrey: What i s o f f i c i a l Is i n c o n t e s t a b l e . I t undercuts The p r o b l e m a t i c a l world and s e l l s us l i f e At a d i s c o u n t (15). O f f i c i a l l y p r e s c r i b e d or c o n v e n t i o n a l a c t i o n or thought r e l i e v e s the i n d i v i d u a l of the problem of t h i n k i n g f o r h i m s e l f , and p r o v i d e s a sense of s e c u r i t y . When t h i s sense of s e c u r i t y i s d i s t u r b e d , as i t i s by Jennet and Thomas, the r e a c t i o n i s v i o l e n t . The r e a c t i o n of the o f f i c i a l s to Jennet's p l e a f o r p r o t e c t i o n i s seen to be of the same order as t h a t of the "credulous c h i l d r e n i n the s t r e e t " (27) to Jennet's unorthodox behaviour. When she c r i e s , What, does everyone s t i l l knuckle And s u c k l e a t the b i g br e a s t of i r r a t i o n a l f e a r s ? (27), s u p e r s t i t i o n and the mystique of o f f i c i a l d o m are a s s o c i a t e d and condemned as i d e n t i c a l m a n i f e s t a t i o n s of i r r a t i o n a l i t y . The deadening, s o u l - d e s t r o y i n g a t t i t u d e of o f f i c i a l d o m i s r e v e a l e d by Tyson: The standard soul Must mercilessly be maintained. No Two ways of l i f e . One God, one point of view. A general acquiescence to the mean (71)« The Chaplain is an example of one who has acquiesced. He is a comic, sympathetic figure, who would "l ike/To have been a musician but others decreed otherwise" (60). He is guilty, not as he feels for allowing his v io l to "Commit such sins of sound" (73) and for permitting his natural feelings to get the better of him, but for conforming to the dictates of "Those in authority over us" (60) who suppress his impulses to joy and justice. Margaret is simi-lar ly guilty of suppressing a l l natural feeling, which she avoids by hiding i t behind the masks of placidity and convention. Her indifference to the witch-hunt prompts Thomas to appeal; Oh, be disturbed, Be disturbed, madam, to the extent of a tut And I w i l l thank God for c iv i l i za t ion (13). The unusual disturbs her faith in propriety, and the appearance of a heretic—whether spir i tual or secular—contains the threat of making "orthodoxy seem almost irrelevant" (79)• Her two sons indicate the perversions of feeling which occur in a conformist society. Nicholas k i l l s his brother out of jealousy in comic parody of Cain, yet even that jealousy is not based on any real love for Alizon, but rather on r ivalry with his brother. "I loved her once," he declares, "I thought you wanted h e r . . . " (65). Humphrey abuses the power his position on the local council gives him to forward his lechery. A l l those inside are contaminated by the ev i l inherent in a society which represses feelings and con-demns the individual to conformity. It is this ev i l which constitutes the underlying source of conflict with those from outside whose good l ie s in their awareness of the complexity and variety of l i f e and in their desire to l ive in an unfettered mode. The good-evil antithesis is i l lustrated in the contrast between outsider and insider in their capacity for and attitude to love and laughter:,., and in their degrees of awareness. The antithesis is perhaps better defined in terms of positive and negative attitudes: the positive is applauded as good, the negative condemned as e v i l . Margaret, Tyson and Tappercoom are untouched by love in any form, except for the stirrings of physical attraction Tyson feels for Jennet. "Your love," Thomas te l l s Tyson, "Is the fear of your single self" ( 2 8 ) , egocentric and negative. Similarly, Humphrey is capable of lechery, not love, and Nicholas "Loved j^Alizonj with a passionate misapprehension" (65) because he thought Humphrey wanted her. Lechery is condemned in Tappercoom's rebuke to Tyson, "Blow your nose/And avoid lechery" ( 3 7 ) , and in Jennet's rejection of Humphrey's offer. She declares: What is deep, as love is deep, I ' l l have Deeply. What is good, as love is good, I ' l l have well. Then i f time and space Have any purpose, I shall belong to i t ( 8 5 ) . Love is equated with good, and physical love is more than "merely an exchange/Of compliments," as Humphrey suggests. Love is an i r res i s t ib le cosmic force: Jennet declares." Something compels us into The terrible fallacy that man is desirable And there's no escaping into truth. The crimes And cruelties jof men] leave us longing, and campaigning Love s t i l l pitches his tent of l ight among The suns and moons (59). This force overcomes Richard immediately he sees Alizon: 0 God, God, God, God, God. I can see such trouble! Is l i f e sending a flame to nest in my flax? For p i ty ' s sake! (4), and despite his recognition of the possible pain i t brings, he makes no attempt to resist i t . Thomas's response to Jennet is the same, but he attempts to avoid his fate: "For God's sake hang me, before I love that woman!" ( 3 5 ) • He believes love to be one of man's "less lethal appetites" ( 5 8 ) . but f inal ly through love he is wil l ing to endure the e v i l of the world to be with Jennet, and te l l s her? I shall be loath to forgo one day of you, Even for the sake of my ultimate friendly death (97). Thomas's conversion from a sceptic rejecting love to a sceptic accepting i t constitutes a central movement of the play. His very awareness of the attractions of love, a paradoxical "Sweet noose," indicates his own vulnerabil ity, and despite his scepticism, "by preserving the magnetism of mystery/And [his] curious passion for death" ( 5 7 ) , he makes himself "A breeding ground for love and must take the consequences." It is as though his whole personality is driven by the l i fe-force that, according to Jennet, "compels" women. None of those inside are moved by this cosmic compulsion, and con-sequently none of them undergoes the process of regeneration that Alizon, Richard, Jennet, and Thomas experience through the agency of love. There is a similar division between outsider and insider with relation to laughter. Jennet declares she has come to Tyson's house "to have the protection. . .of laughter" (24), but laughter requires a sense of balance, proportion and f l ex ib i l i ty alien to those inside. Margaret is incapable of laughter, being utterly incapable of perceiving anything in non-literal terms. Humphrey and Nicholas are too self-centred to be capable of generous laughter. Tyson w i l l "not have any f r ivo l i ty " (26), and he con-siders i t "unwise/To tempt providence with humour" (40). To him, "A sense of humour [is3 /Incompatible with good citizenship" (17)? whereas to Thomas, laughter " i s an irrelevancy/Which almost amounts to revelation" (50). Here Thomas is acting as Fry's spokesman to justify the comic mode in terms of the illumination i t can cast on the human condition. This principle has always been the modus  operandi of the s a t i r i s t . Fry's mode is not one of satire, but in Lady, within the framework of a Romantic Comedy, Fry does satirize the "humours" of his blocking characters. The Horatian treatment of these characters places them on the e v i l end of the good-evil continuum, yet not too far along to be beyond redemption. Tyson's cold indicates the vulnerable humanity beneath the pompous exterior, and he f inal ly withdraws "to be alone with [his j own convictions" (74), sensing the wrong of his attitude, and does not reappear; the brothers are ridiculed in their squabbling and are shown as misguided and ineffectual rather than e v i l , and they too withdraw when they realize " i t ' s a l l over with us" (89); and Tappercoom shows redeeming human qualities when he withdraws, noting "a certain mildness/In the night, a kind of somnolent inattention" (95-96), and pointing the way of escape. As well as being negative in their blocking roles and with regard to laughter, the insiders also reveal negative attitudes to the wonder of existence. Tyson refuses to recognize anything that is not o f f i c i a l and orthodox. His r ig id outlook is revealed when he declares, "The standard soul/Must mercilessly be maintained" (71), and when he te l l s Thomas; Dear S i r , I haven't yet been notified Of your existence. As far as I am concerned You don't exist (17). Tappercoom takes similar refuge behind the "Absolute" of the law when confronted with the unusual: "You've got to be dispassionate/ Calm and c iv i l i zed " (72), he te l l s Tyson. Their closed, phleg-matic attitudes form a marked contrast to the open sense of wonder expressed so volubly by Thomas, and so simply by the Chaplain: "everything astonishes me,/Myself most of a l l " (41). Paradoxically, Thomas is entranced by the wonder, beauty and mystery of the world, yet overwhelmed by the "stench of the plague-pit" (57) and the "boomerang rages and lunacies" (58) which are unavoidable aspects of the human condition. His recognition of the dual aspects of creation, "g l i t ter ing with conflicts" (5^), is the source of his redemption, for recognition i s an essential prerequisite to the r e c o n c i l i a t i o n of opposites. Jennet i n h e r i t s her father's desire for s c i e n t i f i c knowledge. Thomas asks her; what greater superstition Is there than the mumbo-jumbo of believing In r e a l i t y ? (54) However, the s p i r i t i s one of quest, of desire to discover, so that when she recognizes a realm of mystery beyond "the essential f a c t " ( 5 3 )> another r e c o n c i l i a t i o n takes place between the apparent a n t i -theses of fact and mystery. The agent of r e c o n c i l i a t i o n i s love, and the process, as i n Phoenix, exemplifies the pattern of exchange discussed i n Chapter Four (pp. 8 2-84). Both Thomas and Jennet enter Tyson's house on a quest, although with opposite aims. Thomas seeks death: "I only wanted to be hanged" ( 3 ) > he declares. He desires escape from a l i f e which has turned sour for him. He i s disgusted with the "dung" of humanity, with t h e . e v i l he sees beneath the s u p e r f i c i a l beauty of nature, and with the i r r a t i o n a l i t y of man. Jennet seeks l i f e through an appeal to reason. She i n h e r i t s her father's f a i t h i n reason, and declares, "I believe i n the human mind" ( 2 7 ) , but because he "broke on the wheel of a dream," she chooses "the actual*...the es s e n t i a l f a c t " ( 5 3 ) . Just as Thomas finds his quest frustrated i n Tyson's house, so Jennet finds not l i f e but the threat of death. In their f r u s t r a t i o n the two discover that their opposing desires for death and l i f e become united i n a common desire to "begin again." Their relationship develops into a c o n f l i c t i n which his death-wish i s displaced by her life-urge, and her objectivism is displaced by his poetic vis ion. The v i t a l phase of the exchange occurs in Act II in the discussion, which is strategically placed mid-point in the play. In place of Jennet's "essential fact" Thomas offers "Creation's vast and exquisite/Dilemma" (5^). She begins "to feel J j i e r ] l i f e increasing" (56) as she absorbs his attitude, and in return, growing love works a similar conversion in him. The move-ment of mutual awareness leading to exchange and mutual dependence is almost identical with that of Tegeus and Dynamene in Phoenix. There is not the same "concertina" pattern because Thomas attempts to hold off JennetJ there is rather an i r re s i s t ib le , magnetic attraction which draws them inevitably together. During this movement, a conversion takes place in which each becomes regenerated by taking on the stronger qualities of the other and discarding his own'weaknesses. In Charles Williams' terms, their exchange is a "compact of substitution" in which each bears the burdens of the other.^ The exchange is objectified when Jennet romanticizes the moon in Thomas's idiom (68), and in turn Thomas finds he has "begun to talk l ike that soulless g i r l " (75)' The exchange is shown not only in statement, but also in action. When tempted by Humphrey, Jennet refuses to accept a rational, practical way out of her situation because of an irrat ional conviction. Thomas is prepared to exchange his l i f e for hers, and despite his assertion that "the Charles Williams, Selected Writings, ed. Anne Ridler (London, 1961), pp. 127-128. world's not changed" (96), he commits himself to humanity when he leaves the house with her. The destruction of their former selves and birth of their new l i f e is signified by the "pickaxe voice of a cock, beginning/To break up the night" (97) and heralding the creation of a new day. This process of death and rebirth and renewal through love is worked out on many levels in the play, and is interrelated with themes of sacrifice and atonement, miraculous birth and the victim-victorious. They are woven through the play to establish a structural pattern that both expresses Fry's metaphysical faith and provides the framework for a comic treatment. This faith is exemplified in the natural cycle. Death and rebirth are explicit in the spring motif which provides the climate, or mood, of Lady. The season is established by Alizon when she enters with "an Apr i l blindness" (4) caused by the sun sparkling on fresh rain. Frequent reminders of the season occur during the play: for example, "This is properly A p r i l " (10), love is "an Apr i l anarchy" (16), and an "Apr i l f i t of exasperating nonsense" (19). Palingenesis, "the indomitable/Perseverance of Persephone" (^ 9), is exemplified in the "generations of roses" which l ive in a "wrinkled berry" (56), and a further natural cycle is indicated in the passage of time from afternoon to evening, night and dawn. The subject of death is introduced by Thomas who wants to be hanged, but in character-i s t i c fashion, Fry turns a conceit on the concept when he has Thomas accuse Richard of being desperate To fly into any noose of the sun that should dangle Down from the sky ( 3 ) , and a death-noose-love association is established when Thomas comments on Richard's immediate infatuation with Alizon: "Sweet noose, nice noose" ( 4 ) . Ironically, the desire for a noose leads to the same outcome for Thomas. The subject of death is anti-thetically balanced by that of b ir th. Richard and Alizon both recount the circumstances of their birth, and the theme is continued when Nicholas claims he was "conceived as a hammer/And born in a r i s ing wind" ( 8 ) . Nicholas also claims to be "reborn" after k i l l i n g Humphrey, whose resurrection foreshadows that of Skipps and establishes a pattern of action which parallels the spring motif of rebirth after the death of winter. The resurrections of Humphrey and Skipps are incidents which receive almost burlesque treatment, but other rebirths take place on the more serious romantic l eve l . Alizon and Richard are both committed to a form of death in the sentences which condemn her to a loveless marriage with Humphrey—"a winter in £ h e r ] head" ( 7 7 ) — a n d him to slavery in Tyson's house. Alizon's death is also that of an innocent who undergoes the rites de passage into maturity. She declares; I have become A woman, Richard, because I love you. I know I was a child three hours ago ( 7 7 ) • Richard, too, i s "newly born" ( 7 8 ) by the same regenerating agency— love. As already suggested, Thomas and Jennet also experience the death of their former selves in the course of a renewal through love. Jennet in fact "dies" when she faints at the end of Act II. The fate of death at the stake with which she is threatened is not only that of a witch, but also that of a martyr. She is condemned both as a witch for her sins of witchcraft and as a pharmakos for the sins of society. Recognizing this, Thomas accuses Tyson: What bliss to sin by proxy And do penance by way of someone else I ( 2 7 - 2 8 ) He goes on to assert his own superior qualifications for the role : But here am I, the true phenomenon Of acknowledged gui l t , steaming with the blood Of the pimp and the rag-and-bone man, Crime Transparent ( 2 8 ) . The pattern of vicarious atonement is repeated in the death, disappearance and resurrection of Old Skipps which form a comic analogue for the passion of Christ . The analogy is reinforced by the atonement that hxs reappearance brings about and by the parody of the catechism and other l i turgies which he recites. The pattern of death and rebirth, with the victim r is ing victorious, is repeated in several different keys to indicate a harmony of creation in which nature, man and God are seen to be engaged in a universal process which objectifies Fry's oft-quoted assertion that "we move in the figure of a dance, and, so moving, we trace the outline of the n mystery." The pattern of death and rebirth is closely related to the outside-inside-outside movement of the characters in relation to 7 Fry, "Comedy," 7 7 . Tyson's house. Both Thomas and Jennet enter on a quest involving an escape from a hostile outside world and a search for sanctuary. Alizon and Richard embark on a quest which starts with an escape from the house in search of "safety, peace,/And a good world" (79)• Tyson's house is a transition point, a purgatory in which sins are expiated through punishment and suffering. The f i r s t word of the play, addressed by Thomas to Richard, is "Soul!" and a few moments later, Richard admits to being "Purgatory-colour" ( 6 ) . Watts explains that a soul consigned to Purgatory is delivered temporarily to the tortures of the demons, or to the fires which burn upon the mountain of Purgatory...* Yet the punishments of Purgatory are not always by f i re . Some souls are sent to haunt the scenes of their crimes upon earth, or to undertake various labours symbolically connected with their misdeeds. Although their tortures are of an agony far more extreme than we can imagine, they nevertheless enjoy the consolations and ministrations of the angels, as well as the clear certainty of eventual Heaven. The purgatorial nature of Tyson's house is well indicated by the threatened fires for Jennet and the "blazing log" which causes Margaret to rush in at the beginning of Act II crying: Who has the tongs? The tongs, Hebble, the tongs, dear! Sweet El i j ah , we shall a l l go up in flames! (37) The burning log is comically confused with the torturing of Thomas who has, however, only been put "to the merest thumbscrew" (36)—a symbolic punishment, perhaps, for one who is guilty of "prising open r ibs" ( 2 0 ) . The later mock-punishment of making him Watts, p. 214. spend The evening joyously, sociably, taking part In the pleasures of his fellow men ( 6 1 ) , i s even more appropriate for one whose sin is to deny l i f e . Richard is also punished in an appropriate manner by being made to go down on his knees and scrub the floor for rebell ion. Purga-tor ia l overtones are further established by the demonic nature of Humphrey and Nicholas. Humphrey is "very nearly black./Swart" ( 6 ) , and fa l l s " l ike Lucifer" (11) into the flower bed. Thomas calls Nicholas "Nick," a common euphemism for the devi l , and the two brothers, l ike the Fipps brothers in The Boy with a Cart, function as minor tormentors. The "ministrations of angels" are clearly represented by the saintly Chaplain with his "angel" v i o l . The "certainty of eventual heaven" is implicit in the comic mode which despite the threat of danger and pain indicates a certain happy outcome by i t s tone. The outside world is ambiguous. At f i r s t i t is "festering with damnation" and possessed by a "hooting and howling" mob, but the garden and peaceful evening indicate the poss ibi l i ty of tranquil i ty. For Richard and Alizon, escape into the outside world is one into a bl i s s ful paradise, but Thomas and Jennet are less naive in their expectations. Thomas recognizes that despite their love, "the world's not changed" ( 9 6 ) , and Jennet admits: The world is looking frozen And forbidding under the moon ( 9 7 ) . Final ly they depart through the garden and into the world much l ike Milton's Adam and Eve, "to begin again." The pattern of movement through Tyson's house is both a physical and a moral or spir i tual action. The overtones of Purgatory, l ike the patterns of death and rebirth and sin and redemption, indicate the operation of several interrelated mythical patterns. Before the mythic levels of Lady can be examined, i t i s necessary to add a fourth category to the three noted in Chapter Four (p.75). In addition to legend, fairy tale and religious myth, the archetypcal myth—spring in this case—must be included. "The indomitable/Perseverance of Persephone" has already been partly discussed in i t s aspects of death and rebirth. John Woodbury points out that "on the level of plot, the form is the tension and f inal reconciliation of a romantic spring myth and a Q Christian myth of redemption." As in Phoenix, there is a fusion of Christian and pagan myth. Woodbury identifies the pagan as an Orpheus myth in which a prince, Richard, rescues a fairy princess, Alizon, from an ogre. In Malinowski's categories, this is obviously the fairy-tale leve l . This sub-plot is a paral le l action to the main plot and is integrated with i t at the point when Richard and Alizon, in the course of their elopement, discover Old Skipps and feel obliged to return to save Jennet. Thomas and Jennet belong to the demonic world: "They say he's the Devil" (30), declares Humphrey, and she is assigned to i t as a suspected witch. Spring ambiguously brings forth both the nun and the witch, and inevitably Q John Woodbury, "The Witch and the Nun," Manitoba Arts Review, X, i i i (Winter, 1956), 43. E l i o t ' s A p r i l , "breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land," is recalled in the threat of pain and suffering facing Jennet. Apr i l also mixes "memory and desire" by reminding Margaret of her youth, "young in and out of season... . What a martyrdom i t was!" (10), by arousing lechery in Tyson, a "belated v i s i t of the wanton flesh" (72), and by disturbing him when Jennet appears in Margaret's old dress—"I am disturbing/His days gone by," she declares, and "I rustle with his memories!" (70). The spring myth is essentially a f e r t i l i t y myth, and the play contains a plethora of appropriate images: the f e r t i l i z ing rain; references to conception and birth; "Machinations of nature;/As Apr i l does to the earth" (7); the cuckoo, "hatching egg after egg" (11); the creation, when "vasti-ness lusted.. .And the mountain belly of Time laboured/ And brought forth man" (32-33); the moon, a circumambulating aphrodisiac Divinely subsidized to provoke the world Into a r i s ing birth-rate (68-69); and many more. Roy identifies three underlying r i tuals , exorcism 10 (witchcraft), invocation (prayers) and f e r t i l i t y (nuptials). Each r i tua l has both Christian and pagan associations. The exorcism of e v i l can be either a public or a private act pertaining to t r iba l r i tes , community conscience as in the case of witchcraft, or individual purification as, for example, required of an ini t ia te 11 prior to the sacrament of baptism. The sacrament of baptism is 1 0 Roy, "S tructure . . . , " pp. 145-146.' 