38. The Man Born to Be King

3 minutes, 44 seconds Read

The Man Born to Be King. Dorothy L. Sayers. Edited by Kathryn Wehr. 1943/2023. 464 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: On February 5, 1940, Rev. Dr. James Welch, Director of Religious Broadcasting at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), wrote to Dorothy L. Sayers with a request. “I wonder,” he said, “whether you would consider writing a number of dramatic features for children, dealing with the life of our Lord?” The target audience was the “multitude of listeners to whom the Gospel Story is largely unknown and who could not be reached effectively in any other way.”
I read the Wade Annotated Edition of The Man Born to Be King. It is a collection of the TWELVE plays on the life (and ministry) of Jesus Christ our Lord. These plays aired on the BBC beginning in December 1941 and finishing in October 1942. Each play–I’ll list the individual titles below–was meant to fit into the whole, BUT, written to also be able to stand on its own. After all, each play would have its own listeners. There was no guarantee that these listeners would listen to all twelve plays, or would have listened. Each play features marginal notes–annotations–and bibliographical notes. These annotations provide context, fuller explanations, and allow for textual criticism. If a word or phrase was altered in various drafts–it will be noted. Or if someone asked Sayers to change a word, a phrase, etc., then her response may be noted in a marginal note. 
The twelve plays are 
  • Kings In Judaea
  • The King’s Herald
  • A Certain Nobleman
  • The Heirs to the Kingdom
  • The Bread of Heaven
  • The Feast of Tabernacles
  • The Light and the Life
  • Royal Progress
  • The King’s Supper
  • The Princes of this World
  • King of Sorrows
  • The King Comes To His Own
The book has a long–and necessary–introduction. It offers MUCH food for thought.
In contemporary times, more often than not, many if not most Christians are supportive–usually–of films and shows depicting the life of Christ. An actor portraying Christ is not usually controversial or scandalous. I used “many” and “most.” Those Christian believers who are scandalized and upset by portrayals of Christ are seen more as “odd” or “weird” or “extreme.” They can be vocal–on YouTube and other platforms–and they can find supporters for their position. But their “strict” position isn’t the “norm.” (For better or worse).
Reading this one was SO thought provoking. In that at the time Sayers was writing these plays, it was actually actually ILLEGAL to have Jesus Christ as a character in a play, as a character who appeared on stage. They [the powers that be] got around this law, of course, because this is a RADIO play that would not appear on stage. There was some drama about HEARING an actor’s portrayal of Christ over the radio, but, with a little ‘supervision’ this too was worked out amicably. There was a panel, I believe, of religious experts, who read the plays before they were aired. 
Another thing I thought was interesting was the idea of using the plays to “reach” the lost–particularly youth. The supposition was that there were/are generations who are absolutely clueless when it comes to the bare bones basics of the faith. They don’t have a foundation. There were/are HUGE gaps in their religious education. This was in the 1940s. The plays were written to bring Christ “to life” to help make the Christian message relatable and interesting. People may not respond to the Bible being read aloud, but maybe having it dramatized–with actors, sound effects, music, etc–will help people respond/react. 
I am super curious to seek out a recording of these plays. (I don’t know if the original recordings from the 1940s still exist and are available.) 
I will say that Sayers sought to HUMANIZE every character–regardless of if they followed Christ or opposed Christ. Even those who were at their core violently opposed to Christ get humanized. It was important to Sayers that every role–no matter how small or how big–be three dimensional. 
I didn’t love, love, love all her choices. In fact, there were a few times I thought she made some theological mistakes. (Like combining all the Mary’s into one character–the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene.) But Sayers made some clear literary, artistic choices. She wanted TIGHT plays that dramatically worked. She wasn’t looking to have actors read straight from Scripture. In fact, most of the time the dialogue is not straight from the pages of Scripture. Though it is arguably informed by Scripture.) 

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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