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The lady's not for burning : a comedy…

The lady's not for burning : a comedy (original 1948; edition 1949)

by Christopher Fry

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445753,896 (4.45)23
Jane Austen's Emma: beautiful, rich and infuriating emma woodhouse meddles in other's romantic lives with unexpected results.Charlotte Bronte's jane eyre: a prim and principled governess falls in love with her brooding, mysterious employer.The lady's not for burning: a beautiful woman accused of witchcraft and a world weary drifter are thrown together before their executions.The death of the heart: in 1930's London, an awkward 16-year old struggles to find herself through a disastrous love.… (more)
Title:The lady's not for burning : a comedy
Authors:Christopher Fry
Info:London : Oxford University Press, 1949.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Comedy, Play, Fry

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The Lady's Not for Burning by Christopher Fry (1948)


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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Still my favorite play ever read, ever. I like to just roll around in the words and let them wash over me. ( )
  tanaise | Jul 17, 2022 |
Comedy written in the early 20th century but set in the early 15th. This leads to a few anachronisms, some references to information that would not have been known yet in the time of the play, but these are few, and probably would not be noticed by anyone who hasn't studied the history of science (or the history of religion - there are a couple of anachronisms there, as well). The work is a satirical take on witch hunts and the witch hunters, but more especially the bureaucrats who feathered their nests with the property of the condemned witches. The plot is simple: a man shows up at the home of the mayor demanding to be hanged, confessing to murders no one can verify have occurred. A mob is on a witch hunt for a young woman, claiming she has turned one of the purported murder victims into a dog. The man is poor. The woman is rich. The mayor maneuvers to try to get the man to admit he is innocent while getting the woman to admit her guilt. There are several twists and turns, love triangles, and philosophical musings, and the play ends in a not totally satisfying manner, either for those who like happy endings or those who find them facile. Overall, an interesting work that has enough strange goings ons to satisfy a demanding audience and one that can give pleasure in the reading. ( )
  Devil_llama | Feb 17, 2018 |
From 1948 to 1970, the English dramatist Christopher Fry wrote a quartet of comedies, The Lady's not for Burning, A Yard of Sun, Venus Observed, and The Dark Is Light Enough, each related to a season of the year. The first written and probably the most successful of the quartet is The Lady's not for Burning, the play associated with springtime. The simple mention of a particular season carries with it the burden of traditional connotation. Spring suggests fertility, rebirth, new love, and the giddiness of spring fever; Summer -- growth, heat, languidness; Autumn -- ripeness, harvest, maturity; and Winter is inevitably associated with coldness and death. Fry uses this imagery in its traditional contexts, but also plays with the seasonal references in ironic contexts.

The Lady's not for Burning is set in April, and the characters frequently remark upon the weather and how it affects their states of mind. The play begins in a fit of spring fever with all the characters' actions seeming quite mad. Alizon quizzes Richard as to the nature of males whom she finds so strange that she is surprised when they actually speak English. Richard blames the madness of men on the the "machinations of nature;/ As April does to the earth." Alizon is delighted with the analogy: "I wish it were true/Show me daffodils happening to a man!" Precisely at this point Nicholas enters to claim Alizon as his bride, declaring that he has killed his twin brother-rival, Humphrey, in just such a bed of daffodils. Of course, Humphrey is not killed and is found lying on his back picking daffodils. As the action becomes more complicated, Margaret Devize in motherly fashion, finally declares to her brother that the younger generation is all "in the same April fit of exasperating nonsense." The spring fever of the younger generation, however, counterpoints and contrasts with the absurd and dangerous behaviour of their elders.

The Lady's not for Burning teeters between the poles of rebirth and stagnation. The year of the play,"1400 either more or less exactly," traditionally marks the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the modern world in England. The elders of the town of Cool Clary are stuck in a medieval world view in which the unusual is dangerous, and the status quo must be preserved.