1 1 Watts, pp. 170 f f . made explicit in a typical fusion of the Christian and the pagan: Thomas looks outside as the Chaplain exits, and declares: You would think by the holy scent of i t our friend Had been baptizing the garden. But i t ' s only The heathen ra infa l l (48). The r i tua l of prayer is a sophistication of primitive man's desire to engage supernatural agencies to help control his environment. Jennet apologizes for breaking " in on the quiet c ircle of a family/ At prayers" (22), and the form of prayer that develops is as much a pagan invocation—especially to the much-mentioned moon—as a Christian address to God. Recognition of sin and confession form an essential part of prayer, and both are present in the play, although in line with the general comic treatment they are parodied in Thomas's false avowals and confessions and in the interpretation placed upon Jennet's innocent words. Prayer is implicit in the victims' desire for a state of grace, and the f inal line of the play is that of the benediction, "And God have mercy on our souls" (97), which is also, i ronica l ly , the f inal part of a judge's pronouncement of the death sentence. Skipps' drunken garbling of the catechism and other l i turgies repeats the pattern of prayer. The parody here, as in the case » f Thomas's confessions, satirizes the speaker rather than the form, and Skipps' lines recal l those of Shakespeare's fools, whose "madness" contains much method: for example, "Peace on earth and good t a l l women. And give us our trespassers as trespassers wi l l be prosecuted for us" (93). The third r i tua l of f e r t i l i t y has already been discussed in terms of birth and spring. The opening of the play coincides with the arr iva l of Alizon, f i r s t assigned to "marry God',',' but now destined for Humphrey. Act III takes place with the fest ivi t ies to cele-brate the forthcoming wedding occurring off-stage, but the true unions are formed not by arrangement but by love and consent. Marriage of the lovers is implicit in the mutual dedication of Alizon and Richard and Jennet and Thomas, rather than explicit in any f inal komos as in As You Like It, for example. Fry is working in a mode that Northrop Frye terms " ironic comedy" where the "hero does not transform a humorous society but simply runs away from i t , 12 leaving i t s structure as i t was before." This pattern may well help to account for the immediate popularity of Lady in 1949 when, sickened by war and the threats of the cold war, people desired escape but were not prepared to convulse a society struggling to renew i t s e l f after the second major upheaval in thirty years. However, through a complex of a l l i ed myths and r i tuals , the play expresses a positive assertion of rebirth at a l l levels of existence, which, combined with i ts zest for l i f e , endues i t with qualities that enable i t to transcend the immediate his tor ical context of i t s f i r s t appearance, and to have claims to universal appeal. As suggested in the opening remarks to this chapter, the language in Lady is consistently more l y r i c a l than in the earl ier plays. The song-like effusions of Thomas in particular set a tone appropriate to the spring mood of the play. For example: Frye, Anatomy, p. 1 8 0 . Out here is a sky so gentle Five stars are ventured on i t . I can see The sky's pale belly glowing and growing big, Soon to deliver the moon. And I can see A gl i t ter ing smear, the sna i l - t r a i l of the sun Where i t crawled with i t s golden shell into the h i l l s . A darkening land sunk into prayer Lucidly in dewdrops of one syllable, Nunc dimittis . I see twilight, madam (49). Raymond Williams condemns Fry's verse because i t is a mere "embellish-me nt" of the "familiar naturalist (jsicj comedy," and does not 13 represent "an innovation in dramatic method." Fry denies the accusation of "embellishment." He declares: "I have meant the ornament to be, dramatically or comedically, an essential part of my meaning.... I think the words are as exact to my purpose as I 14 could make them at the time of writ ing." Williams appears to demand that verse drama should be an entirely different form, whereas what Fry intends and does is to adapt an existing form by 15 adding an extra dimension to the structure. Alternatively, i t may be argued that Fry revives the style of Shakespeare's romantic comedies. Jacob Adler, in his art ic le "Shakespeare and Christopher 16 Fry , " points out Fry's many Shakespearian echoes—the seasonal focus, the fondness for orphaned innocent g i r l s , the s k i l l in vituperation, the delightful imaginary and Arcadian world with i t s 13 Raymond Williams, Drama from Ibsen to El iot (Harmondsworth, 1964), p. 288. 14 Fry, An Experience.. . , p. 24. 1 5 See Chapter One, p. 21-22. 16 Jacob H. Adler, "Shakespeare and Christopher Fry , " Educational Theatre Journal, XI (May, 1959), 85-98. remote dangers, the similar situations—and stresses the extent to which sheer joy in language is an integral aspect of the mode. In Lady the gush of language, in addition to arousing the expectations of romantic comedy, expresses the gush of spring: i t s sheer pace, v i t a l i t y and profusion establish an essential correlative to the mood or climate of the play. For example, the content of Thomas's opening l ines , which describe a world "festering with damnation," condemn the flesh and dwell on death, reveal his character in the discrepancy between the pessimism of what he says and the v i t a l i ty with which he says i t . His speech is b r i l l i a n t l y counterbalanced by Alizon's l ines : Coming in from the l ight , I am a l l out at the eyes. Such white doves were paddling in the sunshine And the trees were as bright as a shower of broken glass. Out there, in the sparkling a i r , the sun and the rain Clash together l ike the cymbals clashing When David did his dance. I've an Apr i l blindness. You're hidden in a cloud of crimson C a t h e r i n e wheels (4). This passage moves at a pace because of the repeated runs of / W w ^ w ' / / ^ \S \J <~ V unstressed syllables—"Coming in from the l ight , I am a l l out at the eyes"—but are slowed down for emphasis by the a l l i terat ion of "d" and "c" in the last two l ines . Williams cr i t ic izes some of the images in this passage for "straining after effect...because no 17 real balance of imagination is achieved in the language." But the images in this passage, while perhaps lacking profundity, do portray the impact of spring in a vivid visual manner appropriate to the speaker. Roy states that 1 7 Williams, p. 291. the whole of the imagery in The Lady's Not For Burning forms three dominant clusters, a l l taking their sources from metonyms of the sun's attributes: light-dark, heat-cold, and wet-dry. The interaction between polarit ies , Fry's habit of inverting traditional value symbolism, and the presence of the love-death paradox a l l reinforce the imaginative complexity of the imagery as a whole. 1" Alizon's speech bears out many of Roy's observations: the l ight-dark of the sunshine and blindness; the wet-dry of rain and sun which also i l lustrates the interaction of polar i t ies ; and the love-death theme which is suggested in the story of David. This last theme is invariably associated with the dominant spring motif of palingenesis: A world unable to die s its on and on In spring sunlight, hatching egg after egg . . . ( l l ) , and I can see The sky's pale belly glowing and growing big, Soon to deliver the moon (4-9), and in the womb image when Nicholas declares that Jennet carries a sense of that cavernous Night folded in night, where Creation sleeps And dreams of men (8l) . The natural cycle of birth, death and rebirth is constantly associated with the human condition where love is the f e r t i l i z ing agent with a role paral le l to that of the sun and rain. A l l are bound together in one mystery of existence which give us Creation's vast and exquisite Dilemma! where altercation thrums In every granule of the Milky Way, Persisting s t i l l in the dead sleep of the moon ( 5 * 0 . Roy, "Structure . . . , " p. 136. The images constantly embrace antitheses with the result that t o t a l l y d i f f e r e n t orders are related and shown to be as s i g n i f i c a n t as each other in the complex of creation. For example, "the s n a i l -t r a i l of the sun" ( 4 9 ) , "a b r i e f r a i n f a l l of diamonds" ( 6 7 ) , "the seraphic strawberry" ( 5 8 ) , and the juxtaposition i n Margaret's report: I'm sure There was blood in the gutter from somebody's head Or else i t was sunset in a puddle (39)« C h a r a c t e r i s t i c a l l y , Fry works in images which reveal the paradoxical nature of existence: Nothing can be seen In the thistle-down, but the rough-head t h i s t l e comes. Rest i n that r i d d l e . I can pass to you Generations of roses i n t h i s wrinkled berry ( 5 6 ) . The l i f e - d e a t h antitheses i n such images are cert a i n l y not merely embellishing the ;play, but are c a r e f u l l y integrated with action, character and themes. Si m i l a r l y , the cosmic images which connect man's l i f e with the universe reinforce a metaphysic which sees man as a part of nature and i n tune with i t s rhythms. For example, to f e e l a passion which endures a f t e r death i s the sort of thing That causes sun-spots, and the l o r d knows what In f i r m i t i e s i n the firmament ( 5 7 ) , and men undergo "Machinations of nature;/As A p r i l does to the earth" ( 7 ) . Fry loves to indulge i n word games which provide no small measure of the entertainment i n Lady. He uses a l l i t e r a t i o n f r e e l y , especially for additional e f f e c t in flows of invective You bubble-mouthing, fog-blathering, Chin-chuntering, chap-flapping, l i t u r g i c a l , Turgidical, base old man! (27) Thomas is undoubtedly Fry's spokesman when he declares, "What a wonderful thing is metaphor" ( 3 ) • Perhaps the best example of sustained metaphor is Jennet's account of her father: When he was born he gave an algebraic Cry; at one glance measured the cubic content Of that ivory cone his mother's breast And multiplied his appetite by f ive. So he matured by a progression, gained Experience by correlation, expanded Into a marriage by contraction, and by Certain physical dynamics Formulated me (51). Such use of metaphor, invective, puns l ike "the seine of insanity," verbal jokes l ike "Sanctus fumus," are a l l part of the verbal f i re-works which are displayed partly for their own sake but primarily because the language not only asserts and reinforces the various themes, but also plays a leading role in conveying the dominant impression of the play—the v i t a l i ty of l i f e . Fry's zest for l i f e is essentially concerned with the individual per se rather than in relation to society and i t s problems. As indicated in the conclusion to Chapter Three (p. 71), he exhibits a characteristic twentieth century existential concern for the fulfillment of the individual. The characters in Lady exhibit a range of attempts at sel f-definit ion. Eichard, Alizon, Thomas, Jennet, and even Nicholas give details of their birth in order to establish their identity. Some have roles imposed by others: Jennet is labelled a witch and treated as a scapegoat; Alizon is dedicated to be a nun and later bride for Humphrey; and Richard is designated a servant. Thomas adopts several masks which are removed in turn, miles gloriosus, devil , or devil ' s advocate, and cynic. His death wish has been brought about by a loss of identity. He is disil lusioned with the world that gives him a name that is of "no earthly use" (2), then sends him "unidentifiably/Floundering in Flanders" (20). He asserts the physical evidence of this existence in parody of Descartes, "I breathe,/I spit, I am" (4), and is infuriated by Tyson's o f f i c i a l attitude: As far as I'm concerned You don't e x i s t . . . . Have you f i l l e d in the necessary forms?- (17) Thomas attempts to define himself by the action of murder, but this fa i l s as there is no evidence of the act. His "gesture of death" ( 9 6 ) may not change the world, but i t i s a self-definition by the assertion of choice, and in i t s certainty, however negative, a proof of his existence. Jennet is faced clearly with a self-defining choice when Humphrey proposes his solution, "an exchange of compliments" (84). Like Thomas, she prefers to die rather than compromise the beliefs and feelings by which she defines herself. She te l l s the insensitive Humphrey: I am interested In my feelings. I seem to wish to have some importance In the play of time. If not, Then sad was my mother's pain, sad my breath, Sad the articulation of my bones, Sad, sad my alacritous web of nerves, Woefully, woefully sad my wondering brain, To be shaped and sharpened into such tendrils Of anticipation, to feed the swamp of space. What is deep, as love is deep, I ' l l have deeply. What is good, as love is good, I ' l l have well. Then i f time and space Have any purpose, I shall belong to i t ( 8 5 ) . In this passage, Fry outlines the existential dilemma in which man faced with the awful poss ibi l i ty of nothingness, seeks self-definition and meaning for his existence in terms of his own awareness in a context of space and time. Both Jennet and Thomas reject the intellectualized and collective l i f e , and by refusing to conform assert their own authentic existence. In Sartre's terms, self-definit ion cannot be achieved adequately by definition through "the other", but Fry shows how i t can be aided by relation ship with another, particularly one who possesses charismatic qualit ies . Jennet is a pivotal figure who acts l ike a catalyst to precipitate awareness in those she meets. No character in the play is unaffected by her presence, which even Margaret recognizes has "a kind of enchantment" ( 2 3 ) . Thomas posseses similar qualit ies . Richard thinks he may be "a l i t t l e drunk," but says "I l ike you as much as I've liked anybody" ( 2 ) , and even Humphrey admits, "I strongly resent finding you s l ightly pleasant" ( 6 4 ) . Thomas's appeal l ie s in his irrepressible, harlequin-like joie-de-vivre which keeps him "nodding in" with his wit. It is by no means unusual to find that where there is a great zest for l i f e an a high value placed on the sanctity of the individual, there is a complementary preoccupation with death. Thomas's personality exhibits this duality, which is characteristic of Fry's whole approach. The life-death antithesis is the central mystery of existence^ and for Fry i t s resolution l ies in increasing individual awareness of the wonder and value of existence coupled with a faith that recognizes the manifestations of God in the universe. Lady, l ike Phoenix, is not ostensibly religious, but i t throbs with the religious impulse, and the patterns of action, character and language indicate that Christian assumptions of love, sacrif ice, atonement, grace, and salvation underlie the play. Chapter Seven Venus Observed: Eros Venus Observed was commissioned by S i r Lawrence O l i v i e r for the fashionable opening of the St. James Theatre i n January, 1950. Its country house sett i n g and sophisticated style place i t firmly i n the West End t r a d i t i o n of modern mannered comedy, following such exponents as Noel Coward, Terence Rattigan and N.C. Hunter. For Fry, i t marks the end of a development away from d i r e c t l y r e l i g i o u s concerns towards l i g h t e r s o c i a l comedy. In The Lady's Not for  Burning i t was noted how the r e l i g i o u s impulse informs the structure of the play and how the temporal patterns are analogous to the eternal. The same double plane i s evident i n Venus despite the surface tendency to whimsy which i n v i t e s dismissal of the play as mere l i g h t entertainment. It i s a mark of Fry's genius that he i s capable of underpinning his improbable plot and apparently casual high s p i r i t s with a s t r u c t u r a l framework that once again incorporates mythical and sacramental elements i n both action and language. The action takes place at the Duke of A l t a i r ' s country home, Stellmere Park, but not i n the customary location of drawing room and terrace. The scenes alternate- i n a manner reminiscent of The  Firstborn between the Observatory, one-time bedroom of the Duke at the top- of the house, and the Temple of the Ancient Virtues i n the grounds, where the wife of the t h i r d Duke played the part of the Delphic Oracle, A way she had of informing the Duke of her pregnancy, Which she did on twenty-seven separate occasions.'' The name Stellmere indicates the antithesis which these two locations represent: on the one hand the detachment, isolation and essential loneliness of the heavens, and on the other the fecund involvement in the l i f e process of the world. The Duke is a Prospero figure who has withdrawn into the "magic" of his island-observatory, and 2 who wishes to manipulate the lives of others. The movement of the play shows him returning to society, but also resigning his power to youth, to Miranda/Perpetua and Ferdinand/Edgar. As in A Phoenix Too Frequent and Lady, love is the motivating force which brings about the change. Rosabel recognizes that in his observa-tory the Duke travels "farther and farther/Away from l iv ing people" ( 2 1 ) . She becomes obsessed by the urge to destroy the observatory, because Nothing matters Except that he should be made to feel . He hurts Whoever he touches. He has to be touched by fire To make a human of him, and only a woman Who loves him can dare to do i t ( 5 7 ) . The fire she lights is the culminating event of the play and i t s central symbol. Here again is the phoenix symbol which associates fire and love, death and rebirth. The pristine nature of love presented in Lady is somewhat modified by the mellow, autumnal Christopher Fry, Venus Observed (London, 1950), p. 36. Subsequent page references in parentheses. 2 Adler, 89-90. character of the Duke, but Rosabel's feeling for him and the compulsion that drives Edgar and Perpetua together share the spring-l ike quality of Lady. The Duke now may be capable of no more than a comfortable "sharing two solitudes" (99), but once he had experienced a love that was intui t ive , "high above the spires/Of common sense" (61), and he is aware of the pervasiveness of love which may come "on us while we walk, or in mid-sentence" (61). In Venus the concept of agape. the love of humanity, which becomes the dominant theme in The Dark Is Light Enough is developed along-side eros. The Duke declares that Reedbeck's love "absolves him/ From any defect on earth" (68), and the Duke's "grace" is based on understanding, tolerance and love of humanity. Hilda's discovery of "Roderick-phenomenon" (92) is a complementary recognition of the essential uniqueness of every man which inevitably leads to the love of humanity for i t s own sake. As though to counterpoint the shift to agape* Fry places more emphasis than before on the erotic aspect of individual love: the t i t l e suggests both the erotic and the sc ient i f i c ; the bedroom, used for "experiments," now contains the telescope which has an inevitable phallic associa-t ion; and the Duke's mistresses have each provided ambiguous "moments of revelation" (22). The erotic is also implicit in the sexual r ivalry between the Duke and Edgar, in the judgement of Paris, in the archery episode, and in such images as "the copula-tion of Jove" (17) for the eclipse. Agape and eros are both recognized as part of the l i f e process on earth. The Duke's desire to marry is an indication that his "heavenly" isolation is an unnatural state of existence for man. In what amounts to a confession to Edgar, he declares: I exist to know that I exist Interrogatively. . . . What is the note of this interrogation? Loneliness. The note, my son, is loneliness (52). The pattern of movement from isolation to integration is charac-ter i s t i c of comedy. Frequently, the comic pattern is one in which the "odd man out" is isolated, then forgiven for his sins and reintegrated with society. The process of isolation is one of confl ict . In Venus a fragmented group is depicted in which each member creates his own isolation through his dominant "humour" which brings him into conflict with one or more of the others. Most of the characters are as isolated as the Duke, and each moves as he does towards a recognition of the interrelatedness of a l l l i f e . This movement is coupled with a quest in search of the complete self . Despite the Duke's mellow years, he is s t i l l in a state of prolonged youth, "the same boy...not a day older" (11), and his desire to rediscover love is in large part a search for his own identity. The play traces his transition from boyhood to maturity as much as i t does that of his son. Edgar is introduced as the Duke's "extension in time" (14), he feels himself "a redundancy," lacking in individual identity and isolated—as his preference for the company of the stables indicates. Spurred by love he asserts himself in the archery contest and f ina l ly , in winning Perpetua, he discovers both his own identity and an end to isolation in an involvement with others. Perpetua follows a similar path. Isolated, and with no identity other than a number, she te l l s how she left America, and "came home to England/Simply to trace myself, in my own way" (31). Her passage through the fire in which fear and love become confused leads to a paradox of self-hood and interdependence: No one is separate from another; how di f f icu l t That i s . I move, and the movement goes from l i f e To l i f e a l l round me. And yet I have to be Myself. And what is my_ freedom becomes Another person's compulsion. What are we to make Of this dilemma? (95-96) Several other characters find themselves isolated and in confl ict : Reedbeck suffers from "a myopia in £ h i s j moral vis ion" (87) which scandalizes and antagonizes his son; Dominic, the "guilt-corroded chi ld" ( 8 7 ) , whose over-conscious morality leads him to "think more of the sin than of the sinner" (93), finds himself alone in his views and opposed by his father, his sister and the Duke; the Reddleman's aggressiveness, which is a compensation for his lost courage, antagonizes ex-burglar Bates; Rosabel becomes obsessed with hate for the telescope, and her sense of guilt after the f ire drives her away from the Duke, whom she loves; and Hilda's habit of suppressing her feelings has led to a superficial l i f e with "no particular heights or depths" (4-5), an isolation of apathy. Except in the case of Hilda, whose reconciliation to Roderick is an externally imposed event, the "humour" of each character is cured and his i s o l a t i o n ended as a r e s u l t of the organic evolution of the p l o t . Rosabel's f i r e e f f e c t i v e l y brings the Duke down to earth and humanity. In the course of his attempted seduction of Perpetua he reveals his knowledge of Reedbeck's peccadilloes, and when the f i r e temporarily unites him with Perpetua, he reveals the existence of the document l e g a l i z i n g the agent's "percentages." Reedbeck's errors are thereby corrected and, forgiven, he avoids the threat of s o c i a l banishment. Dominic's r e a l i z a t i o n that "ethics are very d i f f i c u l t " (9^) and his admission of r e s p o n s i b i l i t y for Perpetua's danger indicate the p o s s i b i l i t y of his redemption and future integration. The f i r e enables the Reddleman to regain his l o s t courage, Bates to j u s t i f y his compulsion to climb ladders, and i n the aftermath of general forgiveness, the two servants are reconciled. The resolution of the plot, therefore, brings the characters into a state of harmony i n which each has not only d i s -covered his true s e l f but has also moved from i s o l a t i o n to integra-tion with society. In keeping with the autumnal mood of the play, the conclusion i s quiet, almost elegiac. Despite the promise of spring i n the union of Edgar and Perpetua, winter and death must come before renewal. The autumn climate i s established early i n the play. The action takes place on "the twenty-ninth of October...