The Voice of the People
Davies, William Robertson (Canadian playwright, novelist, scholar, b. Thamesville, Ontario, Canada, August 28, 1913-d. Orangeville, Ontario, Canada, December 2, 1995), “The Voice of the People,”
a __-minute _____? in English, set in _____, _____,
© ____ by William Robertson Davies;
• in William Robertson Davies’ The Voice of the People (_____: The Author, _____);
• script/rights available from the Estate of Robertson Davies: Professional Agent Janet Turnbull Irving, Curtis Brown Canada Ltd, 200 First Street, Toronto, Ontario M4M 1X1, Canada, telelphone 416-406-3390; Amateur Agent Dundurn Press (Simon & Pierre), 8 Market Street, Ste. 200, Toronto, Ontario M5E 1M6, Canada, telephone 416-214-5544.
• Cited in 1/2/3/4 for the Show: A Guide to Small-Cast One-Act Plays, vol 2, (Lanham, Maryland, U.S.A.: The Scarecrow Press, 1999), ISBN 0810836009, 475 pp.
_____ (m), __, _____; _____ (m), __, _____; _____ (f), __, _____; _____ (f), __, _____.
• For archival material pertaining to Davies, researchers should examine the fonds of Canadian publishers Clarke, Irwin; McClelland and Stewart; and Macmillan Canada.
• “Robertson Davies . . . enjoyed a distinguished career as a journalist, playwright, and novelist, helping to enhance the literary standing of his native Canada. Robertson Davies was a writer of grand ideas and fertile imagination who excelled in a variety of literary disciplines. As a journalist, his humorous observations about life amused newspaper readers over two decades. His comic plays addressed the plight of the Canadian artist to great effect. His sprawling, intellectually rich novels, including the acclaimed Deptford and Cornish trilogies, set a high standard for all Canadian authors who wish to follow him. With his bushy white beard and flowing mane of hair, Davies looked the part of a grizzled, ancient storyteller--which to his millions of devoted readers is exactly what he was. . . . William Robertson Davies was born on August 28, 1913 in the village of Thamesville, Ontario, Canada. He came from a very old and prominent family. The family of his mother, Florence Sheppard McKay Davies, had moved to Canada from England in 1785. His father, William Rupert Davies, hailed originally from Wales, but made his name as a Canadian publisher and politician. Davies also had two older brothers. Davies developed an interest in drama early in life. At the age of three, he made his stage debut in the opera Queen Esther. He maintained a diary throughout his school years in which he wrote out his reactions to the stage performances he saw. When Davies was five years old, his family moved to Renfrew, Ontario, a rural village in the Ottawa Valley. He spent his childhood years attending country schools and living the life of a typical country boy. When Davies was 12, his family uprooted again, this time moving to the city of Kingston. In this way, Davies gained his intimate knowledge of urban and rural life in Canada. From 1928 to 1932 he attended Upper Canada College in Toronto. His favorite activities during this period included music, theater, and editing the school newspaper. Works at Old Vic Davies next moved on to Queen's University in Kingston. He spent three years there, marked by his participation in the Drama Guild. He completed his higher education in 1938 at Balliol College, Oxford, where he earned a literature degree. His thesis, entitled Shakespeare's Boy Actors, attracted the attention of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, a legendary drama teacher. Guthrie hired Davies to work him at London's famous Old Vic theater. Davies spent a year there working at a variety of jobs, from bit player to stage manager. He gained valuable stage experience on productions of Shakespeare, working alongside world-renowned actors including Ralph Richardson and Vivien Leigh. He also fell in love with the Old Vic's stage manager, Australian-born Brenda Mathews, whom he married on February 2, 1940. The couple honeymooned in Wales, then returned to Canada, where Davies took a job as literary editor of the Toronto magazine Saturday Night. The couple had their first child in December of 1940. . . . After two years with Saturday Night, Davies took a position with the Peterborough ‘Samuel Marchbanks.’ These witty observations were later collected into the books The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947), The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949), and Marchbanks’ Almanack (1967). Another of his regular columns, ‘A Writer's Diary,’ consisting of observations on the literary scene, helped establish Davies as a major new voice in criticism. The 1940s were a fertile period for Davies. Besides his weekly columns, he was also writing and directing plays at the Peterborough Little Theatre. In 1946 his one-act comedy ‘Overlaid’ was awarded a prize by the Ottawa Drama League. The fantasy ‘Eros at Breakfast’ (1948) won the Gratien Gelinas Prize for best Canadian play at the Dominion Drama Festival. Other one-acts Davies crafted during this time were ‘The Voice of the People’ (1948), ‘At the Gates of the Righteous’ (1948), and ‘Hope Deferred’ (1948). The year 1948 saw the production of Davies’ first full-length play. Fortune, My Foe deals with the plight of the Canadian artist and was awarded the Gratien Gelinas Prize at the 1949 Dominion Drama Festival. Another three-act, At My Heart's Core, dealt with similar themes. It was set in provincial Canada in 1837 and shows Davies’ growing mastery of historical material. . . . Frustrated by his inability to get his plays produced outside of Canada, Davies turned to novel writing in the 1950s. His first novel, Tempest-Tost, was published in 1951. Set in the small Canadian town of Salterton, the book details the reactions of townsfolk to a troupe of Shakespearean actors in their midst. Leaven of Malice (1954) is set in the same locale, and revolves around the confusion that ensues when an erroneous engagement announcement is printed in a local newspaper. The final book in the Salterton trilogy, A Mixture of Frailties (1958) concerns a young girl who returns to the town after a sojourn studying music in Europe. The books received many positive critical notices and established Davies’ reputation as a novelist. Even as he switched media, Davies never lost his love for the stage. He helped found the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, served on its Board of Directors, and hired Tyrone Guthrie as creative director. In 1960, Davies adapted his novel Leaven of Malice for the New York stage. Directed by Guthrie using experimental techniques, the play failed with critics and folded after six performance. Disappointment over this experience all but drove Davies away from theater, though he did continue to write and lecture on the subject. As his creative reputation grew, Davies found himself in demand for academic appointments. He served as a visiting professor at Trinity College from 1961 to 1962 and was named to the Master's Lodge at Massey College, a graduate wing of the University of Toronto, in 1963. He quit his newspaper post at the Examiner in 1962 to concentrate on these teaching endeavors. . . . In 1970, Davies published a new novel, Fifth Business, the first installment of his ‘Deptford Trilogy.’ The book chronicles 60 years in the life of Dunstan Ramsey, an headmaster at a Canadian prep school. Davies weaves into the story many religious and psychological themes, prompting L.J. Davis of Book World to brand the novel ‘a work of theological fiction that approaches Graham Greene at the top of his form.’ Its rich plot helped make it a bestseller in America, cementing Davies stature as an international author of the first rank. Davies followed Fifth Business with another Deptford novel, The Manticore (1972). Again set amongst the Canadian upper classes, the book follows David Staunton, an alcoholic attorney, on a spiritual odyssey of self-discovery. Davies’ dry, analytic style put off some readers, while others found his command of symbols and allusions masterful. Another highbrow hit with readers, The Manticore received the Canadian Governor General's Award for excellence. Rounding out the Deptford trilogy was World of Wonder (1975). Comprising the story of Paul Dempster, a character who had appeared in the previous two novels, the book was judged ‘a novel of stunning verbal energy and intelligence’ by Michael Mewshaw of the New York Times Book Review. Readers and reviewers generally found it a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. . . . In the 1980s, Davies completed another trilogy of novels, revolving around the biography of Francis Cornish. The so-called ‘Cornish Trilogy’ was another dense, erudite chronicle of upper class Canadian life. The second installment, What's Bred in the Bone (1985) earned Davies the 1986 Canadian Author's Association Literary Award for best fiction, as well as the New York National Arts Club's Medal of Honor for Literature. The other books in this series are The Rebel Angels (1982) and The Lyre of Orpheus (1988). Davies also wrote novels outside the trilogy format. These included High Spirits (1983) and Murther & Walking Spirits (1991). The Cunning Man (1994), a novel in the form of a memoir by an aging physician, was called ‘as substantial and entertaining as any he has written’ by Isabel Colegate in the New York Times Book Review. Davies retired from teaching in 1981, but maintained his membership in various literary and academic societies as he worked on his various novels. He died of a stroke on December 2, 1995. His last book, a collection of non-fiction essays entitled The Merry Heart: Reflections on Reading, Writing, and the World of Books, was published posthumously in 1997.”—William Robertson Davies Biography | Encyclopedia of World Biography, http://www.bookrags.com/biography/william-robertson-davies/, accessed March 7, 2008.
