The Lady's Not for Burning

by Christopher Fry Harris

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Cool Clary

Cool Clary. Fifteenth century English market village in which the entire play is set. The play’s richly poetic and often abstract language is rife with details about the tenor and texture of daily social life. Cool Clary is a town whose business is administered by a council and in which every adult has a clear-cut duty—from Mayor Tyson and the chaplain to Justice Tappercoom, the rag-and-bone merchant Skipps, and Richard, the clerk. It is a structured town with strong communal feeling in which everyone seems to know everybody else’s business, but it is also a place easily disturbed from its bland workaday life by nonconformists such as Thomas Mendip and Jennet Jourdemayne.

Fry’s language and imagery amplify the English pastoralism. Cool Clary has fields, gardens, birds, rosebuds, and wheelbarrows in ample supply. But even as the hot sun shines on blackbirds, daffodils, and ponds, there is a rigid orthodoxy at the heart of the town’s life, for Cool Clary is medievally Christian. Its families may form quiet circles of prayer, but there is rank insecurity and fear about the possibility of sin, and Christian superstition leads to fear—as is demonstrated by the community’s generally hysterical and comically confused reaction to the appearance of Mendip the discharged soldier and Jennet Jourdemayne, an alleged witch.


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Donoghue, Denis. “Christopher Fry’s Theatre of Words.” In The Third Voice: Modern British and American Verse Drama. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959. Deplores the eccentricity of Fry’s language in the early plays, including The Lady’s Not for Burning.

Leeming, Glenda. “Christopher Fry: Poetic Drama in Conventional Setting.” In Poetic Drama. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Traces the development of twentieth century verse drama from William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot to W. H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, and Christopher Fry. Emphasizes how the imagery in The Lady’s Not for Burning evokes and insists upon the beauty of the natural world.

Leeming, Glenda. “Condoning Creation in The Lady’s Not for Burning.” In Christopher Fry. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Reveals the source for the play and focuses discussion on the characters and the imagery of the play.

Roy, Emil. Christopher Fry. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968. Contains a chapter on each of Fry’s plays until 1968 and chapters on Fry’s “Outlook and Ideas,” his “Imagery” and an “Overview.” Discusses the literary influences on The Lady’s Not for Burning, its themes and plot structure, Fry’s language, and the motifs of alchemy, martyrdom, and seduction.

Stanford, Derek. Christopher Fry. Rev. ed. London: Longmans, Green, 1962. Includes a brief biographical sketch and a discussion of each of the plays written before 1962. Emphasizes Fry’s intuition of the presence of the mystery that informs mortality.

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Critical Essays