[when] The leaves [are] transfigured by the thought of death" (5). The Duke declares: We're here this morning to watch The sun annulled and renewed, and to s i t affectionately Over the year's dilapidation. 'Mellow' Is the keynote of the hour (13). The eclipse pattern of the sun's "death" and "renewal" is a pheno-menon associated with the cycle of the seasons and with the sexual "act i t s e l f . . . / T h e copulation of Jove, magnificent in/Mid-air" ( 1 7 ) . When Perpetua arrives, the Duke apologizes that We have only autumn To offer you, England's moist and misty devotion, But spring may come in time to reconcile you If y o u ' l l wait so long ( 2 5 ) . The Duke has reached the autumnal years of his l i f e , he has begun to "decline with the sun" ( 1 2 ) , so that his offer of autumn to Perpetua foreshadows his offer of union with her. Ironically, spring is present in the Duke's "extension in time," Edgar, just as i t is inevitable in the cycle of seasons. The eclipse of the sun/son is a temporary event in which "Nature/Is...made a fool of" ( 1 8 ) , and the natural order must reassert i t s e l f . As in Lady, Fry constantly interrelates the human and the natural, so that when the natural is described, the human is implied. Survey-ing the rural scene, the Duke sees his own condition as though in a mirror: mile by mile It 's a l l a unison of ageing, The landscape's a l l in tune, in a fa l l ing cadence, A l l decaying ( 9 ? ) , and his love is recognized as a last fire that flames l ike the colours of autumn, "a golden desuetude" ( 9 8 ) . There is a sense of desperation in the Duke's attempt to rekindle the fires of love which is paralleled by Rosabel's desperate cry, "He has to be touched by f i re " ( 5 7 ) , her determination to "blaze a t r a i l " for him and her act of f i r ing the East Wing. When the fire occurs, the Duke seeks to transform the pain into a phoenix and turtle "union/Of beauty born and beauty reft away" ( 7 3 ) , but he is unable to arouse a reciprocal romantic passion in Perpetua, and when Edgar invites her to "go/And see how the last of the flames dance down/ To sleep among the ruins" ( 9 7 ) , the Duke's phase of love and l i f e is expl ic i t . At another leve l , the f ire functions as a process of purif ica-tion in a sub-structure of s in, penance and absolution. In describing the forthcoming eclipse, the Duke prophesies: darkness wi l l cover The face of the earth. In that moment A l l women w i l l be as one (3)« The B ib l i ca l echoes suggest a Day of Judgement which is reinforced when Reedbeck says "tonight feels very latter-day;/Wrath of God" ( 8 7 ) . Each character undergoes an exposure of his sins, which are virtual ly synonymous with his humour: the Duke's egotism, Perpetua's destructiveness, Reedbeck's cheating, Dominic's guilt complex, and Hilda's denial of feeling. Several confessions take place in which the person acknowledges his sins and asks forgive-ness. Perpetua confesses the history of her revolt after shooting the apple ( 3 0 ) , and later, recognizing her error in believing that "fear could seem/Like love" ( 8 8 ) , asks the Duke "to forgive her." The Duke plays a dual role in the process of atonement. Although he is a sinner whose redemption from egotism is traced in the action, he is also constantly addressed as "your Grace" and dispenses for-giveness in a divine manner. His isolation, association with the heavens and qualities of eternal youth, help to suggest the a t t r i -butes of a god. In a display of grace, he forgives a l l things: I forgive Both of us for being born of the flesh, . . . I forgive even The unrevealing revelation of love . . . I forgive Every th ing . . . ( 8 9 ) . The effect of the f ire is that i t purges s in : i t puts the Reddle-man "back/In the way of salvation" ( ? 4 ) , and the remorse i t arouses in Rosabel leads her to confess the crime to Dominic. In turn, even he recognizes he "had fallen into error" ( ? 8 ) , and he thanks her for revealing i t to him. After the f i re , the "eschatalogical ra in" ( 2 ) starts to f a l l , and the motif of baptism and renewal is repeated when the Duke, on l ighting the lanterns, declares, "The f i r s t astonishment/Of creation" ( 8 3 ) . His words repeat those of his scene with Perpetua in the Observatory (59) to suggest the recurring pattern of creative renewal. The f ire is also one of several t r i a l s which suggest the ordeals of a gra i l - l ike quest or in i t i a t i on . Edgar's steps to maturity involve f i r s t a judgement of Paris, in which he appears to f a i l as he rescinds his choice, and second the archery contest in which he challenges and out-shoots his father. In the third, v i t a l contest for Perpetua"s love, he defeats his father and thus completes his in i t ia t ion into manhood. Edgar is not involved in the actual f i re , only in the metaphorical f ire of love, but his f inal words indicate a fusion of the f ire-l ight-love cluster: PERPETUA. I ' l l find my way to bed. EDGAR. I shall take the l iberty to l ight you there (97). These undertones of sin and atonement and quest and in i t ia t ion suggest multiple levels of meaning beneath the surface action. They are further expanded by numerous mythological associations. The Duke, whose divine poss ibi l i t ies have been noted, is associated with Saturn, Edgar with Paris and the "three handsome women" (l) with Aphrodite, Hera and Athene. Perpetua "emerged/Like Venus from the sea" (28), her name suggests eternal womanhood, "any g i r l : Perpetua/Perpetual" (65), and she sees herself a r iva l to Artemis. The myths of the phoenix, Paris, Venus, Artemis, Cupid, Endymion, and Saturn, place the action within a context of the timeless battle between the sexes, and combine with the Christian pattern of sin and salvation to provide the play with dimensions that expand i t beyond the frontiers of an action merely involving character types in an unusual love triangle. A further structural dimension is provided by language and symbol. The cosmic imagery, which may appear incidental or decorative in Lady, is now given direct dramatic relevance by the observatory motif. It is coupled with elemental images of earth, a i r , f ire and water, which relate the play's action to primal forces. The eclipse provides a sun-moon relationship which is viewed in sexual terms that are carried over into the play's action where Edgar is the sexual r i v a l of his father. The sun and moon are ambiguous images: DUKE. Observe how Sol Salome Almost hidden by the head of the Baptist moon Dances her last few steps of f i r e . HILDA. You're confusing The sex of the sun (17). The sun is "annulled and renewed" (13), i t is both the Duke and Edgar. It i s also associated with Perpetua, who appears in the l ight of the sun at the end of the eclipse when Edgar declares: "God be praised,/The sun again" (2k). Perpetua is more strongly associated with the sea. She "was born and grew up in this green and pleasant aquarium" (25) of England, has a "frog-father," and because she has just arrived by sea and has "the Atlantic foam s t i l l racing/Under ^her] eyelids," Edgar imagines her as having "emerged/ Like Venus from the sea" (28). The text is extremely r ich in sea imagery, for example: "the sea of heaven" (3); " y o u ' l l capsize in disappointment..." (5); "Anchored in amazement" (36); Endy-mion's "breast and belly rose/And f e l l l ike the sea" (58); and on All-Hallows Eve, the "ground/Grows as soft as the sea" (64). Both the earth and the heavens are associated with the ocean to provide an imagistic interrelationship that parallels the human inter-relationship which the play asserts as an essential condition for mankind. The element of fire is a property of the "brandishing sun" and provides the symbolic force, associated with love, that is both fuser and energiser, causing the sun to incite "the earth/ To revolution and rotation—" (10). The Duke's observatory indicates man's Faustian quest for knowledge, but his relative insignificance is suggested by Reedbeck: . . .here we are Looking such weak vessels and so temporary Among the four terrible elements...(87). The observatory motif results naturally in a cluster of star images. The stars share the qualities of l ight and fire associated with the sun, and are part of the eternal order, which transcends time. The creation was accompanied by "An access of starlight" (59), and Perpetua, viewing Saturn, realizes that she is looking on the same star that shone on both Noah's ark and Charlemagne (60). The continued influence of the stars is suggested in Reedbeck's belief that Perpetua's beauty is due to "The state of the zodiac when she was conceived" ( 4 l ) . The Duke possessively refers to "my stars." He associates himself with "Senator Saturn, white-/ Hot with gravity" (60), and Perpetua with The star which, when i t ' s r i s ing , is called Venus, Setting is Lucifer, the goddess Graduating into demon (72). The language constantly associates man with the processes of nature, particularly in passages as noted which relate the Duke and the "year's di lapidation." The dissolution theme extends from nature to the Duke and to man's c iv i l i z a t ion . Perpetua has rebelled against "the unsightly,/The gimcrack, the tedious, the hideous, the spurious,/The harmful" ( 3 0 ) , and she sets out to destroy them. Her father similarly desires " c iv i l i z a t ion . . . you can keep your progress" ( 1 0 ) . He believes that the Duke's pro-perty "can have more beauty" in his hands than in the Duke's. Reedbeck's scheme, l ike Perpetua's, is revealed to be fo l ly , a "myopia in [his] moral vision" ( 8 7 ) , and the Duke's attempt to defy the natural order ends in similar fai lure. Dissolution is part of the natural process, but so is renewal—provided that the new naturally supplants the old as part of a continuing process, not as a violent upheaval. "You must make good before you break the bad" (31 ) , Perpetua discovers. Fry's imagery and patterns of association assert that humanity shares in the continuing processes of nature and of the year, whose arrow Singing from the Apr i l bow crossed over the width Of summer straight for the gold (39) of autumn. The focus in Venus is on the autumnal stage, but des-pite the fact that the decaying landscape does not have "to hear/ The quips of sping.. .{orj bear the merry mirth of May" (93 ) , renewal is implicit in the cycle—and explicit in the union of Edgar and Perpetua. Renewal is further indicated by the almost symbolic movement of action in time through a night of t r i a l to dawn with i t s prospect of a new day and new l i f e . The same sequence has been observed in Firstborn, Phoenix and Lady. By the time the potentially tragic scene occurs both the action and the language have established a comic tone. This tone is primarily a matter of language, and as pointed out in the previous chapter (p. 1 3 9 ) , the style of verbal profusion has i t s parallels in Shakespearean romantic comedy and helps to create the appropriate expectations. Edgar, given the task of choosing his mother, says "I sweat with embarrassment" ( l ) , and the Duke's reply, "You have been too much with horses," sets the pattern of verbal humour that characterizes the play. The Duke's verbal f ac i l i ty is a prime weapon in his game of seduction. He admits, My original Syntax, l ike original s in, grows vastier In the dark ( 5 9 ) , and with delicious irony, Fry gives Perpetua the weapon of words in self-defence. The Duke advises her "To use long sentences" ( 6 2 ) in order to feel "the fumbling in the quiver" as love disturbs the train of thought. Perpetua meets his challenge by reciting an "endlessly moving" sentence that parodies his manner, and because of i t s smoothness, denies any feeling of love for him: DUKE. Now point me out the comma Where you loved me. PERPETUA. Not at any. DUKE. Let me see; Was there a colon somewhere? PERPETUA. Perhaps one; But i f so we passed i t without any trouble Of any sort ( 6 3 ) . The sentence i t s e l f is an example of the range of ideas that words can encompass and relate, thereby suggesting the identity of diverse things. Writing on the qualities of poetry, Fry declares' In prose we convey the eccentricity of things; in poetry their concentricity, the sense of relationship between them: a belief that a l l things express the same identity, are a l l contained in one discipline of revelation; the bird and tree are aspects one of the other, and both belong to the form in which we l ive as men, to the pattern of moral law and the shape of historic event. No event is understandable in i t s prose sense alone. Its ultimate meaning (that is to say, the complete l i f e of the event, seen in i t s eternal context) is a poetic meaning.3 The manipulation of words, images and symbols is as much an "action" in the theatre as the manoeuvring of characters in confl ict . It involves repetitions and the reordering of associations because only by keeping the process in constant motion can the total involvement of a l l things be shown. Just as language explores meaning in a succession of varia-tions, so patterns of action are worked and reworked in order to explore their poss ib i l i t i e s . Fry's fondness for doubling situa-tions, actions or relationships has already been noted in the earl ier plays. For example, there are the two paral lel groups i n Firstborn, and the two pairs of lovers and the repeated "deaths" in Lady. In Venus, the relationship between the Duke and Edgar is paralleled by that between Reedbeck and Dominic. The Duke dominates his son, and in a comic inversion of the natural order makes him perform a "judgement of Paris" and choose his own mother. Edgar is reluctant to play "the heavy son" but does tend to be somewhat Christopher Fry, Unpublished Lecture on "Communication" to a Conference of Deans and Provosts of England, Chichester Cathedral (Oct., 1968), pp. 9-10. puritanical in his attitude and condemnatory towards his father. Dominic, as hu name suggests, tries to dominate his father and the relationship inverts that between the Duke and Edgar because Dominic imposes demands on his father. The relationships are exploited both for their comic effects and for their exemplification of a recurring human situation in which, as the Duke expresses i t , "the generations join/In a life-and-death struggle"(51)• Another repetition is the reappearance of l ight , f i r s t after the eclipse when the sun comes out, then on the two occasions when the Duke lights the lamps. The l ighting patterns also extend to the f ire and the l ighting of love's flames, and reinforce the theme of renewal. Another repeated action is that of shooting, f i r s t when Perpetua destroys the apple and then in the archery scene. Per-petua 's shot is a setback to the Duke's plans of conquest, and foreshadows Edgar's arrow which symbolizes the challenge of youth. Perpetua's rebellion and destruction of things she hates are repeated by Rosabel, and the same sense of aggression born out of frustration is comically repeated in the Reddleman's assaults on Bates. As noted, confessions recur throughout the play, with subsequent absolutions. There are also several occasions where thanks are given for mercies received. Reedbeck offers "only thanksgiving" (4) for the messenger who brings the news of Perpetua's return, and then acknowledges his "astounding fortune/To beget her" ( 5 ) . The Duke's recollections of his "vintage years of love" ( 1) and of his marriage are also expressed in a tone of thanksgiving, as is his celebration of nature's beauty and the "r ich world of sensation" (97) he has enjoyed. The repetitions function as unifying devices in the play, emphasize themes and help to suggest the cyclic and repetitive nature of existence. In addition to certain patterns of l i f e , the play posits certain special qualities of l i f e that Fry asserts consistently throughout his work. The Duke's speech at the end of Act I focuses on the "wonder of existence" theme when he declares that he sees "nothing strange" in the day's events: If we can move and talk Under the sun at a l l , we must have accepted The incredible as commonplace long ago ( 3 2 ) . Later, he is amazed That we can l ive in such a condition of mystery And not be exasperated out of our flesh ( 8 1 ) . Awareness of the incredible nature of existence increases with contemplation of the universe, and as Perpetua realizes, You can't Throw someone against the sky and not expect A certain vapour of magic to condense In moisture on their lashes ( 6 1 ) . The Duke is both aware of the magic and in possession of some of the quality of magic himself. All-Hallows Eve, especially, is a night "when magic's wisdom/Comes ro l l ing in across our sedate equation" ( 6 4 ) , and when they test the old superstition of a mirror possessing magic on that night, i t is proved right. Man's problem is to find a place for himself within the universe with i t s paradox of observable fact and unfathomable explanation. The Duke declares that being alive is a question, heaven-bent For an answer, and the question is a man's Estrangement in a world Where everything else conforms (53). Man's sense of his separateness from nature concurrent with his recognition that he is also part of i t , offers another paradox, as does the conflict between his need to find and assert his own identity and the necessity of l iv ing -'• interrelatedness with others. He needs "the courage that makes a person come true" (57), but cannot achieve a true identity in isolation because "no one is separate from another" (96). Because of the paradoxes and mysteries with which man is surrounded, he must exercise the human qualities of tolerance and understanding and must strive for the divine qualities of forgiveness and love. This emphasis on the theme of forgiveness and love reasserts the faith expressed in Phoenix and Lady that the way to individual fulfillment l ies in redemption through love: the religious patterns that underlie the secular mode of action indicate how man must take his model from the divine, and the implications of the action are that by doing so, he wi l l not only achieve a sense of his own identity but w i l l also come to an awareness of his place within the cosmic frame and instead of being an observer, wi l l become an integral part of i t . Chapter Eight A Sleep of Prisoners: Exploration The Religious Drama Association commissioned Fry to write a play to be performed in churches for the 1951 F e s t i v a l of B r i t a i n . Fry accepted the challenge posed by such a setting, which would place severe l i m i t a t i o n s on the nature and scope of the play, and would demand a change in direction because his work since Thor, with Angels had become increasingly secular. In A Sleep of  Prisoners Fry breaks away hot only from the secular action back to the r e l i g i o u s , but also from the mood or climate of comedy and from the structure that had served him so well i n A Phoenix Too Frequent, The Lady's Not for Burning and Venus Observed, where language and setting had functioned to complement and resonate the action of a progressive p l o t . Sleep may be open to c r i t i c i s m on the grounds that i t lacks progressive plot and that i t places too great a demand on the actors who have to convey action almost e n t i r e l y through language, and on the audience who have to respond to a verbally complex play without help of scenery, costume or props. However, when i t i s well performed these apparent deficiencies are obviated, as I s h a l l show, by Fry's exploitation of the expectations aroused by a church setting, by his c h a r a c t e r i s t i c technique of r e p e t i t i o n i n both language and events, by the fusion of the modern and the B i b l i c a l , and by the unifying structure of the quest for meaning and for God. Michael MacOwen, who became the f i r s t producer of Sleep, suggested that a play with the action set in a church would be most appropriate, and Fry relates that in Burford in 1649, six Cromwellian soldiers were imprisoned in the church, and one carved his name on the font—Antony Sedley Prisner 1649. So the seed of "A Sleep" was sown.1 Although the play can be performed in a regular theatre, the church setting is an important factor both in the demands and limitations i t places on the author and in the appreciation of the play by reader or audience. The setting functions almost expressionisti-cally to intensify the emotional content and to assert the author's point of view. The play is expressionistic also in i ts use of the dream sequences. As Strindberg says in his preface to A Dream Play, "anything may happen; everything is possible and probable. 2 Time and space do not exist . " The aim of such drama is emotional and psychological, and the devices used have the dual function of heightening the emotions and exploring the psyche in depth. Fry's methods and intentions clearly show the expressionistic influence: recal l ing the early planning of the play, he declarest It has always seemed to me that the differences and conflicts between men spring often...from the differences between the outward armour, the facades behind which we hide our sp i r i t s . Perhaps the design of the play could be to show f i r s t of a l l a group of men as they seemed on the surface to each other, Christopher Fry, "Drama in a House of Worship," New York  Times, Sec. II (Oct. 14, 1 9 5 1 ) , 1. 2 August Strindberg, Author's note to A Dream Play, Six Plays  of Strindberg, t r . Elizabeth Sprigge (New York, 1 9 6 5 ) , p. 193. and then l e t them sleep and dream, each man dreaming of the other three and himself, so that each character would be seen four times over.