Nationality: British. Born: Christopher Fry Harris, Bristol, 18 December 1907. Education: Bedford Modern School, 1918–26. Military Service: Non-Combatant Corps, 1940–44. Family: Married Phyllis Marjorie Hart in 1936 (died 1987); one son. Career: Teacher, Bedford Froebel Kindergarten, 1926–27; actor and office worker, Citizen House, Bath, 1927; schoolmaster, Hazelwood School, Limpsfield, Surrey, 1928–31; secretary to H. Rodney Bennett, 1931–32; founding director, Tunbridge Wells Repertory Players, 1932–35; lecturer and editor of schools magazine, Dr. Barnardo's Homes, 1934–39; director, 1939–40, and visiting director, 1945–46, Oxford Playhouse; visiting director, 1946, and staff dramatist, 1947, Arts Theatre Club, London. Also composer. Awards: Shaw Prize Fund award, 1948; Foyle poetry prize, 1951; New York Drama Critics Circle award, 1951, 1952, 1956; Queen's Gold Medal, 1962; Royal Society of Literature Heinemann award, 1962. D.A.: Manchester Metropolitan University, 1966; D.Litt.: Lambeth 1988; Oxford University, 1988; University of Sussex, 1994; De Montfort, 1994. Honorary Fellow, Manchester Metropolitan University, 1988. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature. Agent: ACTAC Ltd., 15 High Street, Ramsbury, Wiltshire SN8 2PA. Address: The Toft, East Dean, near Chichester, West Sussex PO18 0JA, England.
Root and Sky: Poetry from the Plays of Christopher Fry, edited by Charles E. and Jean G. Wadsworth. Cambridge, Rampant Lions Press, and Boston, Godine, 1975.
Youth and the Peregrines (produced Tunbridge Wells, Kent, 1934).
She Shall Have Music (lyrics only, with Ronald Frankau), book by Frank Eyton, music by Fry and Monte Crick (produced London, 1934).
To Sea in a Sieve (as Christopher Harris) (revue; produced Reading, 1935).
Open Door (produced London, 1936). Goldings, Hertfordshire, Printed by the Boys at the Press of Dr. Barnardo's Homes, n.d.
The Tower (produced Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, 1939).
Thursday's Child: A Pageant, music by Martin Shaw (produced London, 1939). London, Girls' Friendly Society, 1939.
A Phoenix Too Frequent (produced London, 1946; Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1948; New York, 1950). London, Hollis and Carter, 1946; New York, Oxford University Press, 1949.
The Firstborn (broadcast 1947; produced Edinburgh, 1948). Cambridge, University Press, 1946; New York, Oxford University Press, 1950; revised version (produced London, 1952; New York, 1958), London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1952,1958.
The Lady's Not for Burning (produced London, 1948; New York, 1950). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1949; revised version, 1950, 1958.
Thor, With Angels (produced Canterbury, 1948; Washington, D.C., 1950; London, 1951). Canterbury, Goulden, 1948; New York, Oxford University Press, 1949.
Venus Observed (produced London, 1950; New York, 1952). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1950.
Ring round the Moon: A Charade with Music, adaptation of a play by Jean Anouilh (produced London and New York, 1950). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1950.
A Sleep of Prisoners (produced Oxford, London, and New York, 1951). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1951.
The Dark Is Light Enough: A Winter Comedy (produced Edinburgh and London, 1954; New York, 1955). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1954.
The Lark, adaptation of a play by Jean Anouilh (produced London, 1955). London, Methuen, 1955; New York, Oxford University Press, 1956.
Tiger at the Gates, adaptation of a play by Jean Giraudoux (produced London and New York, 1955). London, Methuen, 1955; New York, Oxford University Press, 1956; as The Trojan War Will Not Take Place (produced London, 1983), Methuen, 1983.
Duel of Angels, adaptation of a play by Jean Giraudoux (produced London, 1958; New York, 1960). London, Methuen, 1958; New York, Oxford University Press, 1959.
Curtmantle (produced in Dutch, Tilburg, Netherlands, 1961; Edinburgh and London, 1962). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1961.
Judith, adaptation of a play by Jean Giraudoux (produced London, 1962). London, Methuen, 1962.
The Bible: Original Screenplay, assisted by Jonathan Griffin. New York, Pocket Books, 1966.
Peer Gynt, adaptation of the play by Ibsen (produced Chichester, 1970). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1970.
A Yard of Sun: A Summer Comedy (produced Nottingham and London, 1970; Cleveland, 1972). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1970.
The Brontës of Haworth (televised 1973). London, Davis Poynter, 2 vols., 1974.
Cyrano de Bergerac, adaptation of the play by Edmond Rostand (produced Chichester, 1975). London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1975.
Paradise Lost, music by Penderecki, adaptation of the poem by Milton (produced Chicago, 1978). London, Schott, 1978.
