Columbia Library columns (v.35(1985Nov-1986May))

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  v.35,no.3(1986:May): Page 15  

Masefield, Ricketts, and
The Coming of Christ


IT is generally known that T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathe¬
dral of 1935 was neither the first nor the last modern liturgical
play to be performed in Canterbury. Dorothy Sayers follow¬
ed Eliot in the Canterbury Festival of 1937 with The "Leal of Thy
House, produced by Harcourt Williams with Laurence Irving
as designer. It it less well known that the only play actually per¬
formed in the Cathedral was the first, John Masefield's The Com¬
ing of Christ, in 1928. Subsequent plays, including Eliot's, were
banished to the Chapter House.

The chief instigator of the Canterbury pageant at Whitsuntide
in 1928 was the Dean, the Rev. George K. A. Bell, When he asked
Masefield in July 1927 to write the play it may have been in the
nick of time; in October Masefield wrote to Florence Lamont
that theologians were "suddenly aghast" over his religious drama
of 1925, The Trial of Jesus, now found "rotten with Arianism,
toucht with the worst kind of Pelagianisni, a bit Socinian, and
just reeking with iMonopbysitism."

Among the holdings of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library
regarding The Coming of Christ are production notes by Mase¬
field, a tableau-photograph of the cast, a rare Christmas card
derived from Laurence Irving's painting from memory of the final
tableau, three printed announcements from the Precentor, similar
materials from a later production at Wittersham, and items from
Charles Ricketts, stage designer for the work. Ricketts had created
the sets and costumes for Masefield's Philip the King at Covent
Garden (to raise money for war charities) in 1914.

Masefield's Nativity drama differs from the usual Christmas
pageant in its combination of medieval mystery or miracle play,

  v.35,no.3(1986:May): Page 15