The Lady's not for Burning is, in Northrop Frye's terms, a "Quixotic comedy," one in which the comic heroes must flee to escape the absurdities of an authoritarian society. The youthful lovers, Jennet and Thomas, Richard and Alizon, cannot transform the ludicrous society set up by Hebble Tyson and the Devizes, a society in which material gain is the predominant virtue, so they must escape from it. The escape in this play resembles the severance from parental authority that youth must accomplish before reaching maturity. Because the younger characters are in tune with the mad delight and love of an "April anarchy," they must flee from those who are out of tune and who cannot recognize the rebirth that Spring mythically brings.

Margaret and Hebble declare their distaste for Spring quite emphatically, and they cannot see the possiblity for redemption in their midst. The redeemers are outsiders and will remain so: Alizon, the child of nature who "appeared overnight/As mushrooms do" and was given to God; Richard, no one's child, who wasn't born but "was come across;" Jennet, the alchemist's daughter, who is called a witch because she speaks French to her poodle and dines with a peacock; and Thomas Mendip, the disillusioned soldier, who wants to be hanged because "each time I thought I was on the way/To a faintly festive hiccup/The sight of the damned world sobered me up again." Humor is not tolerated in this most rigid of societies; it is seen as tiresome and incompatible with good citizenship.

But it is laughter that Jennet seeks when she runs away from the witch-mongers, and it is laughter, "the surest touch of genius in creation," that Thomas Mendip cheers her with when things look bleakest. Only in each other can the lovers create a festive society. The world, however, does not change because of their love, as Thomas declares to Jennet. But although their festive society does not triumph, the play ends on a wish: "Good morning. -- And God have mercy on our souls." The ironic absurdity of the existing society does not destroy the idealism and desire of the protagonists for harmony. The Lady's not for Burning is a youthful comedy -- one that looks forward with hope.

Christopher Fry wrote The Lady's not for Burning shortly after the end of World War II when the austerities of wartime were still very much a part of English life. While the lushness of the play's poetic language and the fancy of its romantic setting were fashioned to appeal to the audience's longing for relief from drab reality, the war-weariness of Thomas Mendip is a reminder of the harshness of recent history. The verbal wit and sensuous imagery of Fry's language satisfied a hunger for sophisticated drama in the generation coming home from World War II. The Lady's not for Burning, first produced in a regional theatre in 1948, was transferred to the West End in 1949 in a highly successful production directed by and starring John Gielgud; the play was subsequently produced on Broadway. Fry's poetic drama was eclipsed in the 1960's with the revival of the harsh naturalism of Britain's "angry young men" and the experimentation of the absurdists. However, revivals of The Lady's not for Burning were televised in the 1970's starring Richard Chamberlain and Eileen Atkins and in 1987 with Kenneth Branagh.

While perhaps not as poetically impressive as T.S. Eliot's dramas, Fry's seasonal comedies have a much stronger theatrical sense, undoubtedly drawn from the playwright's long association with the theatre as actor, director and dramatist. The endurance of Christopher Fry in the theatrical history of world literature remains to be judged, but The Lady's not for Burning helped to define the theatrical moment in the mid-Twentieth Century of the English-speaking world. ( )
2 vote janeajones | Jan 8, 2015 |
Fun play, quickly read. I'd love to see a production of this one. Mix in some superstition, a dash of misogyny, plenty of well turned phrase, a few deep observations, an abundance of wry humor and you have your basic recipe for a classic British comedy. Applause! ( )
  ellengryphon | Jun 19, 2010 |
I love this old-fashioned play, saw a great version of it on PBS many moons ago. ( )
  ostrom | Nov 29, 2007 |
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RICHARD: — and the plasterer, that's fifteen groats —
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Jane Austen's Emma: beautiful, rich and infuriating emma woodhouse meddles in other's romantic lives with unexpected results.Charlotte Bronte's jane eyre: a prim and principled governess falls in love with her brooding, mysterious employer.The lady's not for burning: a beautiful woman accused of witchcraft and a world weary drifter are thrown together before their executions.The death of the heart: in 1930's London, an awkward 16-year old struggles to find herself through a disastrous love.

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