-^ It would be wrong to assume that Fry's object i s the e x f o l i a t i o n of character i n the sense of "knowing" David or Peter as ind i v i d u a l s . It i s again the pattern of human action and interaction which concerns him. The figures are modern men re-enacting archetypal roles and the expressionistic exploration i s combined with medieval mystery technique where the characters are either B i b l i c a l arche-types or abstractions. The names of the men i n Sleep—King, Able, Adams—and the obvious humour which each represents, c l e a r l y i n d i -cate; this t r a d i t i o n . Fry accepted the challenge of the imposed li m i t a t i o n s and exploited them by recognizing the p o s s i b i l i t i e s involved i n a fusion of medieval and modern. As i n many modern plays—those of Beckett, Ionesco and Pinter, for example—plot i s subordinate to s i t u a t i o n . The incarceration of four m i l i t a r y prisoners i n a church provides a framework of r e a l i t y for the dream sequences, which explore not only the s i t u a -tion and problems of the men but also those of everyman in the twentieth century. Fry declared: I wanted to move from d i v i s i o n to unity, to say that we are a l l souls i n one sorrow, and above a l l to say that the answer i s in ourselves...and that each in d i v i d u a l has i n him the elements of God. The movement towards unity i s not, however, a progressive movement, 5 Fry, "Drama...," 1. k Ibid., 3. nor is i t progressively shown that "each individual has in him the elements of God." The pattern is closer to one of "theme and variations," in which the theme is stated in the f i r s t episode and the dream episodes are variations on i t . Walter Kerr observes that narrative is subordinate to moral or physical point. . . the action, instead of climbing to a resounding climax, begins over again no fewer than four times so that we may examine i t s sp ir i tual implications from various points of view.5 There is l i t t l e or no linear development. John Ferguson sees a message of hope in the optimistic progression of stories,^ and there is some evidence for this view in that Isaac is reprieved and the f inal dream ends in spir i tual triumph, but Emil Roy's view 7 of a "progression through variation" in which the i n i t i a l crucial episode is reworked in the minds of the characters seems a more accurate analysis of the structure. This view agrees with Fry's own statement in the introductory letter addressed to his friend, Robert Gittings, in which he declares his belief "that progress is the growth of vis ion: the increased perception of what makes 8 for l i f e and what makes for death." The progression is in the audience, who by sharing the writer's perceptions of the multivocal 5 Walter Kerr, Pieces of Eight (New York, 1 9 5 7 ) , p. 1^2. John Ferguson, "Christopher Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners," English, X (Summer, 195 *0 , kG. 7 Emil Roy, "Structure . . . , " p. 223-g Christopher Fry, A Sleep of Prisoners (London, 1 9 5 1 ) , n.n. Subsequent page references in parentheses. nature of one action are able to expand their own perceptions. The episodic structure presents variations on the conflict between David King and Peter Able, who represent antithetical attitudes. David is the physical man, whose mode of l iv ing is action, and whose frustrations explode in violence. Peter is the passive, intel lectual man who questions and derides, and releases his frustrations in words. Each role they play displays the anti-thetical qualities they possess or attitudes which these qualities create. Adams functions as the instrument of authority, divine or secular, and represents a third alternative of unquestioning obedience, of serv i l i ty to the prevailing "necessity." The figure of Meadows is mainly symbolic: he is a paternal sage whose dream roles endow him with qualities of divine mystery and his f inal function is to reconcile the human confl ict . The f i r s t scene establishes the fraternal conflict between David and Peter. The tensions of confinement exacerbate the host i l i ty between them. Peter's passive acquiescence, his f ac i l i ty for making himself at home, his inabi l i ty to get worked up about anything, and his derisive humour, provoke David into an attempt to throttle him, which is only prevented by the intervention of Adams and Meadows. Afterwards, David's concern—"I didn't hurt you, did I/Pete?" ( 7 ) — and penitence, indicated by the unlacing of Peter's boots and removing of his socks, reveal the potential of love which underlies the passions. The pattern of theme and variations leads to a very dense texture, for as well as establishing the conflict and pointing the way to the resolution, the f i r s t scene introduces the material for the dream episodes and almost every line provides a motif that is reworked later in the play. For example, the play opens with Peter playing "Now the day is over" in the organ lo f t . David calls him down, and in answer to Peter's question, "Why, what for?" replies, "because I said so" ( l ) . These details are repeated in Meadows' dream (12), and the unspoken words of the hymn foreshadow the darkness, the vision of the night and the purified awakening. Peter also plays "Three blind mice," an image indirectly echoed when Meadows/God urges Cain to "Run on...Can you feel jjny wordsj carved on your body?" (19), and directly recalled in the fourth dream when Peter recites "Three blind mice of Gotham" (4o), which associates the prisoners with the mice and with the three in the fire who are blinded by smoke (kk). Other early details that are used later include the Bib l ica l passages, especially the "sons of David" (3), the theme of the Fa l l~ "Say ' F a l l out' and watch me/ F a l l " (6), says Peter—and Adams' sleep-death association when he David's attempt to k i l l Peter is recognized by Meadows in the declares that Peter "Couldn't be more jjasleepj i f he died" (9)« f i r s t dream as the archetypal fratr icide, which is then re-enacted. King becomes Cain and Able becomes Abel. Meadows reluctantly sees himself in the role of God and Adams as his servant Adam who is lost , facing an unpredictable future for which he has "no instruc-tions" (11). In David's dream, the conflict of brothers is transmuted into the father-son conflict of King David and Absalom, and murder i s distanced as a p o l i t i c a l assassination carried out by Joab/Adams. In Peter's dream, the father-son relationship i s retained but the degree of c o n f l i c t i s muted. Peter/Isaac i s a completely submissive victim, and David/Abraham acts out of com-pulsion, "history's wish," rather than out of passion. Neverthe-less, Abraham's willingness to s a c r i f i c e another human being, by i d e n t i f i c a t i o n with the murder of Cain and assassination of Absalom, i s equally condemned. The progression to optimism noted by John Ferguson i s evident i n the intervention of God through his angel-messenger Adams, and i n the Christ associations of "Old Meadows,/ The donkey man" (34) and promise of the millenium. The three dreams of Meadows, David and Peter show that the passive man i s not the only victim, that passion, necessity, expediency, compulsion, s e l f - p r e s e r v a t i o n — a l l the labels attached to actions to j u s t i f y them—make victims of the agent as well as the sufferer. The f i n a l dream in which Adams, David and Peter become equal victims as Shadrac, Meshac and Abednego i n the f i r e , shows a l l men as victims of one another: "The flames are men: a l l human. There's no f i r e I" (48). The optimism progresses to a climax of assertion by Meadows, whose f i n a l role i s a fusion of prophet, God, Christ, and Man. Some c r i t i c s have deplored that the variations i n action culminate in, a sermon. This view loses sight of the point stressed at the beginning of this chapter that the play was written for performance in churches, where a l i t u r g i c a l pattern of question and answer, sermon and f i n a l benediction—"God bless" ( 5 1 ) — i s an appropriate resolution of the drama. Wherever staged, i t must evoke the atmosphere of a church, and following the climax of action and emotion in the f i re , the verbal reinforcement of theme provides a transition from the dream climax in which the men are awakened to truth to the physical awakening at dawn. In Sleep, Fry employs two prime strategies: the dream and the myth. The drearn^as mentioned, frees the individual from the l imits of time and space, and releases his psyche from the restrictions placed on i t by the masks he wears during his waking hours. As Fry puts i t in his introductory letter , the dreamer "speaks as at heart he i s , not as he believes himself to be." The assumption is that in the dream a truer "self" is expressed. An aspect of the dream which is especially valuable for drama is the projection of other characters by the dreamer in roles which reveal his view of them, and thereby a further definition is obtained of the relation-ships seen in the waking action. Fry works dramatically rather than c l in i ca l ly with the dream process. He ut i l izes the freedom of place and time, and the "day residue" of events and ideas that are carried into dreams--the prisoners' march and the Bible stories— but within each dream he maintains a logical progression that is uncharacteristic of the dream state. The f luidi ty offered by the dream technique enables Fry to move freely in time (David's dream is even interrupted by a sequence in the present), and to merge present and past in action and in modes of expression. For example, Meadows/God urges Cain to Run on, keep your head down, cross at the double The bursts of open day between the n i g h t s . My word i s b r i n g him i n a l i v e (19). The modern b a t t l e image i s used again when Adams/Joab "cuts ^AbsalonTJ down with a tommy gun" (25), and the ram to be s a c r i f i c e d by Abraham i s "caught...In the barbed wire of the b r i a r bush" (33)-Such amalgamations r e i n f o r c e the relevance of the past analogy to the present s i t u a t i o n . The past events chosen are more than mere h i s t o r i c a l p a r a l l e l s : they are myths which e s t a b l i s h a timeless reference i n which we recognize contemporary experience. The myth strategy reaches beyond a personal t r u t h to a u n i v e r s a l t r u t h , and i n a c t i n g out t h e i r personal conceptions i n terms of archetypal a c t i o n s , the four men show the extent to which l i f e i s the r e p e t i t i o n of an e t e r n a l process. W i l l i a m Spanos sees that the s p e c i a l q u a l i t y informing Fry's use of myth i s the " a e s t h e t i c of sacra-mental time" (see I n t r o d u c t i o n , p. 8). This a e s t h e t i c i s shared by other modern C h r i s t i a n verse dramatists, notably T.S. E l i o t , whose quest, Spanos w r i t e s , f o r the e s s e n t i a l p r i n c i p l e of the popular E n g l i s h dramatic t r a d i t i o n . . . c u l m i n a t e s i n the discovery that t h i s p r i n c i p l e l a y i n what I c a l l the sacramental r e a l i s m of the medieval M i r a c l e P l a y s ; that i t i s grounded i n the doctrine of the Incarnation, the Word made F l e s h , which r e c o n c i l e s time and e t e r n i t y and salvages the past from the refuge heap of history,9 which then becomes an " e t e r n a l present." The sacramental view leads to the concept of the f i g u r a i n which one t h i n g or person stands f o r , or p r e - f i g u r e s , another: Noah's Ark--the Church, Q W i l l i a m Spanos, p. 13• Abel—Christ, Adam—all mankind, Christ 's resurrection—the resurrection of a l l after death. In Sleep the B ib l i ca l arche-type is integrated into the modern consciousness, and through the dream form a series of analogous actions and characters are shown to be both his tor ica l ly unique and eternally recurrent. It i s a technique similar to such Mystery Plays as The Second Shepherd's  Play, where both the present and the hi s tor ica l , the profane and the sp i r i tua l , are blended. The dream-vision also has deep roots in the medieval tradit ion. The unique quality of Sleep is that i t successfully integrates these separate elements into a powerful modern statement concerning man's condition internally, his relationship with others, and his relationship with the universe and God. The dominant characteristic of modern man is his existential questioning and rebell ion. The core of the problem is expressed by Peter: "I know I do not know" (15)- He rebels intel lectual ly by sneering at action that is inevitably futile and takes refuge in a form of magnanimous apathy: How can I help i t i f I can't work myself up About the way things go? It 's a mystery to me. . . .Dearly beloved brothers In a general muck-up,, towzers included...(4-5)• Meadows as God in his dream sees Peter as Abel, the passive but articulate victim. Abel's meekness prompts David/Cain to scorn: DAVID. You don't deserve to inherit the earth. Am I carry the place alone? PETER. Where w i l l you carry it? Where do you think you're going to take i t to, This p ro l i f i c indifference? Show me an ending great enough To hold the passion of this beginning And raise me to i t . Day and night, the sun and the moon Spir i t us, we wonder where. Meanwhile Here we are, we lean on our l ives Expecting purpose to keep her date, Get cold waiting, watch the overworlds Come and go, question the need to stay But do, in an obstinate anticipation of love (12-13)• David's rebellion is intuitive and inarticulate. He hits out at the immediate and concrete representations of frustration. After the attack on Peter, Meadows says: I see the world in you [jDavidJ very well. 'T i sn ' t Your meaning, but you're a clumsy, wall-eyed bulldozer. You don't know what you're hitt ing ( 5 ) » As Cain, David's refuge is in the physical: "Amply the animal is Ca in . . . a huskular strapling/With a l l his passions about him" (13). He rebels against a God who has created him with impulses and passions he is expected to deny. He declares, "Flesh is my birthplace" (16), and asks God, "How was I expected to guess/That what I am you didn't want?" The actions of Cain bring down God's curse that the hunter shall become the hunted. Cain wi l l "nowhere/ Escape the fear of what men fear in JThinQ" (19). This theme is carried into David's dream in which he sees himself as King David, beset by fears, "Everlastingly/Thinking of enemies" (22), and desperately trying to maintain order against e v i l and the threat of anarchy. Peter/Absalom is again the questioner of accepted values, rebelling against authority and escaping commitment in the negative philosophy that there is no harm in "A l i t t l e ev i l here and there between friends" ( 2 2 ) . In Peter's dream, David's protest modu-lates into Abraham's Adams-like acquiescence to authority in the shape of the presumed wi l l of God and the necessity of the h i s tor i -cal process. Like Moses in Firstborn, Abraham has to accept the paradox of e v i l : God Takes e v i l to inoculate our lives Against infectious e v i l . We'll go on. I am history's wish and must come true, And I shall hate so long as hate Is history, though, God, i t drives My l i f e away l ike a beaten dog (31). Peter's rebellion similarly modulates into acquiescence, but his appreciation of l i f e and nature increases: Everything Grows over the fresh inclination Every day. You and I are both Immeasurably l iv ing (30). He fa i l s to see the paradox that the beauty of nature veils "The long scars from the nails of the warring hearts" ( 3 0 ) . The existential protest is reasserted in Adams' dream. David despairs that "There's nowhere to go" (39), and rages against man's impotence: Let me, dear God, be active And seem to do right, whatever damned result. Let me have some part in what goes on Or I shall go mad! (41). Peter is seen again in his flippant, cynical mood, mocking the Scriptures and making Joycean puns: "Police on earth. Aggression is the better/Part of A l l a h . . . . Freedoom" (43). David and Peter are both involved in a struggle for selfhood and meaning in an apparently meaningless universe. In a bare, existential sense, they are both right in that each rebels in his own way against the forces that make us prisoners of ourselves and of our environment. But in the religious sense, as Ferguson points out, both are wrong: David is wrong in that he externalizes e v i l and refuses to recognize i t within himself. Peter is wrong because his failure to commit himself is not constructive and positive, but fundamentally escapist. David lives after the flesh, Peter tries not even to l ive in the flesh: therefore, neither is incarnational. Each i s wrong. '® In David and Peter, Fry outlines two antithetical modes of existen-t i a l rebell ion, and shows how the internal revolt against man's condition leads to str i fe among men. Peter's epiphany in the fire is a recognition that man is the source of his own sorrow: Look, how intense The place is now, with swaying and troubled figures. The flames are men: a l l human. There's no f i re ! Breath and blood chokes and burns us (48). David's epiphany is similar to E l io t ' s assertion that "suffering is action, action suffering," when he declares that "To be strong beyond a l l action is the strength/To have" (47). The preceding episodes have shown the f u t i l i t y of "the cures which never cure" (47). The path to harmony among men has been foreshadowed in Peter's "anticipation of love," in David's feelings after his attack on Peter and in the rejection and condemnation of violence: i t l i e s in patience, love and honesty, and in a recognition of the community of mankind where "men with men/Are knotted like the sea" (33)> and, echoing Donne, whatever happens on the farthest pitch, To the sand-man in the desert or the island-man in the sea, Concerns us very soon (46). Ferguson, 47. I n k e e p i n g w i t h t h e i n j u n c t i o n t o h a t e t h e s i n , n o t t h e s i n n e r , Meadows u r g e s t h e o t h e r s t o h a t e "The d e e d s , n o t t h o s e who do" (48) . Where S a r t r e w o u l d s e e a man d e f i n e d by h i s a c t i o n s , F r y s e e s a c t i o n s a s c o n f i r m i n g o r b e t r a y i n g a p r e - e x i s t i n g c o n c e p t o f man" "where we f a i l a s men/We f a i l a s d e e d s o f t i m e " (48) . The methods o f " e x p e d i e n c e a n d s e l f - p r e s e r v a t i o n " c o r r u p t b o t h t h e i n t e r n a l c o n d i t i o n o f a man a n d h i s r e l a t i o n s h i p w i t h o t h e r s , a n d must be s u p p l a n t e d by t r u s t i n t h e " g o o d " w h i c h i s God. I n t h e f i r s t d r e a m , God i s r e p r e s e n t e d a s t h e t r a d i t i o n a l a n t h r o p o m o r p h i c f a t h e r - f i g u r e . He i s a r e t r i b u t i v e God o f ? / r a t h , "God t h e j a i l e r , God t h e g u n " (19), w i t h whom Adam, i n l o s i n g h i s i n n o c e n c e , h a s l o s t c o n t a c t . The f a t h e r - s o n p a t t e r n i s r e p e a t e d w i t h Adam and h i s s o n s , a n d Adam's p o w e r l e s s n e s s t o p r e v e n t C a i n from k i l l i n g A b e l r e p e a t s God's n o n - i n v o l v e m e n t i n t h e a f f a i r s o f men. God i s a b s e n t i n t h e D a v i d a n d A b s a l o m dream, where D a v i d a s s u m e s he i s God's v i c e r o y : "Who's a g a i n s t u s , " he c r i e s , " R e e k s t o God" (32). I n P e t e r ' s dream, Abraham b e l i e v e s he i s a c q u i e s c i n g i n "God's w i l l , " a n d t h i s a d o p t i o n o f a N e g a t i v e Way b r i n g s t h e a n g e l -m e s s e n g e r f r o m God w i t h "new i n s t r u c t i o n s . " I n T h o r , t h e s a c r i -f i c e o f H o e l r e - e n a c t s t h a t o f C h r i s t : i n S l e e p , t h e s a c r i f i c e o f I s a a c , a l t h o u g h i n c o m p l e t e , p r e - f i g u r e s t h a t o f C h r i s t . The c o n n e c t i o n i s c l e a r l y i n d i c a t e d when Meadows a p p e a r s a s " t h e d o n k e y man," a n d t h e s c e n e r e s o u n d s w i t h C h r i s t a s s o c i a t i o n s — t h e d o n k e y , t h e "two s t a l e l o a v e s , " t h e p h r a s e " f o r t h e s a k e o f t h e w o r l d , " t h e m i l l e n i u m , a n d t h e s t a b l e . I n t h e f i n a l dream Adams, P e t e r and David each appeal to God for help and release (41), and when the intense heat of the f i r e reaches them, they f a l l on the i r knees. Their supplications and the i r humility bring release from t h e i r bonds, and the figure of Meadows emerges symbolically crowing l i k e a cock. He says he i s "Man," but again the Christ associations are strong because he appears i n a kind of resurrection i n the f i r e , he i s c a l l e d "the crowing son of heaven" (48), he preaches a message of love, and his prime function i s to show the way to God. The vi s i o n expressed by Meadows i s a humanistic assertion of the Affirmative Way. It i s an affirmation of the created world and of the potential within man himself to achieve God: "The human heart can go to the lengths of God" ( 4 9 ) . The play's structure, therefore, traces man's path from loss of innocence, through deeper involvement i n sin to acknowledgement of God's w i l l and to a climactic assertion of f a i t h in which man's potential i s acclaimed: A f f a i r s are now soul s i z e . The enterprise Is exploration into God (49). Like several e a r l i e r plays, notably Thor, Sleep follows a pattern of quest. The action again takes place overnight and ends at dawn. The night i s a "long dark night of the soul" experienced in a "chapel perilous." The four men are involved i n t r i a l s i n which the ultimate triumph of man over e v i l and death i s asserted i n the repeated patterns of sleeping and waking, dying and re-appearing. The church i s one place i n one time, yet functions as several places at d i f f e r e n t times. S i m i l a r l y , the single, separate stories are one action contained in the play's tota l i ty . Each separate stage in time, place and action is part of the larger action of quest, of "exploration into God." Adams/Adam has "lost something"—the innocence of mankind and with i t the knowledge of God and the state of Paradise. The same loss is apparent in the modern man of the opening scene, who s t i l l retains childhood memories of the Scriptures and worship, but rel igion has lost i t s value and meaning. The latent desire for sp ir i tua l knowledge is released in dreams which embark on a Grai l - l ike quest for God. It is interesting to note the Grai l legend parallels in Sleep. The Grai l quest has a dual aspect: the lower, a form of physical in i t i a t ion ; the higher, an in i t ia t ion into the "Secrets of the 11 Mysteries, that of regeneration and spir i tual l i f e . " The ini t ia te undergoes physical t r i a l s on his way which require spir i tual strength to overcome, and the Grai l i t s e l f is both a physical object (varying according to the version of the legend), and ultimately the sp ir i tua l revelation of God. The experiences of Peter, David and Adams are those of init iates who journey on their quest, undergo physical t r i a l s , f a i l some tests, are involved in a symbolic game of dice, and reach their illumination in a state of trance or sleep. The Chapel Perilous episode includes a test in which the ini t ia te " i s brought into contact with the horrors of 12 physical death," and immediately precedes the f inal vision which 1 1 Jessie L. Weston, The Quest of the Holy Grai l (1913; rpt. New York, 19°5), p. 90. ' 1 2 Ib id . , p. 90. ".Be-takes place in a castle near the sea. The pattern of Sleep is surprisingly similar, with the horrors of death made explicit; in the Cain episode and the sea passages forming a transition into the f inal vis ion. The parallels continue: Miss Weston writes? the culmination of in i t i a t ion was reached in a trance during which the candidate was supposed to pass through the dangers of the lower world and receive definite instructions and enlightenment; the soul, at the expira-tion of the trance, which sometimes lasted three days, returning, purified and regenerated, to reanimate the body.13 In Sleep, the dream-trance of the men, the f ire of the lower world, the instruction and enlightenment given by Meadows, and the f inal purified reanimation, conform to this account. The figure of Meadows is a further l ink with the Grai l legends as he corresponds to the maimed vegetable god whose restoration is dependent on the quester's success. His name associates him with the earth, as does his recollection of "dunging a marrow bed" (8). His limp, his mysterious birth—he has "only jhis mother's word for i t " correspondence. The f i r s t two dreams indicate the separation of man from God, but the quest takes shape in Adam's search for what he has lost and in Absalom's journey to "the other side of the r iver" (2k). The quest pattern strengthens with Abraham and Isaac climbing the h i l l towards God, the t r i a l of Abraham's w i l l , and the subsequent journey on the donkey "Across the sands and into the sea" (35). Adams' dream carries the journey onto the sea and (8)--and his divine associations already noted, reinforce the Ibid p. 107. • 1 merges with the prisoners' march where Peter i s "half-seas over-board" (38). The d i f f i c u l t y of the journey increases: they trudge without moving forward, f i n d themselves on logs which are "slimy and keep moving apart" (39), are imprisoned, and f i n a l l y are " t i e d hand and foot" (4-3) i n the f i r e and unable to move. The f i r e i s the f i n a l test and purgation i n which the cords burn off "Like snakes of soot" when they place themselves i n God's hands, and they are then able to "Stand: move: as though £theyj were l i v i n g " (4-5). The imprisoning f i r e becomes the agent of the i r release and of the f u l f i l l m e n t of the i r quest, and Meadows appears as the restored God who answers the questers' questions. This paradox of imprisonment and release i s also the culmina-tion of the prisoner motif. The concrete image of four m i l i t a r y prisoners held i n a church i s developed during the play to symbolic proportions i n which t h e i r imprisonment becomes a metaphor for the state of man. Through the i r dream re-enactments, the four prisoners come to stand for mankind. A series of images expands the imprison-ment theme: the "smell of cooped-up angels/Worries j~Davidj" (3); Adams/Adam i s "pinioned", unable to part Cain and Abel; "The cage of the world/Holds jjSain'sj prowling" (18), with "God the j a i l e r " (19) watching; "A dream/Has got ^DavidJ world has got us a l l " (27); Peter/Isaac, bound for s a c r i f i c e , c r i e s , Surely there's no need for us to be The prisoners of the dark (32) of death or ignorance; and f i n a l l y the incarceration i n the f i r e . The church functions as a flexible setting: on the l i t e r a l level i t i s a church and a prison, yet in the dreams i t becomes both a variety of settings for the action and a theatre of the mind for each character in turn. As the play unfolds, the variations of image and situation form a single statement. On waking from his dream, Adams asks, "Where's this place?" (4-9), and Meadows replies "You were born here, chum." Speaking for mankind, Meadows says we are In a sort of a universe in a bit of a f ix . It 's what they ca l l flesh we're i n . And a fine old dance i t is ( 5 0 ) . Man's soul is imprisoned in his flesh, which in turn is imprisoned in i t s physical environment, yet the dance image is a reminder of the cosmic dance of a l l creation, which, as suggested in Chapter Four (p. 94) and elsewhere, is expressed in the comic pattern. Fry's assertion that comedy "says...groaning as we may be, we move in the figure of a dance, and, so moving, we trace the outline of 14 the mystery" of creation, is exemplified in the patterns of action and language in Phoenix, Lady and Venus. At f i r s t glance, Sleep appears to be a play of a different order, but just as the comedies contain implicit religious patterns, so Sleep contains an implicit comic pattern:.. William Spanos maintains that "Fry's definition of comedy...paradoxically, is more applicable to Sleep than to the 15 seasonal comedies," because Sleep contains a truly sacramental 1 ^ Fry, "Comedy," 78. 