Selected Plays (includes The Boy with a Cart, A Phoenix Too Frequent, The Lady's Not for Burning, A Sleep of Prisoners, Curtmantle). Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1985.
One Thing More; or, Caedmon Construed (produced Chelmsford, Essex, 1986; London, 1988). New York, London, King's College, and New York, Dramatists Play Service, 1987.
Screenplays: The Beggar's Opera, with Denis Cannan, 1953; A Queen Is Crowned (documentary), 1953; Ben Hur, 1959; Barabbas, 1962; The Bible: In the Beginning, 1966.
Radio Plays: for Children's Hour series, 1939–40; The Firstborn, 1947; Rhineland Journey, 1948.
Television Plays: The Canary, 1950; The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 1968; The Brontës of Haworth (four plays), 1973; The Best of Enemies, 1976; Sister Dora, from the book by Jo Manton, 1977.
An Experience of Critics, with The Approach to Dramatic Criticism by W.A. Darlington and others, edited by Kaye Webb. London, Perpetua Press, 1952; New York, Oxford University Press, 1953.
The Boat That Mooed (for children). New York, Macmillan, 1966.
Can You Find Me: A Family History. London, Oxford University Press, 1978; New York, Oxford University Press, 1979.
Death Is a Kind of Love (lecture). Cranberry Isles, Maine, Tidal Press, 1979.
Genius, Talent and Failure (lecture). London, King's College, 1987.
Looking for a Language (lecture). London, King's College, 1992.
The Early Days (lecture). London, Society for Theatre Research, 1997.
Editor, Charlie Hammond's Sketchbook. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980.
Editor, A Sprinkle of Nutmeg (wartime letters by Phyllis Fry). London, Enitharmon Press, 1993.
Editor, Cyrano de Bergerac: A Heroic Comedy in Five Acts. New York, Oxford University Press, 1996.
Translator, The Boy and the Magic, by Colette. London, Dobson, 1964.
Incidental Music: A Winter's Tale, London, 1951; recorded by Caedmon.*
Bibliography: By B.L. Schear and E.G. Prater, in Tulane Drama Review 4 (New Orleans), March 1960.
Manuscript Collection: Harvard University Theatre Collection, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Critical Studies: Christopher Fry: An Appreciation, London, Nevill, 1950, and Christopher Fry, London, Longman, 1954, revised edition, 1962, both by Derek Stanford; The Drama of Comedy: Victim and Victor by Nelson Vos, Richmond, Virginia, John Knox Press, 1965; Creed and Drama by W.M. Merchant, London, SPCK, 1965; The Christian Tradition in Modern British Verse Drama by William V. Spanos, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1967; Christopher Fry by Emil Roy, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968; Christopher Fry: A Critical Essay, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, 1970, and More Than the Ear Discovers: God in the Plays of Christopher Fry, Chicago, Loyola University Press, 1983, both by Stanley M. Wiersma; Poetic Drama, London, Macmillan, 1989, and Christopher Fry, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1990, both by Glenda Leeming; "'Little Death-Watch Beetle': Nicholas Devize As the Devil in Christopher Fry's The Lady's Not For Burning" by John S. Bak, in Notes on Contemporary Literature (Carrollton, Georgia), 23(5), November 1993; by Jackie Tucker, in British Playwrights, 1860–1956: A Research and Production Sourcebook, edited by William Demastes and Katherine E. Kelly, Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood, 1996.
Theatrical Activities: Director: Plays— How-Do, Princess? by Ivor Novello, toured, 1936, The Circle of Chalk by James Laver, London, 1945; The School for Scandal by Sheridan, London, 1946; A Phoenix Too Frequent, Brighton, 1950; The Lady's Not for Burning, toured, 1971; and others. Actor: Plays —in repertory, Bath, 1937.
Christopher Fry comments:
Influences are difficult to pinpoint. Certainly, as it must be with anyone of my generation, T.S. Eliot was a releasing factor. In the plays I have tried to work toward an end that I broadly expressed in a lecture: "No event is understandable in a prose sense alone. Its ultimate meaning (that is to say, the complete life of the event, seen in its eternal context) is a poetic meaning." I have tried to shape a verse form (a metrical system) that could contain both the "theatrical" elements (rhetoric, broad colors, etc.) and the rhythms and tone of the colloquial, which would work for the "artificial comedy," or the historical, or the conversation of the present time.* * *
It was Christopher Fry, and later T.S. Eliot, who led the short revival of interest in the poetic drama during the decade or so after World War II, an interest that now seems completely dead. A Phoenix Too Frequent, an imperfect sentimental farce, attracted some attention in 1946, and with The Lady's Not for Burning Fry captured the imagination of the critics and of a potentially large audience. The most obviously brilliant of Fry's plays, it was fortunate to have an impeccable production by John Gielgud and a fine cast headed by Pamela Brown, Claire Bloom, Richard Burton, and Gielgud himself. Its amusing plot and the natural yet highly decorated language, finely characterized and supremely dramatic (Fry himself was for some time an actor), were a revelation after the dryness and aridity of the language of wartime drama. Oversucculent on the page, the verse—especially when delivered in the romantic style of acting still predominant in the late 1940s—seemed irresistible in performance.
