A dear friend and fellow scholar asked me to give a little explanation of what the “Canterbury Plays” were. I’m delighted to do so, especially in their Charles Williams connection.
In 1928, the Canterbury Cathedral revived the tradition of liturgical drama by commissioning a play to be performed in their Chapter House. They continued this tradition until the start of World War II, and then tried again with two more plays after the war. They hired some of the greatest living playwrights to compose news work specifically for their space and occasion. The results include a few enduring masterpieces, and the Festival as a whole is in important cultural occurrence. I hope to study these plays in my PhD program, looking at the theology they presented; the dialogues the plays were engaged in about politics, war, peace, theatre, and public and private religion; the material conditions in which they were performed; their reception (who attended? what did they think?); their poetry; their subsequent performances; or anything else that needs studying. The Festival has been revived since; please check out its website.
I also hope to have all 9 performed somewhere, in some capacity or other, during my 5 or so years at Baylor.
The nine plays were:
John Masefield & Gustav Holst, The Coming of Christ, 1928
Laurence Binyon, The Young King, 1934
T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, 1935
Charles Williams, Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, 1936
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Zeal of Thy House, 1937
Christopher Hassall, Christ’s Comet, 1938
Dorothy L. Sayers, The Devil to Pay, 1939
Laurie Lee, Peasants’ Priest, 1947
Christopher Fry, Thor, With Angels, 1948
They also performed Everyman and plays by Marlowe and Tennyson during the course of the Festival. That’s all I know so far! Please read this post on Williams’s contribution, and stay tuned for more discussions of these fascinating plays as time goes on.