15 Spanos, p. 305• vision which recognizes the doctrine of the Incarnation, which by redeeming the fallen world and transfiguring the horror of e v i l into a paradoxical good or in Fry's words, by d i s t i l l i n g the dark into l ight , establishes the Way of Affirmation as the way of comedy. A further image in Sleep which confirms the fusion of flesh and sp i r i t is the familiar Christmas carol, "God rest ye merry gentle-men" which runs: God rest ye merry gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ our Saviour Was born this Christmas d a y . . . » The phrase "nothing you dismay" is caught in Peter's speech, "We are a l l pain-fellows, but nothing you dismay,/Man is to prosper" (14), and the play's penultimate line is "Rest you merry" (51)» which coming after Meadows' image of "the end of the world/With a l l your bunks giving up their dead," establishes a f inal image of release from imprisonment in the birth of Christ and in ultimate resurrection. The simultaneous striking of the church clock and sounding of a bugle conclude the play and reassert the potential fusion of sp i r i t and flesh, of action and suffering, of God and Man. Seen in relation to Fry's earlier work, both religious and secular, the episodes of Sleep are almost a recapitulation of Fry's own phases of exploration for meaning as expressed through his plays. The dominance of the quest motif, for example, echoes Boy and Thor; 1 6 Ibid . , p. 306. the movement from the concept of God in the Cain episode as a distant God of 'Wrath to the concept of a personal God parallels the pattern of Firstborn (Chapter Three, p .65); David's dream echoes the fear of God's absence or non-involvement expressed in Thor, and continues the quest; the focus on sacrifice that follows in the Abraham and Isaac episode recalls the sacrifice in Thor and the r i t u a l i s t i c pattern of purgation represented in Phoenix and Lady; the f inal purgation through fire reasserts the motif of Phoenix and the fire in Venus which provides a secular paral lel for the spir i tual pattern. Furthermore, the insistence in Sleep on the uniqueness and spir i tual potential of the individual and of the supremacy of love—agape here, rather than eros—is the culmination of a series of assertions which was f i r s t noted in the chapters on Firstborn and Phoenix, and was seen operating particularly in Lady and Venus. Throughout a l l the plays examined so far runs Fry's concern to find meaning and his constant sense of amazement at the wonder and complexity of existence: the phenomena of creation are accepted simply in Boy; perplexity is expressed in Firstborn and Thor; the paradoxes are asserted in Lady; and the desire to question and probe is indicated in the observatory motif of Venus. Sleep starts by expressing an existential denial of meaning but concludes with the image of the dance, which is an attempt to resolve the complexity and represent meaning for man in an oracular assertion of his unity with the cosmos and the divine. Chapter Nine The Dark Is Light Enough' Agape The Dark Is Light Enough re-examines the themes of agape and the sanctity of the individual treated in A Sleep of Prisoners. Sleep may be accused of lacking dramatic structure in the shape of progressive plot, but Dark has a plot which keeps the audience intensely interested in "what happens next," and instead of inter-woven episodes, i t presents a continuous development. Fry main-tains an atmosphere of suspense from the opening, with the mysterious disappearance of the Countess, through a series of r is ing tensions to the f inal scene where Gettner turns to face the Austrians. It 1 has been described as being "akin to romantic melodrama," and i f a l l the play contained was plot, this label would be va l id . How-ever, as in a l l Fry's secular plays, the religious impulse informs the whole pattern of action and the plot functions as a vehicle for allegory or analogy and for the assertion of Fry's eschatology. The action is set in a specific place at a specific time, but the his tor ical events are mere pegs on which to hang an action that has a timeless reference and the focus fa l l s on the human universals" the confrontation of war, love, death, man's identity, and his sp ir i tua l quest. William Becker, writing in The Hudson Review, senses the al legorical qualities of Dark, but concludes that the allegory of 1 Denis Donoghue, The Third Voice (Princeton, N. J . , 1959), p. 187. Gettner representing wayward mankind with the Countess dying l ike 2 Christ to redeem him, "remains rather irrelevantly inert . " This type of equational allegory cannot be imposed on any of Fry's work? i t is for this reason that the term "analogy" is more useful and apposite. Once the action and relationships are seen as analogous to other patterns of action and other relationships, the al legorical overtones come al ive . The key metaphor of Dark is contained in the t i t l e , and in the epigraph from Fabre: "the darkness is l ight enough" for the butterfly to complete i t s pilgrimage through the 3 storm. The theme of journey or quest is once more central to the play, and i t is again combined with the existential problem of blindness. In addition to the journey allegory, there is also the suggestion that the Countess has divine attributes which invites al legorical speculation, and a further poss ibi l i ty of allegory l ie s in the more abstract sphere of spir i tual faith and good versus e v i l . Because of the central role of the Countess, i t is best to discuss her f i r s t , then examine the journey theme and abstractions. Dramatic interest is immediately focused on the absent Countess when the play opens with Jakob, Belmann and Kassel discussing her surprise jburney in the snow from which she has not yet returned. Her absence is especially unexpected as i t is the day of her weekly 2 William Becker, "Reflections on Three New Plays," Hudson  Review. VIII (Summer, 1955), 261. ^ Epigraph to The Dark Is Light Enough (London, 195^ ), n.n. Subsequent page references in parentheses. soiree. Belmann declares: This Thursday world of ours is now More l ike the world than ever. The goddess of i t , in her Godlike way, Is God knows where. We can only hope She wi l l condescend to appear in her own time ( 4 ) . The divine aspects of the Countess are immediately reinforced when he continues: . . . the Countess has the qualities of true divinity . For instance: how apparently undemandingly She moves among us; and yet Lives make and unmake themselves in her neighbourhood As nowhere else. There are many names I could name Who would have been remarkably otherwise Except for her divine non-interference ( 4 - 5 ) . Her country house becomes a microcosm of the world, with her divine status reiterated verbally and displayed in her relationships with her children, her disciples—notably Peter—and f inal ly her con-verts, Janik and Gettner. Fry does not allow the Countess to escape from her human condition: she is not in f a l l i b l e , witness her error in encouraging the marriage of Gelda and Richard; she is mortal although her "great sp i r i t " ( 8 5 ) enables her to transcend her i l lness ; and she has a disarming "woman's logic" ( 5 3 ) as her negotiations with Janik indicate. Her role, therefore, in her world is analogous to that of God in the larger world. The setting reinforces the paral lel because her entrances are made from above down the "great staircase" ( 1 ) . Despite her policy of "divine non-interference," She has a touching way Of backing a man up against eternity Unti l he hardly has the nerve to remain mortal (5)> and, l ike God, she can resolve man's dilemmas. She is l ike the hub-of a wheel, or the " s t i l l point in a turning world." Her relationships with the points on the wheel are l ike spokes which, by passing through the centre, resolve the contraries of opposite points, of Gettner and Peter, social etiquette and the demands of war, doubt and faith, intuit ion and reason, anarchy and s tab i l i ty . The identification of the Countess and God implies a concept of God in terms of her actions and attitudes. Despite their respect for her, the other characters do not understand her: the workings of God's mind are beyond comprehension. God moves in a mysterious way: regarding her journey, she declares that Her non-interference does not prevent her from deeply affecting everyone who comes into contact with her, as God touches the lives of men, and l ike Gettner, they strive to "root" themselves in the divine "radiance" (4-5). The hub-like, centrifugal pattern of structure in which events and people revolve around the Countess is extended to her home. The Countess, Stephen, Gettner, Peter, Janik, and the Hungarian army, each depart from the house only to return almost by compul-sion. Their journeys resolve into a series of quests, and the repeated pattern of excursion and return takes on an allegoric,, or symbolic, value, suggesting man's inevitable return to his spir i tual home. As noted in preceding chapters, repetitions are a favourite device of Fry's for exploring or asserting a theme—in this case, the journey of l i f e in both i t s physical and spir i tua l aspects. In her description of her journey to save Gettner, the Countess integrates the two aspects, the natural and the supernatural: she drove Into a redeemed land, uncrossed by any soul Or sound, and always the fa l l ing perfection Covering where we came, so that the land Lay perfect behind us, as though we were perpetually Forgiven the journey (16). Her journey through "a short experience of eternity" (17) becomes a parable for l i f e ' s journey, when informed by spir i tual awareness, towards redemption. Stefan duplicates his mother's journey, but lacking her attributes, fa i l s in his quest to find her. Janik and the army have an ideal i s t ic faith which sustains them on their journey, but their p o l i t i c a l idealism lacks both the spir i tual i ty and the humanity of the Countess, and is inconsistent because Is i t not a quaint freedom, that let us Make up our minds and not be free to change them? (30) The road to Vienna becomes "A river of dri f t ing, hopeless,/Dangerous men" (81) as the army's journey ends in defeat. In the last act, Janik returns a fugitive, i ronical ly adopting Gettner's role, and is brought to the house by faith in i t s power for good. The house is an intel lectual haven for the members of the Thursday soiree, a physical haven for Gettner and Janik, and f inal ly becomes a spir i tual haven for Gettner when he turns his back on the faithless journey he "was making/In no direction in particular" (101) and faces the Austrians. The journey allegory shows the triumph of sp ir i tua l faith over physical hazards, over the brute strength of military force, and over intel lectual disenchantment: in effect, immanent good prevails against manifest e v i l . The play is structured in a series of conflicts that arise out of antitheses of character, viewpoint or interest. Jakob and Belmann set the pattern in the opening scene when in defence of the Countess's name, Jakob challenges Belmann to a duel—foreshadow ing the later more serious encounter between Stefan and Gettner. The Countess is defined positively by a series of productive relationships, but Gettner negatively by a series of oppositions. His duel with Stefan arises out of the conflict between his dis-illusionment and Stefan's youthful groping for meaning and purpose. His lack of purpose and interest in self rather than a cause is opposed to Janik's concern with the welfare of his country and his men, and Gettner's worthlessness is the antithesis of Peter's value and r e l i a b i l i t y : the former is an invertebrate, . . .self-drunk, drunken, shiftless, heartless, Lying malingerer (6), the latter is "Count Peter the sturdy" (8), the "Great Protector" ( A conflict of interest develops when the Countess gives protection to Gettner, who is a victim of society not unlike Hoel in Thor and Jennet in Lady. Her friends urge her to get r id of him for the safety of a l l : Gettner is desperate for his own l i f e and asserts a claim to protection in the name of l i f e i t s e l f . The arr ival of Janik, who admits to being "a divided man" (52) between the courtesies of social convention and the demands of war, precipi-tates a cr i s i s in which Peter becomes a hostage for Gettner. Thematically, the anarchy of war represented by the fugitive Gettner and the transformed geologist, Janik, encounters the polarity of s tabi l i ty in the spir i tual and humanitarian convictions of the Countess and the rock-like morality of Peter. A further thematic polarity is between desertion and responsibility. Gettner deserts in turn art, Gelda, the army, and the Countess. His actions represent universal human weaknesses: Three incorrigible t r a i t o r s , . . . The heart, that's one, the brain, that's the second, And the w i l l , old will-power, deserters to the death ( 6 3 ) . Responsibility is represented in Janik"s concern for his men, the need "to find a new heart" (53) for them, for his country and for the effects of the Austrian reprisals . Peter is acutely aware of fa i l ing in his responsibility to remain in Vienna where he could have done most good. Responsibility and guilt are interconnected. Stefan is consumed with guilt because he feels responsible for bringing Peter away from Vienna, and the Countess declares, "I am always perfectly guilty of what I do" (20). Gelda's sense of responsibility leads her to feel guilty for the failure of her marriage to Gettner, and guilty again for allowing her " cur io s i ty . . . pride.. .ambition" (81) to delude her into an experiment to rectify the f i r s t fai lure. There is a constant balancing of self ish and unselfish motivation, with Gettner and the Countess at the two poles and other characters striving to find a balance between their inner conflicting tendencies. As suggested in the wheel metaphor, the resolution of conflicts, whether internal or with other charac-ters, is attained through relationship with the Countess. An example of her influence is how a l l present in the house when the Hungarians arrive combine to save Gettner because of their regard for her concern for human l i f e per se, although they recognize their own danger. The ultimate triumph of her spir i tual way is the conversion of Gettner who finds that in spite of his cynicism his self-centredness is transformed by her charisma. The success of the play is heavily dependent on the credibi l i ty of Gettner's conversion. In i t i a l ly he is portrayed as utterly worthless, rather l ike Shaw's Dubedat (Doctor's Dilemma) without the compensating virtue of a r t i s t i c excellence. Once a poet, he has allowed his awareness of the vastness and complexity of the universe to frustrate him to the point where he is unable "To recreate one f i t word to stand/Beside real i ty" (46). He is drawn as completely worthless—and even admits no redeeming qualities--in order to make the Countess's action in saving him a purely dis-interested act of love for humanity. She recognizes that "Life has a hope of him/Or he would never have l i v e d . . . . Richard l ives / In his own right" (^4) . Gettner's suggestion of marriage indicates that he misunderstands the Countess's feelings and believes eros to be at work. She denies ever having loved him, and he finds i t d i f f i cu l t to understand her motivations: GETTNER. What in God's name was i t I meant to you? COUNTESS. Simply what any l i f e may mean (100). This is an expression of true agape, the love of mankind for i t s own sake, and establishes the rationale for the Countess's action. Gettner's apparently sudden conversion, moments after he has declared his intention of going "back to the journey j j^ej was making" (101), has in fact been well prepared. He has already indicated a degree of faith in the Countess, f i r s t when he married Gelda, and later when he turns to her in the situation that preci-pitates the play's action. He is also a man susceptible to a "moment of conversion" as indicated by his sudden espousal of the Hungarian cause. He recal l s : A l l I could do for my self-esteem Was to swear to cherish a l l hearts that are oppressed; To give myself to l iberty, justice, and the revolution (15). His admission to the Countess that he returned because "They said you were dying" (93) indicates both the magnetic attraction she exercises upon him and the inexorable process of conversion which he is helpless to fight. After her expression of agape, which confounds Richard, she makes the enigmatic promise not to leave him unt i l she can love him, "not necessarily here" (101), intimating the possibi l i ty of love-after-death, but when Gettner discovers that in death she has provided him with an opportunity of redemption, he realizes the divine nature of her love. His redemption suggests a Christ-l ike sacrifice on her part, a pattern of sacrifice he in turn wi l l repeat, and his adoption of her role and spir i tual strength is another example of exchange in personal relationships. Her death is not one of atonement because she does not take his sins upon her shoulders, but is one of "a beginning" in which Gettner is renewed. The conclusion of Dark differs from the other comedies in that the exchange is not mutual, but more in the nature of a gift of grace. It also differs because i t involves a non-tragic death that i l lustrates how comedy may simultaneously "affirm l i f e 1+ and assimilate death and persevere in joy." The play presents a plea for love, tolerance and peace in a world divided by str i fe which ranges from the petty quarrel of Belmann and Jakob on a point of "honour" to the war between idea l i s t ic revolutionaries and a tyrannous order capable of whole-sale executions. The range is one of degree rather than kind, and by showing how the different degrees of disruption interpenetrate, Fry asserts both man's individual and his collective responsibil ity. Even before he appears, the iconoclastic Gettner disrupts the relationship between Belmann and Jakob, whose quarrel is sparked by Belmann's condemnation of the Countess for promoting the marriage between Gettner and Gelda. Gettner continues to be the active force of disruption, endangering the Countess with the Hungarians, causing Peter to leave Vienna, provoking Stefan into challenging him to a duel, threatening the marriage of Peter and Gelda, and through a l l these events contributing substantially towards the Christopher Fry, "Comedy," 78. Countess's death. Also on the side of strife stand Janik and the Hungarian array whose futi le violence displays the disruption of Gettner on a wider scale. Through a l l this the Countess retains her love of humanity and her tolerance. She realizes that We are a l l confused, incomprehensible, Dangerous, contemptible, corrupt, . . . I n our plain defects We already know the brotherhood of man (21). She recognizes the interrelationships of men, and in a passage that recalls several statements in Sleep, declares that "there is nothing on the earth/Which doesn't happen in your hearts" (?4). The tightly plotted action of the play reflects this interrelationship and the mutual responsibility of man for man. As noted, the play also stresses the theme of the sanctity of the individual. To-gether, these concepts express one of the key factors in the existential ist approach that views man as a unique individual responsible to himself for his own actions and definition, yet simultaneously responsible for a l l men. In Dark, without the preaching that concludes Sleep, Fry manages to convey through the qualities of the Countess the spir i tual dimension that without reference to specific orthodoxies places his work in the stream of religious existentialism flowing from Kirkegaard through such figures as T i l l i c h , Marcel and Teilhard de Chardin. This is not to suggest that he is a disciple of any of these figures, but relates the primarily intuitive work of the art is t to the primarily intel lectual endeavour of the philosopher. As in Sleep, the language in Dark is pruned of the word-play that characterizes the earlier comedies, and in place of a plethora of images Fry employs a few which are closely related: snow, rain, sea, l ight , and dark. The language has a winter bareness that is thematically appropriate and marks another step in Fry's movement towards a more direct and forceful style--a movement which also characterizes the successive plays of T.S. E l i o t . The snow establishes the winter context of the play, which in turn subsumes the cycle of death and rebirth. Paradoxically, the snow is both benevolent and hosti le: i t is a " f a l l ing perfection" (16), a benediction "as soft as a bishop's hand" (13), but the Countess's search is "complicated by the weather" (19), and the