But as Fry's technical assurance grew, so critical and public interest waned. Venus Observed, written for Laurence Olivier, was a critical and to some extent public failure. The play was a graver comedy of autumn, and its language was more disciplined and restrained; it was still often witty, but it was quieter and without the obvious verbal fireworks of its predecessor. In A Sleep of Prisoners, perhaps his most entirely successful piece, Fry turned to wholly serious matters, most obviously to his perennial theme of "the growth of vision: the increased perception of what makes for life and what makes for death." Prisoners of war penned up in a church explore one another's personalities in their dreams. It is a moving and totally realized poetic drama. The Dark Is Light Enough, a winter play based on Fabre's parable of the butterfly making its way through storm and profound darkness to arrive brightly inviolate at its destination, was written for Edith Evans and staged in 1954. It was disliked both by critics and by the public. Since its production Fry has concentrated for the most part on translation—from Anouilh and Giraudoux, for instance—and on film scripting. He has, however, written a play that completes the quartet of plays of the seasons, a comedy of high summer.
Fry's place in the theater is perhaps ephemeral, and he has been compared, damagingly, to the Victorian poetic dramatist Stephen Phillips, whose Paolo and Francesca seemed at the beginning of the twentieth century to be a masterpiece but is now almost totally forgotten. The comparison seems unfair, for Fry is more accomplished both as poet and dramatist than Phillips. On the page his language is overblown and seems lacking in muscle and discipline, but in performance it is always amusing and dramatically viable, and its sentiment is at worst harmlessly touching. It is strange now to remember that many critics found Fry difficult in the 1940s and 1950s. Whatever he is, he is not that. Accused of overwriting ("Too many words!"), Fry replied in An Experience of Critics (1952), "It means, I think, that I don't use the same words often enough; or else, or as well, that the words are an ornament on the meaning and not the meaning itself. That is certainly sometimes—perhaps often—true in the comedies, though almost as often I have meant the ornament to be, dramatically or comedically, an essential part of the meaning; and in my more sanguine moments I think the words are as exact to my purpose as I could make them at the time of writing."
Posterity may find this claim to be true. It is unlikely that Fry is in any sense a major writer, but within his own set limits he is a craftsman of considerable accomplishment, and where Fry is most successful, he is memorable.
FRY, Christopher. British, b. 1907. Genres: Plays/Screenplays, Poetry, Songs/Lyrics and libretti, Autobiography/Memoirs, Translations. Career: Teacher, Bedford Froebel Kindergarten, 1926-27; schoolmaster, Hazelwood School, Limpsfield, Surrey, 1928-31; secretary to H. Rodney Bennett, 1931-32; founding director, Tunbridge Wells Repertory Players, 1932-35; lecturer, and ed. of schs. mag., Dr. Barnardo's Homes, 1934-39; director, 1940, and visiting director, 1945-46, Oxford Playhouse. Publications: Open Door, 1936; The Boy with a Cart: Cuthman, Saint of Sussex, 1938; Thursday's Child: A Pageant, 1939; Phoenix Too Frequent, 1946; The Firstborn, 1946; The Lady's Not for Burning, 1948; Thor, with Angels, 1948; Venus Observed, 1950; A Sleep of Prisoners, 1951; The Beggar's Opera (screenplay), 1953; The Queen Is Crowned (coronation film), 1953; The Dark Is Light Enough: A Winter Comedy, 1954; Ben Hur (screenplay), 1959; Curtmantle, 1961; Barabbas (screenplay), 1962; The Boat That Mooed, 1966; The Bible: Original Screenplay, 1966 (filmed as The Bible: In the Beginning); A Yard of Sun: A Summer Comedy, 1970; The Brontes of Haworth (TV plays), 1975; Sister Dora (TV play), 1977; The Best of Enemies (TV play), 1977; Can You Find Me: A Family History, 1978; Paradise Lost (opera), 1978; One Thing More, or Caedmon Construed, 1986; (ed.) A Sprinkle of Nutmeg, 1992; Early Days, 1997. TRANSLATOR: (and adapter) Ring round the Moon: A Charade with Music, 1950; The Lark, 1955; Tiger at the Gates, 1955; Duel of Angels, 1958; Judith, 1962; Colette, the Boy and the Magic, 1964; Peer Gynt, 1970; Edmond Rostand: Cyrano de Bergerac, 1975. Address: The Toft, East Dean, Chichester, W. Sussex PO18 0JA, England.