Rare Cornish manuscript making history

12 August 2015

Image of MS. Bodl. 791A rare Cornish manuscript, believed to record some of the earliest surviving play scripts written and performed in the British Isles, recently featured on BBC Radio 4. 

On 11 August 2015, during the popular Making History programme, presenter Tom Holland investigated the historical background of the Cornish manuscript, the Ordinalia, with the help of a number of specialists, including Dr Chris Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries.

The Ordinalia contains a trilogy of religious plays in Cornish verse on the creation story, the passion of Christ and the resurrection. The manuscript also includes Latin stage directions and diagrams, described as the earliest stage directions that survive from anywhere in the world, potentially revealing the medieval origins of circular stages used in Elizabethan London.

In the Making History interview, Fletcher explores the provenance of the manuscript which came to the Bodleian Library in the 1600s and still has the shelf-mark noting its original position within the historic Duke Humfrey’s Library. He also discusses its importance as one of the earliest surviving examples of Cornish verse.

Back to top