soldiers' heels are "lumped with snow" (25) that impedes them. The a l l -pervading snow becomes symbolic of the ambiguous nature of man's experience and of a phase in the cycle of l i f e . In Act III the snow changes to ra in . Gelda declares: The revolution's over, I'm sure i t ' s over. The whole of yesterday We heard the guns, and today there's nothing But the noise of ra in. A l l night I was hearing The scattered solitary horseman Galloping down the road; there was no Dead-march drum of the guns any longer. I heard the wind, and I heard the ha i l , And I heard the hoof-beats, and otherwise There was peace (78). Revolution, winter and death are supplanted by peace and rain which may not "wash the last few days away" (79), but do hold the promise of renewal in both the natural and the human cycle. The cycle of renewal is repeated in the death-birth juxtaposition when Dr. Kassel is summoned to deliver the ostler 's wife's baby against a background of war, executions and the death of the Countess. Despite the absence of the sea as a physical aspect of the setting, i t provides the motif for a series of images and metaphors that dominate the second half of the play. The sea provides an analogy for l i f e : "Deep water is for those/Who can swim" ( 3 ^ ) , declares Peter. Gettner is l ike a man who "Strips to swim, and then seems powerless/ To advance or ret ire" ( 5 6 ) , and he complains that when a man takes "the cold sea in a courageous plunge" ( 6 5 ) he is thought a fool . Gelda confesses an instinct to put out with a lifeboat For Richard, but on to i t scrambled Such a crew of pirates We a l l began to sink ( 8 1 ) . The life-as-ocean metaphor is sustained in such passages as "this marooned sort of l i f e " ( 8 3 ) , souls in "their barren islands" ( 9 3 ) and "a body without death.. . being outcast, l ike a rock in the sea" ( 8 9 ) . The ocean motif is a l l i ed to that of the journey. The Countess, unable to undo the past, is anxious to move on: Music would unground us best, As a tide in the dark comes to boats at anchor And they begin to dance ( 6 7 ) , and Belmann, caught in the spell of the moment, recalls watching A fishing boat outwit the rocks and a very Unbenevolent sea. It did at last Gain the shore ( 8 6 ) . As the Countess draws near the end of her journey, Gettner appeals to her to remember that although she can exist Beside the s t i l l waters...out here The drowning s t i l l goes on (97). This passage continues the sea-journey metaphor and echoes the Hebrews' tears of lamentation, an idea arising out of the tears-water association of her eyelids closing calmly in death. This example i l lustrates the controlling economy in Dark in which Fry uses figurative language both sparingly and for the greatest multiple effect. In the same way that water in .a l l i ts forms has both specific attributes and a general relationship to the journey theme, images of l ight and dark are also unified with the dominant structural motif of the journey. The Countess left "before l ight" (1) in the morning, having harnessed the horses "by the confusing light/Of one lantern" (16), and returns after dark, so that the two ends of her journey are analogous to the journey of l i f e from darkness back to darkness. The faith of the butterfly that "the darkness is l ight enough" is implicit in the pattern. The faith-less Gettner would "dare anything for a ha'penny night-light" (62), but is also afraid of the l ight because he prefers a journey "Where the dark makes no false promises" (101). However, he is unable to escape the "radiance" that emanates from the Countess and illuminates the sp ir i tua l path he must follow. The darkness of man's ignorance is l ight enough for him to pursue the journey of l i f e ' s pilgrimage because a l l are gifted, to a greater or lesser extent, with an inner l ight of sp ir i tua l intui t ion. Although the play's sub-tit le, "A Winter Comedy," suggests that Dark is another romantic comedy, Fry's language indicates that he has departed from the mode of Lady and Venus. The death of the Countess, the implied sacrifice of Gettner and the moral assertion of immanent good against manifest e v i l suggest a tragic pattern, but the play never arouses tragic expectations or exhibits tragic modes of awareness. The Countess may find herself displaced or thwarted, but at no stage is ev i l triumphing, and the victory of good is never in doubt. The dramatic impression, even in death, is one of the v i t a l i t y of human l i f e and of the continuity of that v i t a l i ty which is taken over by another in a pattern of exchange when one person dies. This mixture of tragic and comic elements is similar to that in Firstborn and Thor, particularly the latter where the mode was identified as ironic (Chapter Five, p. 114). Gettner conforms to Frye's description of the hero of the ironic form—a self-deprecating, isolated scapegoat. He is late achieving hero status, but qualifies, particularly in existential terms, by his f inal choice which is a heroic act of sel f-def init ion. Alternatively, Gettner may be seen as demonstrating what Raymond Williams sees as a tragic thrust for individual fulfillment and self- identif ication that results in destructive relationship with others and in ultimate self-destruction in the realization that 5 fulfillment without others is impossible- this concept of the tragic is fraught with irony. The ironic mode is established in Raymond Williams, Modern Tragedy (London, 1966), pp. 87-105. Dark, as in Thor, by a series of ironies throughout the play: the worthy Peter is hostage for the worthless Gettner; Janik the guest becomes the usurper; the dance and disarming of the guards leads to the shooting of Stefan by Gettner; Peter, who opposes violence, becomes "the very passion [jae] opposed" ( 5 9 ) ; the Countess's non-interference affects everyone around her; and the positions of Gettner and Janik are ironical ly reversed. As Jacob Adler suggests, Dark is a step away from the romantic comedy of Lady and Venus in the direction of the problem play—Fry's Measure for Measure, with Gettner/Claudio and Countess/Isabella. It occupies a place on 7 that narrow bridge -*ry sees between tragedy and comedy, yet as in a l l Fry's plays except Curtmantle, the f inal affirmation is one of joy, of comic assertion, because the exploration of l i f e and meaning, even when expressed in ostensibly secular shape, makes i t s discoveries in terms of man's relationship to the divine through the divine potential within himself and in the sacramental nature of his relationships with others. Adler, 9 7 . See Introduction, p. 2 3 . Chapter Ten Curtmantle: the Form of Unity In Fry's search for meaning, whether he focuses on the secular or the religious, he always asserts the parallels or inter-action between the two. It is not surprising, therefore, that he should be inspired by the near-mythical contest between Henry II and Becket over the respective demands of State and Church. Their struggle exemplifies the clash of the secular and the spir i tual and, although unresolved his tor ica l ly except by death, invites the art is t to explore i t s shape. Fry's exploration in Curtmantle takes the path of a dual quest. One aspect is "the progression towards a portrait of Henry, a search for his r ea l i ty , " which is indicated in the play by Richard Anesty's repeated question at the end of the Prologue: "Where is the King?" Structurally, this theme is explored in a series of episodes which are linked by the process of history and by the controlling consciousness of William Marshal's memory. The other half of the quest is also firmly established in the Prologue: the search for "Law, or rather the interplay of different laws: c i v i l , canon, moral, aesthetic, and the laws of God; and how they belong and do not belong to each other" ( ix) . This second quest is inextricably a l l i ed with the ar t i s t ' s desire to find form: just as Henry's energy "was giving form to England's Christopher Fry, Curtmantle, 2nd ed. (London, 1965), p.vni. Subsequent page references in parentheses. chaos" ( l ) , so Fry is attempting to structure action, character and language in a form that wi l l express the "permanent condition of man" and wi l l yield meaning for the modern audience from the barren facts of history. The controlling framework of the play is William Marshal's mind. The memory device is not used as in The Glass Menagerie to explore the narrator's experience, but to endow Marshal with a choric function which enables him both to recount the action, " ^doi'ngj away with time and place" ( v i i i ) as Fry intended, and to comment on i ts significance. Marshal's name suggests his function: he is a high o f f i c i a l of the court close to the king; he marshals the facts in order for the audience; and he records the passing of time and events. Another function is to manipulate the response of the audience in favour of Henry, a role which is an important corrective to history, especially as recorded in the dramatic interpretations of Tennyson, El iot and even Anouilh, where the dramatic focus, and inevitably sympathy, l i e with Becket rather then Henry. Marshal respects Henry's energy and his determination to replace anarchy with order on behalf of the people he governs. His respect and that of the common folk indicate the range of the governed, and give a reference point for the facts of church exploitation that lead to the division between Church and State, Becket and Henry. Marshal's mind and attitudes express the "Pugnacious rea l i ty" (1) that l ies behind the facts of history. Another structural means of exploring this inner reality is through the use of expressionistic and cinematic devices which reject the surface real ity in favour of a stylized, or even dis-torted presentation of the stage action and its setting. Both the turbulent action and the storm setting of the Prologue indicate the chaotic state of the kingdom to which Henry is attempting to bring order. Paradoxically, i t shows disorder under Henry's very nose, and thematically the storm foreshadows the turbulence of his reign. There is a smooth scenic transition into Act I , when the wind drops to a calm and the darkness changes to l i ght . Anesty's f inal question at the camp, "Where is the King?" (8) is answered by Marshal in Westminster: "The King's arrived in the y a r d . . . " (9). This non-realistic merging of time, place and action characterizes the sequences of the play, and helps to produce tight dramatic unity. A further device, associated with the memory design, is the use of central spots of l ight for ongoing action with figures in the shadows on the fringe awaiting their turn in the process of memory. For example, Marshal "peers into the shadows" (25) to discover Blae, as though groping in his memory, and the impact of Becket's death is enhanced by being delivered to Henry when he is in the shadows, whereupon "suddenly he steps into the light l ike a madman" (7^), a scene which suggests Marshal's distance from Henry's emotional core, but his vivid awareness of the external manifesta-tions of the King's moods. An expressionistic sequence builds up from the beginning of Act I I , when ...sounds and voices are half creations of the fog Which move l ike men but fade l ike spir i t s (37), to a climax at the Council of Clarendon. The events of the Council are compressed, but i t s significance is eloquently conveyed when "an  unnatural l ight begins to penetrate the fog. Faces are distorted  by i t . Shadows gesticulate at a great height above the MEN of the  Court, who rage against the PRIESTS, some advancing towards them  waving axes" (4-3). Such stage effects owe something to the influence of Anouilh, but more, probably, to Fry's experience in film work during the decade prior to Curtmantle• The exploitation of stage effects to express inner real ity is also a logical step— although i t took ten years to make—from the dream distortions of A Sleep of Prisoners, where technical devices were not available. The telescoping of historic events leads to an exciting dramatic pace which asserts the inevitabi l i ty of Henry's tragic downfall. Once he decides to appoint Becket Archbishop, and "co-ordinate the two worlds" (18) of Church and State, a l l sub-sequent decisions partake of the same quality of hamartia, or tragic error. The combination of the device of memory and the technique of expressionism, by enabling Fry to escape the l imita-tions of a rea l i s t ic chronological approach which would break the action, carries the audience through a sequence of decisions and outcomes that drive Henry inexorably down the path of tragic descent. The episodes, which lend themselves to a Brechtian Epic treatment of disjunction, are thereby bridged rather than broken, and the plot unfolds in one continuous movement interrupted only at the end of Act I at a climactic point where Henry squares for a fight, and at the end of Act II where an appropriate pause occurs at Becket's death. As tragic hero, Henry fu l f i l s the classical Aristotelian pattern of the great man of wasted potential whose f a l l , brought about by hubris and flawed decisions, involves his realm, which sinks in power and prestige with i ts king. Henry's f i r s t decision, because i t is an attempt to reconcile two "goods," does not precipitate a chain of e v i l , as occurs in Hamlet for instance, and one can well sympathize with him when he protests, "What is my crime?" (82), but progressively he assumes the role of divinity ascribed to him by his subjects, and i t is this defiance of the ontological order that constitutes his major crime. Henry's gradual—and unconscious—movement towards this self-concept is sk i l fu l ly dramatized by Fry in both language and action. Henry possesses a charisma not unlike that of the Countess Rosmarin, yet more positive than hers. In The Dark Is Light Enough, Fry endows the human Countess with divine attributes: in Curtmantle, he humanizes the mythical king who is credited with, and assumes div ini ty . The populace apotheosize him; Anesty seeks him as the divine embodiment of "A law that's just and merciful" (8); a beggar addresses him as "Dear lord of justice" (10); and even Eleanor comments on the cloak incident—somewhat ironical ly--"A deed of grace, gracefully done" (10); he is the omnipresent dis-penser of justice in the kingdom; and he is the creator not only of law and order, but as Eleanor recal ls , was also "ready/To start creating the world" (17) at their f i r s t meeting. Henry comes to believe he is the chosen recipient of God's grace: "four good boys to me/There's God articulate" (12). He envisages himself in a Christ-role, driven to "a harrowing of h e l l " (12), believes that "the future is waiting to be blessed by us" (22), maintains regarding his subjects that he can "bless them better £ than the Archbishopj in their daily l ives" (f?1), and even as he l ies dying he recalls his marriage in terms which suggest a self-image of d iv ini ty : "We've got the lustrous Queen. We can start creating the world" (94). The demonic nature of Henry's divinity is suggested by Eleanor when she te l l s Becket: The free and fallen Spir i ts we may think we are, You and I and the nest of young eagles, Have our future state only in a world of Henry (24), and the same Satanic allusion is made by Richard: But only Lucifer knew how to f a l l and then Come back into a kingdom. My father is only Demon,by descent (90-91). Henry's action of appointing Becket to the dual post of Chancellor and Archbishop in order to reconcile the conflicting interests of Church and State to his own advantage, is one which Becket warns him is a kind of intrusion on the human mystery, Where we may not know what i t is we're doing, What powers we are serving, or what is being made of us (22). By his action, Henry sets up a counter movement against himself which is exemplified in the rise in the fortunes of Louis, whom Henry despises. Fry repeatedly draws parallels and comparisons between the two kings. Some examples include: Becket's reminder to Henry that combining a secular and a sp ir i tua l post is what Louis tried to do: Insisting on his Chancellor for a bishopric (19), and that he had to concede to the Pope's demands; Henry's pride in begetting sons on the woman who could give Louis daughters only (19); Louis' subservience to the Church in contrast to Henry's hos t i l i ty ; the arr iva l of the news from Paris of Louis' heir at the moment Becket defies the King by riding away from his t r i a l (51); and f inal ly to complete the pattern of Louis' gains being Henry's losses, the alliance of Henry's sons with Phi l ip of France which brings about Henry's defeat in battle as well as on the moral and personal levels . Their respective fortunes form a contra-puntal 'X' pattern not unlike that of Hoel and Cymen in Thor, with  Angels, or and Moses in The Firstborn. A further confirmation of the tragic pattern is found in the concatenation of events. When the events and their outcome are known, the dramatist who wishes to do more than merely chronicle them must seek some inner dynamic within the his tor ica l context. Just as in Firstborn Fry creates a tension between necessity and the desires of the characters to provide this dynamic and an alternative to plot suspense, so in Curtmantle he creates a similar tension between the declared aims of his characters and the grip of events which once init iated take on an autonomous inevi tabi l i ty . Becket's warning to Henry, quoted above, goes on to presage dire events as "universal workings" (22) take control of men, and i ronical ly Henry himself declares: We have done with privilege of person. None of us Is anything more than the purpose of our time (48). Eleanor, who is as much chorus as participant, continues the theme: When the glorious battle turns into the vendetta The great issues, no longer controlled by men, Themselves take over command (48). Men become the tools of destiny and although they may rage and defy, as Henry does, they eventually succumb. Paradoxically, i t i s this refusal to bow down before the inevitable, even when as guilty as a Macbeth, that is one of the chief characteristics of the tragic hero, and here Fry's Henry shares tragic aspects with such figures as Oedipus and Lear. Another shared characteristic is loneliness: Henry is successively separated from or deserted by friends and family, except for his Kent, Marshal, and his Cordelia, Roger, unt i l he dies completely isolated. He descends from the role of quasi-divine ruler to that of an expelled pharmakos, r i t u a l i s t i c a l l y stripped of his possessions in the catalogue of reparations demanded by Phi l ip (91) and in the actions of the two peasants who strip his body ( 9 8 ) . The pattern of renewal that justif ies the suffering and waste of tragedy is not strongly asserted, despite a gesture in that direction by Roger who attempts to ra l ly his dying father by urging him: S ir , believe what you have accomplished. Your laws are fixed on England...accepted As a source of strength (94). The end of the play does not suggest any revital izat ion through Henry's agon, but carries negative implications as the Old Woman f a ta l i s t i ca l ly drags off her mattress, which is both her comfort and her burden. The play follows the pattern of Henry's concern as expressed by Marshal, "beginning and ending...with the people he governed" ( l ) , but in both the Prologue and the last scene he is shown to be their scourge rather than their benefactor. The f u l l tragic cycle, therefore, is not completed in Curtmantle, but here the author's respect for the facts of history does impose a certain l imitat ion. Pry's search for the King reveals a complex man of paradoxes, as the Foreword state ( ix) , but subsumes these complexi-ties within the tragic mould. Henry's struggle becomes an expression of man's struggle with forces in the environment that challenge any attempts by man to define his own destiny in defiance of the higher powers. The second theme, or quest of the play is that of Law which is dramatized primarily in the conflict between Henry and Becket, which in turn represents that of State and Church, physical and sp ir i tua l , and ultimately Man and God. In a key speech Becket declares: There is a true and l iv ing Dialectic between the Church and the state Which has to be argued for ever in good part ( 2 1 ) . He goes on to assert the traditional dichotomy of body and s p i r i t : It 's the nature of man that argues; The deep roots of disputation Which dug in the dust, and formed Adam's body ( 2 1 ) . In Henry's character, Fry shows how the conflicting pressures can exist side by side unresolved. Henry is an idealist dedicated to give England An incorruptible scaffolding of law To last her longer than her c l i f f s (23), yet the action in the prologue and the evidence of Blae 1s relation-ship with the King indicate the val idity of Eleanor's words when she scorns Henry: "You who so struggle for order everywhere/Except in your own l i f e " (53)• In the struggle between Henry and Becket i t is the dramatic conflict of character, the way each presents his argument rather than the respective merits of each side, that expresses the dichotomy in a dialectic of minds: the practical and rea l i s t ic versus the philosophic and idea l i s t i c . For example, when challenged by Henry to account for his "part in the process of l i f e , " Becket answers with E l io t i c abstruseness: To protect us from going aground on deceptive time, To keep our course in the deep rea l i ty . As time is contained in eternity So is temporal action contained in eternal truth. And that truth can't be put at the mercy of time (38). Henry counters in terms of practical specifics: Laymen brought up for t r i a l before a bishop Must be given in every instance legal witnesses. No archbishop, bishop, or beneficed clerk To leave this kingdom without my authority (39)' Merchant declares that "a central tragic irony" in Curtmantle is that Henry II works for due process of law which is ultimately an expression of God's order, and that Becket, subdued to God's wi l l which is precisely the law towards which Henry's ambitions are directed, finds himself in personal opposition to Henry.2 Henry's affirmative way clashes with the negative way of Becket who William Moelwyn Merchant, Creed and Drama (Philadelphia, 1966), pp. 103-104. "realizes the essential instrumentality of man's wi l l as, at i t s highest form, wholly submissive to the ways of providence." 