Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The English dramatist Christopher Fry restored poetry and humor to the modern stage. From 1948 to 1970, Fry wrote a quartet of comedies, The Lady’s Not for Burning, A Yard of Sun (pr., pb. 1970), Venus Observed (pr., pb. 1950), and The Dark Is Light Enough (pr., pb. 1954), 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 suggests growth, heat, and languidness; autumn, ripeness, harvest, and maturity. Winter is inevitably associated with coldness and death. Fry uses this imagery in traditional contexts, but he 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 “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 and rival, Humphrey, in a bed of daffodils. Not surprisingly, Humphrey is not dead in the least 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 silly but mostly harmless spring fever of the younger generation contrasts with the absurd and dangerous behavior of the elders.

The Lady’s Not for Burning teeters between rebirth and stagnation. The year in which the play is set, “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 worldview in which the unusual is dangerous and the status quo must be preserved....

(The entire section is 1013 words.)