• “Growing up, Davies was surrounded by books and language. His father, Senator William Rupert Davies, was a newspaperman, and both his parents were voracious readers. He, in turn, read everything he could. He also participated in theatrical productions as a child, where he developed a lifelong interest in drama. He attended Upper Canada College in Toronto from 1926 to 1932 and while there attended services at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. He would later leave the Presbyterian Church and convert to Anglicanism over objections to Calvinist theology. After Upper Canada College, he studied at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario from 1932 until 1935. At Queen’s he was enrolled as a special student not working towards a degree, and wrote for the student paper, The Queen’s Journal. He left Canada to study at Balliol College, Oxford, where he received a BLitt degree in 1938. The next year he published his thesis, Shakespeare's Boy Actors, and embarked on an acting career outside London. In 1940 he played small roles and did literary work for the director at the Old Vic Repertory Company in London. Also that year Davies married Australian Brenda Mathews, whom he had met at Oxford, and who was then working as stage manager for the theatre. Davies’ early life provided him with themes and material to which he would often return in his later work, including the theme of Canadians returning to England to finish their education, and the theatre. Davies and his new bride returned to Canada in 1940, where he took the position of literary editor at the magazine Saturday Night. Two years later, he became editor of the Peterborough Examiner in the small city of Peterborough, Ontario, northeast of Toronto. Again he was able to mine his experiences here for many of the characters and situations which later appeared in his novels and plays. Davies, along with family members William Rupert Davies and Arthur Davies, purchased several media outlets. Along with the Examiner newspaper, they owned the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper, CHEX-AM, CKWS-AM, CHEX-TV, and CKWS-TV. During his tenure as editor of the Examiner, which lasted from 1942 to 1955, and when he was publisher from 1955 to 1965, Davies published a total 18 books, produced several of his own plays and wrote articles for various journals. For example, Davies set out his theory of acting in his Shakespeare for Young Players (1947) and then put theory into practice when he wrote ‘Eros at Breakfast,’ a one-act play which was named best Canadian play of the year by the 1948 Dominion Drama Festival. ‘Eros at Breakfast’ was followed in close succession by ‘Fortune, My Foe’ in 1949 and At My Heart’s Core, a three-act play, in 1950. Meanwhile, Davies was writing humorous essays in the Examiner under the pseudonym Samuel Marchbanks. Some of these were collected and published in The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks (1947), The Table Talk of Samuel Marchbanks (1949), and later in Samuel Marchbanks’ Almanack (1967). (An omnibus edition of the three Marchbanks books, with new notes by the author, was published under the title The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks in 1985.) Also during the 1950s, Davies played a major role in launching the Stratford Shakespearean Festival of Canada. He served on the Festival’s board of governors and collaborated with the Festival’s director, Sir Tyrone Guthrie, in publishing three books about the Festival’s early years. Although his first love was drama and he had achieved some success with his occasional humorous essays, Davies found greater success in fiction. His first three novels, which later became known as The Salterton Trilogy, were Tempest-Tost (1951), Leaven of Malice (1954) (which won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour), and A Mixture of Frailties (1958). These novels explored the difficulty of sustaining a cultural life in Canada, and life on a small-town newspaper, subjects of which Davies had first-hand knowledge. In 1960 Davies joined Trinity College at the University of Toronto, where he would teach literature until 1981. The following year he published a collection of essays on literature A Voice From the Attic, and was awarded the Lorne Pierce Medal for his literary achievements. In 1963 he became the Master of Massey College, the University of Toronto's new graduate college. During his stint as Master, he initiated the tradition of writing and telling ghost stories at the yearly Christmas celebrations. His stories were later collected in his book High Spirits (1982). Davies drew on his interest in Jungian psychology to create what was perhaps his greatest novel: Fifth Business (1970), a book that draws heavily on Davies’ own experiences, his love of myth and magic and his knowledge of small-town mores. The narrator, like Davies, is of immigrant Canadian background, with a father who runs the town paper. The book’s characters act in roles that roughly correspond to Jungian archetypes according to Davies’ belief in the predominance of the spirit over the things of the world. Davies built on the success of Fifth Business with two more novels: The Manticore (1972), a novel cast largely in the form of a Jungian analysis (for which he received that year’s Governor-General’s Literary Award), and World of Wonders (1975). Together these three books came to be known as The Deptford Trilogy. When Davies retired from his position at the University, his seventh novel, a satire of academic life, The Rebel Angels (1981), was published, followed by What’s Bred in the Bone (1985). These two books, along with The Lyre of Orpheus, became known as The Cornish Trilogy. During his retirement he continued to write novels which further established him as a major figure in the literary world: The Lyre of Orpheus (1988), Murther and Walking Spirits (1991) and The Cunning Man (1994). A third novel in what would have been a further trilogy was in progress at Davies’ death. He also realized a long-held dream when he penned the libretto to an opera: The Golden Ass, based on The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, just like that written by one of the characters in Davies’ 1958 A Mixture of Frailties. The opera was performed by the Canadian Opera Company at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto, in April, 1999, several years after Davies’ death.”—Robertson Davies - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org, accessed February 23, 2008.