3 Eleanor appears to be acting as Fry's spokesman when she urges Henry to "Consider complexity, delight in difference" (47), and later when she asserts that The true law hides like the marrow of the bone, Feeding us in secret. And this hidden law may prove to be Not your single world, not unity but diversity (81). Eleanor's own "Love Court of Poitou" which makes "laws for sport and love" ( 6 l ) , is almost a parody of Henry's courts. Her position is one of the balance rather than polarity where the tension of oppositions stimulates the creative force. "Oh, never define I" ( 4 5 ) , she cries, and although later guilty of attempting to "define the world of woman/And man" (78)—and despite the dubious evidence of her court--her declarations affirm Fry's recurrent theme of the essential multeity of existence. The dialectic of Curtmantle, therefore, takes on a familiar thesis-antithesis-synthesis form. The synthesis is weak because the two main protagonists remain polarized, and the synthesis proposed by Eleanor is inadequately structured dramatically, although strongly expressed verbally. Because Henry is the common factor in a l l the conflicts—ag ainst Becket, Eleanor, his sons, and Louis—and because he receives Marshal's approbation, the dramatic balance l ies with him. However, the tragic form adumbrates the lost opportunity: " i f o n l y . . . " If only Henry and Becket could 3 Ibid . , p. 1 0 4 . have seen how in fact they sought a common goal, as Merchant suggests, and i f only they could have attained the f l ex ib i l i ty advocated by Elea.nor, then a resolution of their differences would have been possible. It is thus that the dramatic form, the shape of tragedy plus the shape of the ideas expressed, asserts the writer's meaning. In a letter written in 1950 Fry declared that we should simplify towards a unity...towards an admission that everything and everyone is a member of one another, a unity of difference where a l l things meet in gradation. . . . Ten years later he asserted: we are part of a universe of patterns, and tensions, and conflicts , and balances, which seem to demand to be expressed in form, in a kind of coiled spring of energy, ,-within an architectural shape which expresses that energy. As indicated in the f i r s t chapter, Fry believes that the form of poetry is such a shape, and therefore when i t is incorporated into the further shaping of drama, a doubly expressive form is obtained. In Curtmantle, Fry's language attains a degree of c lar i ty , economy and f l e x i b i l i t y rarely equalled in his earl ier plays. It was noted in the last chapter how in Dark Fry's figurative language is used sparingly and with economy. This tendency is continued in Curtmantle without going to the extent of E l io t where, in The Elder Stateman particularly, verse a l l but disappears. Again there are interwoven clusters of images: l ight and darkness; Christopher Fry, "The Play of Ideas," New Statesman and  Nation, XXXIX (22 A p l . , 1 9 5 0 ) , ^8. 5 Christopher Fry, unpublished address, "Communication," Conference of Deans and Provosts of England (Chichester, 1968). cold and hot, especially f i re ; water in various forms; animals, particularly horses; building; and the journey. There is a general movement in the metaphors of both language and action from darkness to l ight , through fog, back to darkness, and a paral le l movement from cold, through warmth and intense heat, back to the icy cold of death. The Prologue opens at night with the Juggler's cry for l ight paralleling the kingdom's need for illumination of i t s darkness. At the end of the scene, the increasing l ight heralds the glow of warmth and optimism at Becket's successful return. The second act opens in fog. In answer to Becket's echoing question, "Where is the King?" (44), Eleanor says: Look round at the unreality of the l ight And the unreality of the faces in the l ight . A death-world here, where every move Is magnified on to the fog's blind face And becomes the gesture of a giant (44). The fog becomes a symbol for both the confused state of affairs and for the states of mind of the protagonists. Marshal's intro-duction to Act III comments on "the shadow of Becket" (77), and Henry's opening lines correlate his physical condition and mental state: I can say the night has been crossed. Though you never know, Crouching in prayers in this holy cel lar , Whether the l ight has broken Or the night's as dark as ever (77). The night before Henry's defeat, the "thick mist" that obscures the French army recalls the earlier fog and defeat, and Henry's subsequent entry, "dazed and half-blinded" (8?) by the smoke from the fire he ordered, foreshadows the darkness of his imminent death. Fire and the sun l ink the metaphors of l ight and warmth and seeing. After Becket's exile, Marshal recalls that his name "was breathed out l ike fire a l l over Christendom" (59), constituting a threat to Henry, and immediately after this passage Eleanor implies Henry's lack of warmth and joy when she invites Ypung Henry to come to Poitou "when £ h e ] n e e d £ s ] the sun to set j^his] blood/Flowing more freely than ever i t can here" (61). Addressing Henry, she declares: But at last I mean to wrench myself awake And open my eyes to my own real ity ( 6 l ) , and Henry's reply, "Then please God you find that dawn less false/ Than i t is to me" (61), presages that fatal dawn when John deserts his father "To be on the side where the sun was r i s ing" (93) • After his defeat, broken in mind and body, Henry confuses present and past, cold and hot, and water and sweat. He imagines himself back with his father, washing off the " f i l thy summer's sweat... [and] the grime of the journey...[butJ the water's been lying in the dark too long. It 's icy cold. The caked sweat and dirt goes in so deep you have to wash to the bone" ( 9 5 ) . To make him believe he has bathed, "ROGER guides the King's hand across the sweat on his body." Henry's words and Roger's action ironical ly echo Henry's lines spoken a moment before when in his delirium he recalls the potential of his marriage to Eleanor: "We can start creating the world. My sweat could l i e with hers and breed rivers" (94), and the scene enacts a mock baptism which incorporates a series of images associating rain, water, ice, sea, and the journey, in a manner similar to that of Dark. Henry's l i f e as a journey is established in the Prologue, in which Anesty pre-figures the King in his quest for truth, law and order, and the action exemplifies the restless, desperate quality of Henry's search. Fry's compact structure gives a vivid sense of movement as the journeys and errands of a lifetime are compressed into a single action. Henry has an almost compulsive belief in the efficacy of movement and pursuit: "providence," he declares, " i s a great maker of journeys/And whoever refuses to go forward is dropped by the road" (68). When Henry sends Becket back to England from France, he declares: Becket, The sea is running as smooth as a hound for you; I'm sending you back with a pliant wind A l l in your favour (69). This statement proves i ronic : soon after, Henry intuit ively hears "the ice creaking on the r iver . . . the horses on the frozen roads" (73) which presage the news of Becket's murder. The sea imagery is associated on the one hand with the journey metaphors, and on the other with images of water in many forms. Roger's conception occurred on a night when "the rain came down...Like a high sea slapping over a cockle boat" ( 2 ? ) , but rain is ominous rather than benevolent when the day of Henry's Lear-like division of the kingdom "emerged after a night of bucketing rain" (55) . At Le Mans, when the f ire turns against Henry, he renounces God: no such hands As yours wi l l have my soul. I ' l l burn i t Away like the c i ty , I ' l l hurt you In the centre of your love, as you do me. Your eyes can sting l ike mine, and weep With the same helpless water. There's nothing left for either of us to save.— We move out, Marshal (87). His tears are not those of repentance, but of anger and remorse: a mixture of Promethean defiance and tragic recognition. Characteristically, Henry calls for another move, but when the horses are ready, he "cannot ride" (89). Images of riding form another progressive pattern. Henry is f i r s t pictured in Marshal's report to Eleanor as riding in triumph through the city with Becket, who came to Henry " f i r s t on a limping mule" ( 7 1 ) , and Eleanor, recall ing her f i r s t meeting with Henry, says: I'm not at a l l certain he didn't ride in Through the doorway on a horse ( 1 5 ) . Marshal, recounting the early movement of events, declares, "There was the morning f u l l of l i f e , l ike an unbroken colt ; but the moment the King, with a good w i l l and strong knees, got astride i t , God only knows what whistle i t was answering; but i t made history, whatever that i s " (25). Becket, when leaving his t r i a l "can hardly get away or control his horse" ( 5 1 ) , which echoes Marshal's earl ier comment. The attempt to ride away from the doomed city of Le Mans becomes a metaphor for Henry's inabi l i ty to escape the consuming fire of his own purpose and the pressure of events. "This r ide , " he declares, " w i l l find/The weak seams in a l l of them, men and horses" (88) , and his own inabi l i ty even to mount his horse indicates the disintegration of his own ride of l i f e . Appropriately, Henry's attempts to establish the law are phrased in building images: he aims "to give England/An incorruptible scaffolding of law" (23), and later declares he wi l l give the people "the city of the law/Even i f jjie has^ j to make i t by fearful means" (62), a threat which reaches ironic fulfillment at Le Mans. It can be seen from the examples selected that both the images used and the language in which they are expressed are direct and force-f u l . The rhythms of the verse are almost colloquial , but at points of high emotion or when the occasion demands a r i tua l i s t i c incantation, Fry's blank verse achieves a noble eloquence. Becket's affirmation of anti-Sartrean existentialism is an example: What a man knows he has by experience, But what a man is precedes experience. His experience merely reveals him, or destroys him; Either drives him to his own negation, Or persuades him to his affirmation, as he chooses (4o). Prose is ut i l ized in the Shakespearian manner mainly for the speech of "low" characters, but also where Fry intuit ively feels that the action demands it—as in the addresses by Marshal to the audience, where natural prose sets him apart as their l ink with the action,^ and in the f inal scene where the departure from the controlled ^ This is similar to E l io t ' s strategy in Murder in the Cathedral, where, after the murder, colloquial , modern prose is used by the Knights to address—and involve—the audience. rhythms of verse is a correlative for the disintegration of Henry's l i f e and work. Commenting on Henry's appointment of Becket to Canterbury, Marshal recalls the hope of s tabi l i ty , prosperity and unity at that time, but "the whole significance of unity was not debated, nor what fires can forge a diverse multitude into one mind" (25). Fry's plays, and Curtmantle in particular, constantly explore these questions, and he finds the significance in the diversity which encompasses him in l i f e . In the Preface he declares, "pattern and balance are pervading facts of the universe" ( v i i - v i i i ) , and this perceived unity is an expression of the inner mystery which contains the significance—or meaning—of creation. Ritual can "give shape to the mystery revealed/Yet as a mystery" (33): art and drama have a similar role, and in Curtmantle, because Fry succeeds in sub-ordinating time, place and specific issues to the tragic pattern and to the timeless quest for identity, law, order, truth and meaning, and because the elements of language, action and character are so integrally structured, he succeeds in eloquently expressing his own sense of this mystery through the medium of his form. Chapter Eleven Conclusion As suggested in Chapter Six (p. 1 3 7 ) , part of Fry's success in the decade following the 1939-45 war can be attributed to his cap-turing of a popular mood—much as John Osborne was to do in 1956 with Look Back in Anger. Fry's war-weary audience sought a fresh, optimistic vision of l i f e , and grasped at the reassuring assertions of his plays. Fry did not deal directly with the post-war situa-tion and mode of feeling unt i l 1970 in A Yard of Sun. I have not dealt with this play in f u l l because i t appeared when this dissertation was almost complete, and, more important'^.. . because an analysis of i t would add l i t t l e of significance to my exegesis of Fry's methods.* The play, originally called "Heat of the Day," is sub-titled A Summer Comedy, and completes the quartet of plays in which a season establishes the dominant mood. In form i t is again Romantic Comedy, and the content again subsumes spir i tual patterns within a secular plot. The source is an eighteenth-century Italian short story about a father who is settl ing his three sons in l i f e (the three "feet" of a "yard" of sons). Its background is the Palio contest in Siena in which competitors representing ten of the c i ty ' s wards race bareback around the piazza to climax a day of general fes t iv i ty . Although the action takes place specif ical ly in July 19^6, the renewal of l i f e that both the fest ival and the play celebrate is timeless. The setting *For f u l l e r explanation see note on page 231a. o is the "yard" of the Palazzo del Traguardo (which Fry informs us means "goal"), and the play opens on the morning after a severe storm—"a sly dig said with love" to T.S. Eliotju ' Wasteland Europe is recovering from the storm of war, and the conflicts s p i l l over into peace because of the differing allegiances and experiences of the characters. As well as renewal and resurrec-tion, the play is concerned with themes of gui l t , the quest for goals and the search for identity. The language and patterns of action, particularly the rebirth of the prisoner-of-war Cesare Scapare and the return of the prodigal son Edmondo, incorporate Christian myths into the secular action. The language, l ike the form, goes back to the style of the middle plays, and although not as exuberant as that in The Lady's Not for Burning, i t possesses much of the same v i t a l i t y , which is appropriate to the main theme. The v i t a l i t y and fullness of l i f e that the play affirms culminates in the excitement of the horse-race, which becomes a life-symbol, but Fry gives a typically ironic twist to the result in which the local ward wins with a riderless horse, and the rider Luigi , the ex-fascist-son, is applauded as champion. The play ends in a manner very similar to Lady with Roberto, the doctor-son, reluctantly but inevitably destined to marry Grazia, and the rest returning to their normal business. Yard also echoes the earl ier comedies in several of i t s characters: Roberto is obviously related to those disil lusioned romantic soldiers Thomas and Tegeus; Ana-Clara, j -] Fry, in conversation, June 1969-Edmondo1s wife, is a resurrected Perpetua with the life-force dynamic of Dynamene, Jennet and Rosmarin; Luigi and Edmondo bear a strong resemblance to Humphrey and Nicholas Devize; and the innocent Grazia combines the qualities of Alizon and Gelda, while her mother Giosetta is a mature Doto. There is one new character, Scapare's son Al f io , the jockey, whose energy is symbolized by his motor-scooter. He represents the new generation bursting on the scene. The play is l ight , warm and entertaining, but i t dis-appoints because i t is a reversion in form and style after the new direction of A Sleep of Prisoners and Curtmantle. In Fry's retrospective view of the post-war scene, he identi-fies in the desires of his characters those very yearnings that made his earlier plays popular. Because the quarter-century since the end of the war has been one of growing disillusionment, Fry's plays now appear to be somewhat euphoristic in their assertions, and in terms of real i ty (in the sense of truth to a situation), they appear a r t i f i c i a l in comparison with the representations of l i f e and society in the social or philosophical playwrights of the era—Osborne, Mi l ler , Beckett, Pinter, and others. It is not surprising, therefore, that Yard received a negative reception because current c r i t i c a l opinion condemns Fry's plays for their 2 superf icial i ty, unwarranted optimism and lack of social relevance. What Fry did achieve, and what may well prove the source of revival 2 The scathing review of A Yard of Sun, TLS (Aug. 21, 1970), 918, accuses Fry of "vague Christian benevolence," "Christmas tree vers i f icat ion," and failure to face issues squarely. for his plays, is the expression of qualities that Beckerman finds lacking in contemporary (1970) drama: a resolution of "the familiar with the unfamiliar," which includes "the marvellous, the wondrous, the unusual and exotic." This surge towards "something wondrous," to use Beckerman's phrase, constitutes the driving force behind Fry's plays, and informs his whole comic and religious outlook. Even in Sleep, The Dark is Light Enough and Curtmantle, which a l l possess a dark tone indicating that Fry participated in the shift of attitudes of his times, the sense of the marvellous is only subdued, not lost . Fry's mode of perception, which embraces comic v i t a l i t y , a sense of wonder and an optimistic faith, expresses something inherent in human nature, and when the cycle of attitudes has passed through the phase of disillusionment his plays should again enjoy sympathetic performances and responsive audiences— and, perhaps, kinder c r i t i c s . In the course of my discussions I have tried to show that, although the playj are products of a specific era, they are not limited by their period. Fry deliberately avoids contemporary settings and, without turning to "period" drama, prefers settings distanced by historical time, or as in Venus Observed quite independ-ent of i t . He makes his plays a-historic so that he can concen-trate on universal human concerns: love, death, faith, freedom, and individual fulfilment. Asked why he chose to express himself through the form of poetic drama rather than through that of poetry 3 Bernard Beckerman, The Dynamics of Drama (New York, 1970), p. 142. alone, Fry replied that he did so because his prime concern was with human relationships: "I don't think a person exists," he declared, "except in his relationships to other people." By i t s very nature, drama is the form best suited to such a concern. Fry does not stop at a concern with human relationships, but extends the temporal human experience by placing i t within the context of an eternal, divine order. As discussed in Chapter One (pp. 8-11) and in subsequent chapters, one means of achieving this dimension is through the strategy of the sacramental aesthetic whereby successive events are related to one another and to the eternal. The patterns of religious myth and the resonance of the poetry reinforce this aspect. The drama that results from the inter-action of the two planes, the temporal and the eternal, possesses both an immediate appeal and an inner resonance—characteristics that mark the greatest drama. However, the accusations of super-f i c i a l i t y cannot be entirely set aside: there is something missing even in the best of Fry's plays that make them f a l l short of great-ness . This dissertation has focused on the analysis of thematic structure and has not been concerned with an evaluation of the plays as dramatic performances because this would have over-extended the scope and prevented concentration on the topic. Thematic analysis is an important step in understanding the total structure, and while i t tends to stress verbal communication i t is inseparable k Fry, in conversation, June 1969. from consideration of such dramatic aspects as plot, character, confl ict , setting, and movement, because thematic statements are made in a variety of ways. Therefore, before concluding, i t is not inappropriate to extend the thematic examination briefly and offer a broad evaluation of the plays. As suggested in the previous paragraph, there are certain deficiencies that lessen the dramatic impact. Perhaps the most important of these is suggested by Thomas when he cries to Margaret: "Be disturbed/Be disturbed, Madam" (Lady, p. 13). She is not, and nor are we. In the comedies, despite thunderclouds on the horizon and ironic reminders that l i f e has i t s dark side, we are not disturbed or touched deeply. Even in the plays that verge on the tragic, such as The Firstborn and Thor, with Angels, we are not deeply disturbed because ev i l i s presented in terms of misguided action rather than as a malignant growth or condition of existence, and despite the pattern of sacri-fice i t s correction appears to be a relatively simple matter. The ironic mode into which most of Fry's plays f a l l invites a fa ta l i s t ic acceptance of l i f e as i t i s , with a l l i ts paradoxes and contra-dictions, rather than any noble defiance or shudder of comprehension. In his essay "Comedy" Fry claims that he is ever conscious of the tragic alternative, but only in Curtmantle does he come close to communicating a true sense of tragedy. The inabi l i ty to disturb and the lack of a tragic sense lead to a weakness in the conflicts of his plays, both within and between characters. Therefore, despite his concern with human relationships and his suggestions of the wider context of human action, most of his characters lack that dimension of inner l i f e that marks the creations of a master dramatist. Of the nine plays discussed, A Phoenix Too Frequent and Lady are undoubtedly the best in this respect: the characters are v i t a l and memorable, and their action appears "s ignif icant . " Though Fry's most fully developed characters—Dynamene, Thomas, Jennet, The Duke, and Rosmarin--appear in his Romantic Comedies, the form is essentially lightweight; when he turns to something more substantial, as in Sleep and Curtmantle, and demonstrates a flexible imagination, he creates a theatre in which the audience can undergo a deep emotional experience. This would suggest that his choice of Romantic Comedy was sel f- l imit ing, and i t is to be regretted that he did not extend the experiments of Sleep and Curtmantle. Fry occupies a unique position in the drama of his time because he is the only verse dramatist in English who has attracted a wide audience without resorting to the spectacular or diluting his poetry to the point of neutralization. Cri t ics l ike Charles Williams, Denis Donoghue and David Pryce-Jones may fulminate against Fry's poetry as mere "embellishment" of drawing-room comedy, but as I have tried to show, the language is both part of the entertain-ment offered by the plays and an essential aspect of the total dramatic structure. In the early and middle plays f ry ' s exuberant language expresses the inner dynamic of a vision that perceives the universe as "fantastic to the point of nightmare," and even when his exuberant mount is reined after Venus, the sense of v i t a l i ty persists. Fry believes that poetry in the theatre can help to provide a "lightning spasm of discovery," and his own success in achieving this is implicit in the crit icism of those who dismiss him as a "phrasemaker," for i t is the pointed phrase or image that encapsulates such discoveries. The implication, or direct argument, of such cr i t i c s is that Fry's language is neither metaphorically developed during his plays nor fully integrated with their action. In my analyses I have endeavoured to show in detail the development and integration of language within the context of each play. The patterns of imagery consistently reinforce the patterns of action and add a dimension that reaches out towards the mystery that enfolds existence. Because the plays are successful in making us vividly aware of this mystery, Fry f u l f i l l s one of his own cr i ter ia for poetry in the theatre—that i t should give us a new perspective and "help us to see ourselves and the world freshly." The key concept in Fry's perspective is that of inter-relationship. It i s developed in three aspects: between men, between man and nature, and between man, nature and God. The relationship between men, whether in the form of eros as in Phoenix or agape as in Dark, is continually expressed in terms of "exchange" whereby we must be more than inter-dependent in a merely functional manner as a condition of society, and must sacrifice something of ourselves in recognition of our