The Queen of Cornwall

  • Harold Orel


The last major creative work of Hardy’s career was a play, The Famous Tragedy of the Queen of Cornwall. It holds a special interest not only because it illustrates a number of highly developed attitudes toward what a play should be like, but because it represents the final expression of an enthusiasm for theatre that Hardy had sustained for more than half a century. Begun in 1916 — after a visit to Tintagel with Florence, his second wife — the play derived its initial inspiration from a bemused reflection that similarities existed between the heroine and his beloved Emma, memories of whom came flooding back as he tramped around the castle ruins. As he wrote to Sydney Cockerell on 20 September 1916, ‘I visited the place 44 years ago with an Iseult of my own, and of course she was mixed in the vision of the other.’1 At the time he wrote, Hardy was apologising to Cockerell for his inability to continue work on the play. Poetic inspiration did not return until the spring of 1923, when he picked up the manuscript again. He wrote swiftly, and completed a revised version of the 770 lines — 544 of blank verse, 226 rhymed — in August; publication followed in November. For any writer The Queen of Cornwall would have been a notable achievement as verse-drama (Hardy knew it would never have a large audience) in this form; but for a poet of eighty-three, it was even more remarkable.


Notable Achievement Tragic Play Prose Fiction English Stage Poetic Inspiration 
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  1. 6.
    Reginald Snell, ‘A Self-Plagiarism by Thomas Hardy’, Essays in Criticism n (January 1952), pp. 114–17.Google Scholar

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© Harold Orel 1976

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  • Harold Orel

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