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Theatre / The Lady's Not for Burning

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The Lady's Not for Burning is a play by Christopher Fry first produced in 1949.

Set in the 15th century, the main characters are a man named Thomas and a woman named Jennet. Jennet is accused by superstitious townsfolk of having turned a man into a dog. The town authorities are skeptical, but inclined to go along with it because if she is burned as a witch they will be able to confiscate her property. First, though, they have to get rid of Thomas, who showed up several minutes before the mob to confess to murdering a man — the same man Jennet is supposed to have transmogrified. Hilarity Ensues as Jennet refuses to confess and Thomas refuses to stop confessing.

The B-plot revolves around a young woman named Alizon, who is engaged to be married to the mayor's nephew but is the object of the attentions of several other men.

The first West End production, which transferred to Broadway the following year, starred John Gielgud as Thomas, Pamela Brown as Jennet, and Claire Bloom and Richard Burton as the young lovers Alizon and Richard.

This play contains examples of:

  • Arranged Marriage: Alizon's parents have arranged for her to marry Humphrey, the mayor's nephew. When she arrives at the beginning of the play to prepare for the wedding, she mentions that she's only met Humphrey once.
  • Burn the Witch!: What Jennet is threatened with.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: There's a mention of Thomas being put to the thumbscrew off-stage as part of the efforts to get him to recant his confession.
  • Death Seeker: Thomas, an ex-soldier, has given up on life after seeing much of the world's ugly side.
  • Doorstop Baby: Richard was found as a baby in the poor box of a church.
  • Elopement: Alizon's subplot ends with one, after she falls in love with Richard (who would be considered unsuitable by her parents even if she weren't already promised to someone else).
  • First Girl Wins: Gender flipped example. Three men vie for Alizon's hand; she has met Humphrey before the play starts, but the first person she interacts with on stage is Richard, and it's Richard who wins her in the end.
  • Locked Away in a Monastery: Alizon is an example of the temporary variation where a daughter is raised in a convent until it's time for her to wed. She mentions that her father had at one point despaired of finding husbands for all his daughters (she's the youngest of six) and considered making the arrangement permanent.
  • Purely Aesthetic Era: The setting of the play is deliberately non-specific; it's set more in the popular idea of The Olden Days When People Burned Witches than it is in an actual historical period. The stage direction setting the scene includes phrases like "as much 15th century as anything else".
  • Retraux: Written in the style of a Shakespearean comedy.
  • Sexual Extortion: Humphrey, a member of the town council, offers to obstruct Jennet's execution if she'll sleep with him. She turns him down.
  • Shout-Out: Jennet says of her father that he "walked in science like the densest night", which is a misquote of a poem by Lord Byron.