responsibility for others. The principle is evident in Moses' readiness to sacrifice his personal success for the Hebrews, in the exchange of strengths between Dynamene and Tegeus and between Thomas and Jennet, in the sacrifice of Hoel, in the grace of Countess Rosmarin, and even in the dedica-tion of Henry to his concept of justice for his people. The relationship between-;man and nature, in the sense of his total physical environment, i s a model for his relationship with the divine in a "root and sky" interaction, and nature functions as an ever present reminder of the astonishing mystery of creation of which man i s a part. From the complexity of "Generations of roses in [a] wrinkled berry" (Lady, 56), to the cosmic display of the sun "annulled and renewed" (Venus, 13), nature i s seen in terms that both parallel man's l i f e and assert his involvement in the larger process. This process extends to God. Through the "sacramental aesthetic" a l l things in time transcend time, as the action in Sleep for example, and thereby become, in Spanos' words, "perpetually relevant symbolic actions." The patterns of action, specifically in the religious plays and by analogy in the secular, partake of the sacramental, and, when combined with Fry's resonant language, become an eloquent expression of the "co-inherence" of man, nature and the divine. Parallels between man and nature and analogies that relate man's l i f e to a divine pattern are two methods by which Fry expresses his sense of the unity of creation. Other characteris-tic s of his plays that reinforce this concept of unity are antithe-sis , paradox and repetition. Antithesis i s a basis of conflict and inevitably the action of drama is based on i t . What characterizes Fry's use of antithesis is the tension that pervades a l l his plays between a surging l i fe-force, the comic assertion of v i t a l i t y , and the forces of repression that would oppose i t . This is particu-lar ly evident in Lady where the conflict is dramatized through the grouping of characters into "insiders" and "outsiders," and in Phoenix where the comic life-force asserts i t s e l f against both repression and death. As suggested above, the resolution of Fry's plays in a somewhat negative acceptance of ev i l and paradox does lack dramatic force. An alternative view is that even when verging on the tragic, as in Firstborn, Thor, Dark, and Curtmantle, his resolutions positively affirm a condition of unity because the representatives of e v i l , being only misguided, can be corrected. The comic-ironic nature of his conclusions, by suggesting that mankind can learn to l ive with i t s differences, also affirms unity, and as Kobert Sharpe suggests, "a high irony of compassion" results from this type of synthesizing of l i f e ' s discords because such 5 resolutions tend to be consolatory. Paradoxes, particularly those concerning death and rebirth, inform the action of a l l the plays, and an attitude similar to that towards antithesis is established which maintains that we can only understand paradox by accepting i t as a unifying rather than divisive aspect of existence. Repetitions, whether of action or relationship, affirm the cycl ica l nature of l i f e and posit a unity between sequential and coextensive Sharpe, pp. x i , x i i and 77-80. action or experience. As part of the rhetoric of the plays, antithesis, paradox and repetition function to provide a great deal of the wit, to forward the movement of words-in-action, and to complement the structure. The frequency with which they occur in the language of the plays suggests that existence is compounded of tensions between polarities—light and dark, heat and cold, l i f e and death—and of enigmas. Fry's action and language combine to assert that antithesis and paradox are inevitable conditions of l i f e and that rather than reject them as meaningless or be baffled by them, we should grasp them as keys to apprehending the meaning of existence. Fry's plays, which so often take the shape of quests, together constitute an exploration of meaning that in i t s e l f is a quest for God. The Boy with a Cart presents a simple, orthodox faith, in a simple manner, but Firstborn confronts the perplexities of an ambiguous God of Wrath and f inal ly indicates a rejection of ortho-doxy in favour of a movement towards a concept of divinity as a potential of the individual . Thor, Phoenix, Lady, and Venus explore the New Testament concepts of love, sacrifice and redemp-tion, and by i l lus tra t ing the degree to which a l l individuals and relationships partake of the divine pattern of Christ, confirm the direction of Firstborn. Sleep reaffirms the resurrection in i t s recapitulation of the patterns of the earlier plays. It raises existential questions concerning man's meaning and purpose, and suggests answers in terms that go beyond existential fulfillment of the individual towards a vision of harmony between man, nature and the divine. This harmony is predicated on a harmony of relationship between men that arises out of their interdependence. In Dark the fulfillment of the individual is seen as a step towards a sacramental relationship with others, and the tragedy of Curt-mantle l ie s in Henry's inabi l i ty to achieve such a relationship. For the ar t i s t , concepts of harmony, pattern and unity are expressed through his form. In my analyses I have endeavoured to show how successful Fry is in expressing 'his meaning through a highly integrated total structure or form. Meaning becomes more than "theme" because i t incorporates the intuitive vision of the a r t i s t . Theme is what the play is about; structure is how the separate parts are assembled and related; meaning is the result of the fusion of theme and structure in an expressive form. My analyses have tr ied to show how each play makes i t s own statement: Boy expresses a simple faith in a simple form; Firstborn, with i t s structure of osci l lat ion and antithesis, expresses a tension between the tragic and comic, as does Thor in i ts concern with the paradox of sacri f ice; the "concertina" movement of Phoenix and focus on death, resurrection and redemption, pulsate with the comic rhythm; a "climate" of comedy is also created in Lady and Venus which assert the same celebration of l i f e ; the form of Sleep is comic in i t s affirmative vision of release from the imprisoning forces of time and flesh; Dark asserts that the individual obtains self-fulfilment and approaches his divine potential through sacramental relationships with others; and in Curtmantle the form d i s t i l s significance from history to discover a meaning that combines a sense of mystery with a perception of unity. Repeatedly, the form of Fry's plays takej the shape of quests in search of meaning and although they reveal that he is disturbed by paradoxes, enigmas and existential doubts, their f inal assertion remains one of affirmation in which humanity is seen to "trace the outline of the mystery" of creation and thereby to explore the course of i ts own redemption. A close examination of Fry's plays leads to the discovery of a fine craftsman at work, and to an encounter with an author possessing integrity, humour, compassion, and humanistic fa i th. Despite Fry's relatively small output, much of it—particularly Phoenix, Lady, Sleep, and Curtmantle—seems assured of a lasting place in the annals of the theatre because i t achieves the prime aim of a dramatist, which is to entertain. At the same time, the plays communicate a vivid perception of a dynamic, harmonious universe: no mean feat in an age characterized by nihilism and despair. Note Except for minor r e v i s i o n s , the manuscript of t h i s d i s s e r t a t i o n was complete i n June, 1970: formal completion was delayed by external f a c t o r s . Yard was f i r s t performed i n July, 1970, and published subsequently. As ind icated (p. 219), the play does not represent any development i n technique, thematic statement or v i s i o n , and although i t completes the quartet i t does not appear to do more than r e a f f i r m the celebration of the v i t a l i t y of l i f e that characterizes Fry's comedies and i s p a r t i c u l a r l y appropriate to the "climate" of summer. An extensive examination of Yard would have delayed completion further as i t would have required an a d d i t i o n a l chapter, i n t e r p o l a t i o n s and cross-references. Since this examination would not have added any depth to the study of Fry's thematic structure, i t was agreed that under the circumstances, a b r i e f treatment would s u f f i c e . SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY PRIMARY (a) Fry, Christopher—Plays The Boy with a Cart. Cuthman. Saint of Sussex. 2nd ed. London: Frederick Muller, 194-5. Curtmantle. A Play. 2nd ed. London: Oxford U.P., 1965. The Dark Is Light Enough. A Winter Comedy. London: Oxford U.P., 1954. The Fir s t b o r n . A Play i n Three Acts. 3rd ed. London: Oxford U.P., 1958. The Lady's Not for Burning. A Comedy. London: Oxford U.P., 1950. Ht Phoenix Too Frequent. A Comedy. London: Oxford U.P., 1949. A Sleep of Prisoners. A Play. London: Oxford U.P., 1951. Thor, with Angels. A Play. London: Oxford U.P., 1948. Venus Observed. A Comedy. London: Oxford U.P., 1 9 5 0 . A Yard of Sun. A Summer Comedy. London: Oxford U.P., 1970. (b) Fry, Christopher—Miscellaneous An Experience of C r i t i c s . New York: Oxford U.P., 1953. "The A r t i s t Views the C r i t i c s " (Introduction to An Experience of C r i t i c s ) . A t l a n t i c , CXCI (March, 1943), 52-55. "The Author Explains." World Review, IV (June, 19V9), 18-21. [On LadyTj "Author's Struggle." New York Times, Feb. 6, 1955, Sec. 2, p. 3. The Boat That Mooed, (children's BookTl London: MacMillan, 1965. L "Cock in a Shower. 11 [Poem. London Mercury, 38 (Aug. 1938) , "Comedy." Tulane Drama Review, IV, i i i ( i 9 6 0 ) , 7 7 - 7 9 . Originally in Adelphi, XXVII (Nov., 1950) , 2 7 - 2 9 , and rpt. in Comedy..., ed. Corrigan (see below), pp. 1 5 - 1 7 . "Communication." Unpublished address to Conference of Deans and Provosts of England, Chichester, 1968. "The Contemporary Theatre," Listener, 42, 1949, p. 3 1 . [Rpt. of Programme Notes for SleepT) "Drama in a House of Worship." New York Times, Oct. 14, 1951, Sec. 2, p. 2. "Enjoying the Accidental." Vogue, CXXX (Oct. 15, 1957) , 92. "Foreword," Three Plays [The Firstborn, Thor, with Angels, A Sleep of Prisoners^. New York: Oxford U.P. , 1965. "Foreword," The Bad Tempered Man or Misanthrope. Menander, t r . P h i l l i p Vellacott. London: Oxford U.P. , i 9 6 0 , pp. v - v i i . "How Lost, How Amazed, How Miraculous We Are." Theatre Arts, XXXVI (Aug., 1952) , 2 7 . "Letters to an Actor Playing Hamlet." Shakespeare Survey, v ( 1 9 5 2 ) , 5 8 - 6 1 . "On Keeping the Sense of Wonder." Vogue, CXXVII (Jan., 1956) , 158. "The Play of Ideas." New Statesman and Nation, XXXIX (April 22, 1950) , 458 . "The Plays of John Whiting." Essays by Divers Hands; Being  the Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature of  the United Kingdom, XXXIV. London: Oxford U.P. , 1966, pp. 3 6 - 5 4 . "A Playwright Speaks." The Listener, 4 3 , Feb. 2 3 , 1950, pp. 3 3 1 - 3 3 2 . Also published as "Poetry in the Theatre." Saturday Review. XXXVI, March 2 1 , 1953, pp. 1 8 - 1 9 . "Poetry and the Theatre." Adam International Review, XIX, 214-215 ( 1 9 5 1 ) , 2 - 1 0 . 3 0 7 . Programme Notes for E l io t ' s The Cocktail Party. Chichester, 1968. "Talking of Henry." Twentieth Century, CLXIX (Feb., 1961), 185-190. "Why Verse?" Playwrights on Playwriting, ed. T. Cole. New York: H i l l and Wang, 1961. F irs t published in Vogue, CXVIII (M a r . , 1955), 136-137. (c) Fry, Christopher—Translations Anouilh, Jean. The Lark. London: Oxford U.P. , 1956. . Ring Round the Moon. London: Oxford U.P. , 1950. Giraudoux, Jean. Plays Vol. I. " Judith." "Tiger at the  Gates." "Duel of Angels." Intro. Harold Clurman. London: Methuen, 1963. REFERENCE Adelman, Irving, and Rita Dworkin. Modern Drama--A Checklist  of C r i t i c a l Literature on Twentieth Century Plays. Metuchen, New York: Scarecrow Press, 1967* Shear, Bernice L . , and Eugene G. Prater. "A Bibliography on Christopher Fry . " Tulane Drama Review, IV, i i i (i960), 88-98. SECONDARY (a) Books Anderson, Maxwell. "Poetry in the Theatre" jj939]« American  Playwrights on the Drama, ed. Horst Frenz. New York: H i l l and Wang, 1965. Anouilh, Jean. Becket; Or the Honour of God, t r . Lucien H i l l . New York: Coward-McCann, i960. Archer, William. The Old Drama and the New. Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1923. Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis. The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, t r . Willard R. Trask. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton U.P. , 1953* Beaumont, C y r i l W. The History of Harlequin. 1926; rpt. New York: B. Blom, 1971. Beckerman, Bernard. Dynamics of Drama: Theory and Methods ° I Analysis. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Breisach, Ernst. Introduction to Modern Existentialism. New York: Grove Press, 1962. Cornford, Francis MacDonald. The Origin of Att ic Comedy, ed. Theodor H. Gaster. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1968. [First published in 193 7^] Corrigan, Robert W., ed. Comedy: Meaning and Form. San Francisco: Chandler Pub. Co., T965. Donoghue, Denis. The Third Voice. Modern Bri t i sh and American  Verse Drama. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton U.P. , 1959. El io t , T. S. Complete Poems and Plays. London: Faber, 1969. . On Poetry and Poets. London: Faber, 1957. . The Sacred Wood. London: Methuen, i960. . Selected Essays. London: Faber, 1951-Ellis-Fermor, Una. The Frontiers of Drama. London: Methuen, 19^ 5. Enck, John J . et a l . eds. The Comic in Theory and Practice. New York: Appleton, i960. Eversole, Finley, ed. Christian Faith and the Contemporary Arts. Nashville: Abingdon Press. 1962. Feibleman, James Kern. In Praise of Comedy. A Study in Its  Theory and Practice. 1939; London: Russell, 1962. Fergusson, Francis. The Human Image in Dramatic Literature. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1957. Frye, Northrop. "The Argument of Comedy," English Institute  Essays, 19^ 8, ed. D. A. Robertson Jnr. New York: A.M.S. Press Inc., 1965. . Anatomy of Crit icism. Four Essays. New York: Athaneum, 1967. Granville-Barker, Harley. On Dramatic Method. New York: H i l l and Wang, 1956. Guthke, Karl S. Modern Tragicomedy. An Investigation into  the Nature of the Genre• New York: Random, 1966. Hatlen, Theodore W. Orientation to the Theater. New York: Appleton, 1962. Heath-Stubbs, John. Charles Williams. Writers and Their Work: No. 63. London: Longman, Green and Co., 1955. Highet, G. People, Places and Books. New York: Oxford u . p . , 1953. Jones, David E. The Plays of T. S. E l i o t . London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, i960. Kerr, W. Pieces at Eight. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957. . Tragedy and Comedy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968. Langer, Susanne K. Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1953* Lauter, Paul, ed. Theories of Comedy. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1964. Lynch, William F. Christ and Apollo. The Dimensions of the  Literary Imagination. New York: Sheed and Ward, i960. MacLeish, Archibald. "The Poet as Playwright" (1955). American Playwrights on the Drama, ed. Horst Frenz. New York: H i l l and Wang, 1965. Merchant, William Moelwyn. Creed and Drama. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966. Mizener, Arthur. "Poetic Drama and the Well Made Play." English Institute Essays 19^ 9, ed. Alan S. Downer. New York: Columbia U.P . , 1950, pp. 33-54. Nadakumar, Prema. The Glory and the Good. Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1965-Nico l l , Allardyce. A History of English Drama 1660-1900. 5 vols. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P. , 1955-Olson, Elder. Theory of Comedy. Bloomington: U. of Indiana Press, 1968. Peacock, Ronald. The Poet in the Theatre. New York: Harcourt Brace, 19^ 6. Prior, Moody E. "Poetic Drama: An Analysis and a Suggestion." English Institute Essays 19^ 9, ed. Alan S. Downer. New York: Columbia U.P. , 1 9 5 0 , pp. 3-32. Riehl, von, W. Heinrich. "Wooing the Gallows." The Master-piece Library of Short Stories, ed. Sir J . A. Hamerton. London: Educational Book Co. L td . , n.d. XVII, 299-307. [Source for Ladyj Roy, Emil. Christopher Fry. Carbondale, I l l i n o i s : Southern I l l ino i s U.P . , 1968. Scott, Nathan A. Jnr. Negative Capability. Studies in the New Literature and the Religious Situation. New Haven: Yale U.P. , 1969. . The Broken Centre. Studies in the Theological Horizon of Modern Literature. New Haven: Yale U.P. , 1966. Scott-James, Rolfe Arnold. "Modern Poets." Fi f ty Years of  English Literature 1900-1950. London: Longmans Green, 1957, PP. 210-239. Sharpe, Robert Boies. Irony in the Drama. An Essay on  Impersonation, Shock, and Catharsis. Chapel H i l l : U. of North Carolina Press, 1959. Spanos, William V. The Christian Tradition in Modern Bri t i sh  Verse Drama: The Poetics of Sacramental Time.._ New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers U.P. , 1967. [Contains an excellent bibliography^ Stanford, Derek. Christopher Fry• Writers and Their Work No. 54. London: Longmans Green, 195^ . . Christopher Fry. An Appreciation. London: Peter Nevi l l L t d . , 1951• Strindberg, August. Six Plays of Strindberg. Tr. Elizabeth Sprigge. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1965. Styan, J . L. Dark Comedy. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P. , 1962. . The Elements of Drama. Cambridge: Cambridge U.P. , 1963. Taylor, Jeremy. The Whole Works, ed. Rev. Reginald Heber, rev. Chas. P. Eden. 10 vols. London: 1862, VIII, 447-449. Tennyson, Alfred Lord. Becket in The Works of Alfred Lord  Tennyson. New York: MacMillan, 1898, pp. 676-729. Vos, Nelvin. The Drama of Comedy: Victim and Victor. Richmond, Va . : John Knox Press, 1966. Watts, Alan W. Myth and Ritual in Christianity. London: Thames and Hudson, 1954. Weales, Gerald. Religion in Modern English Drama• Phila-delphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1961. Weston, Jesse L. The Quest of the Holy Gra i l . 1913; rpt. New York: Haskell House, 1965. Wiersma, Stanley. Christopher Fry. A C r i t i c a l Essay. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1970. Williams, Charles. Collected Plays. London: Oxford U.P. , 1963. . The Image of the City and Other Essays, ed. Anne Ridler. London: Oxford U.P. , 1958. . Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933* . Selected Writings, chosen by Anne Ridler. London: Oxford U.P. , 1961. Williams Raymond. Drama from Ibsen to E l i o t . Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964. . Modern Tragedy. London: Chatto and Windus, 1966. Yeats, William Butler. Collected Plays. 2nd ed. London: MacMillan, 1952. . The Cutting of an Agate. New York: MacMillan, 1912. Essays and Introductions. London: MacMillan, 1961. Explorations, selected by Mrs. W. B. Yeats. London: MacMillan, 1962. A r t i c l e s , Miscellaneous Adler, Jacob H. "Shakespeare and Christopher Fry." Educational Theatre Journal, XI (May, 1959), 85-98. Alexander, John. "Christopher Fry and Religious Comedy." Mean,jin, XV (1956), 77-81. Anon. "Enter Poet, Laughing." Time, LVI Nov. 20, 1950, pp. 58-64. _. "The Lady's Not for Burning." Time, LVI, Nov. 20, 1950, pp. 46-54. " . "Sunset i n Siena." Review of A Yard of Sun. TLS, Aug. 21, 1970, p. 918. Arrowsmith, William. "Notes on English Verse Drama: Christopher Fry." Hudson Review, V, i i i (1950), 203-216. Becker, William. "Reflections on Three New Plays." Hudson  Review, VIII, i i (1955), 258-263. Bewley, Marius. "The Verse of Christopher Fry." Scrutiny, XVIII, i (1951), 78-84. Brown, J. M. "Seeing Things: Yes and No." Saturday Review of L iterature, XXXV, Mar. 1, 1952, pp. 20-22. Browne, E. Martin. "Henry II as Hero: Christopher Fry's New Play, Curtmantle." Drama Survey, II (1962), 63-71. Carnell, Corbin S. "Creation's Lonely Flesh: T. S. E l i o t and Christopher Fry on the L i f e of the Senses." -.Modern Drama, VI, i i (1961), 141-153-Dierickx, J . "King and Archbishop: Henry II and Becket from Tennyson to Fry." Revue des Langues Vivants, XXVIII (1961-2), 424-435. Dobree, Bonamy. "Some London Plays." Sewanee Review, LXIII, i i (1955), 270-280. Donoghue, Denis. "Christopher Fry's Theatre of Words." Essays in Criticism, IX (Jan., 1959), 37-49. Ferguson, John. "The Boy with a Cart." Modern Drama, VIII, i i i (1965), 284-292. . "Christopher Fry's A Sleep of Prisoners." English, X (Summer, 1954), 42-47. Gerstenberger, Donna. "Perspectives of Modern Verse Drama." Modern Drama, III, i (i960), 24-29. Greene, Anne. "Fry's Cosmic Vis ion . " Modern Drama, IV, iv (1962), 355-364. . "Priestley, Bridie and Fry: The Mystery of Existence in Their Dramatic Work." Diss . , U. of Wisconsin, 1957. Hamilton, Iain. "Poetry and Poet ical i ty . " Twentieth Century, (June, 1952), 533-537. Lecky, Eleazar. "Mystery in the Plays of Christopher Fry . " Tulane Drama Review, IV, i i i (196O), 8O-87. Lutyens, David B. "Dilemma of the Christian Dramatist." Tulane Drama Review, VI, iv (1962), 118-124. MacNeice, Louis. "The Cr i t i c Replies." [Answer to Fry's "The Author Explains"H World Review, NS., IV (June, 1949), 21-22. Mandel, 0. "Theme in the Drama of Christopher Fry . " Etudes  Anglaises, X '(1957)335-349. Morgenstern, Charles. "Fantastical Banquet." Theatre Arts, XXXV (Jan., 1951), 26-30. Palette, Drew B. "E l io t , Fry and Broadway." Arizona  Quarterly, XI (1955), 352-357-Parker, Gerald. "Curtmantle." Dalhousie Review, XLIII (Sept., 1963), 200-211. Prater, Eugene G. "Christopher Fry: Reconsidered." Ball  State University Forum, VI, i i i (1965), 69-79. Pryce-Jones, David. "Christopher Fry and Verse Drama." London Magazine, V n.s . , v i i i (1965), 57-63. Redman, Ben Ray. "Christopher Fry: Poet-Dramatist." College English, XIV, iv ( 1 9 5 3 ) , 191-197 . Roy, Emil. "The Becket Plays." Modern Drama, VIII, i i i ( 1 9 6 5 ) , 2 6 8 - 2 7 6 . . "Imagery in the Comedies of Christopher Fry . " Modern Drama, VII, i ( 1 9 6 4 ) , 7 9 - 8 8 . . "Structure, Characterization and Language in the Drama of Christopher Fry . " Diss. U. of Southern California, 1961 . . "Christopher Fry as Tragicomedian." Modern Drama, XI, i ( 1 9 6 8 ) , 40-47. Sherry, Ruth G. V. "A Certain Apparent Irrelevance. Genre, Theme and Technique in the Drama of Christopher Fry . " Diss. Brown U . , 1 9 6 8 . Sochatoff, A. Fred. "Four Variations on the Becket Theme in Modern Drama." Modern Drama. XII, i ( 1 9 6 9 ) , 8 3 - 9 1 . Spanos, William V. "A Sleep of Prisoners: the Choreography of Comedy." Modern Drama, VIII, i ( 1 9 6 5 ) , 5 8 - 7 2 . Spears, Monroe K. "Christopher Fry and the Redemption of Joy." Poetry, LXXVIII (Apr., 1 9 5 1 ) , 2 8 - 4 3 . Stamm, Rudolph. "Christopher Fry and the Revolt against Realism in Modern Drama." Anglia, LXXII ( 1 9 5 4 ) , 78-109. Stanford, Derek. "Christopher Fry . " Contemporary Review, CLXXXVIII (Sept., 1 9 5 5 ) , 174-177 . . "Comedy and Tragedy in Christopher Fry . " Modern Drama, II, i ( 1 9 5 9 ) , 3 - 7 -Wiersma, Stanley M. "A Phoenix Too Frequent: A Study in Source and Symbol." Modern Drama, VIII, i i i ( 1 9 6 5 ) , 2 9 3 - 3 0 2 . . "Spring and Apocalypse, Law and Prophets: a Reading of Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not for Burning." Modern Drama, XIII, i v T l 9 7 1 ) , 4 3 2 - 4 4 7 . Woodbury, John. "The Witch and the Nun: A Study of The Lady's  Not for Burning." Manitoba Arts Review, X, i i i ( 1 9 5 6 ) , 41-54. 


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