A Phoenix Too Frequent – Short Summary

A Phoenix Too Frequent is a one-act stage comedy in blank verse by Christopher Fry.


The one-act play is set in the underground tomb of the recently-dead Virilius, near Ephesus. Dynamene, Virilius’ grieving widow, has determined to remain in the tomb until she can join Virilius in the underworld. She is accompanied by her maid Doto. Outside the tomb, there are several human bodies hanging on trees. The play opens during the night, as Doto and Dynamene fast. The two ladies are disturbed at 2 a.m. by Tegeus, a soldier on guard nearby, who comes to investigate the activity taking place in the tomb, drawn by the light inside. He has originally been put on guard over the bodies of six criminals hanged nearby. Doto and Tegeus begin bantering as Dynamene sleeps, and share wine as well. When Dynamene wakes up, she is at first displeased by Tegeus’ presence in her place of mourning and thinks of him as a trespasser, but warms up to him eventually. The intimacy between the two increases, and Dynamene renames Tegeus as Chromis. However, Tegeus eventually has to return to check on his guard post, which he leaves unmanned while spending time in the tomb. When Tegeus returns shortly after, he reports that one of the bodies from his post is missing, and was most likely cut down by the family members for a proper funeral. He further reports that when his neglect of his duties will be discovered, he is liable to court martial. Tegeus then resolves to kill himself rather than be dishonoured thus. Once again, Dynamene finds herself faced with the prospect of losing her love a second time. However, she suggests that the use Virilius’ body as a substitute for the body that has gone missing on Tegeus’ watch. While Tegeus is appalled at first, she manages to persuade him. Dynamene, Tegeus and Doto drink a toast to the memory of Virilius as the play ends, as Dynamene opts for life with Tegeus/Chromis rather than death with the entombed Virilius.

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