Papers of Nevill Coghill, 1930-79

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 161 MSS. Eng. lett. c. 798-809; Eng. misc. a. 32, b. 442, c. 1013-22, d. 1435, d. 1437-8; Photogr. c. 8-10, g. 5
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      31 shelfmarks

Scope and Content

A large proportion of the papers concerns Coghill's work for the Oxford University Drama Commission in the 1940s and his attempts to found a Chair of Drama at Oxford and to acquire a theatre for the University. His correspondence with members of the academic, theatrical and film worlds reflects his efforts to legitimise and establish a permanent home for drama in Oxford. Since he usually retained carbon copies of his outgoing letters, both sides of the exchange are in many cases preserved. The collection includes a series of photographs, playbills, theatre programmes and letters relating to the performances of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, as well as production books for the other plays directed by Coghill - most notably A Midsummer Night's Dream, which he directed in 1945 for John Gielgud at the Haymarket Theatre, London.

Administrative / Biographical History

Nevill Coghill (1899-1980) was Fellow and Tutor of English Literature at Exeter College, Oxford, and subsequently Merton Professor of English Literature. A lively and unorthodox teacher, he reached a larger audience than most scholars are accustomed to with his modern English version of The Canterbury Tales, first published in 1951. He was also associated with the Inklings, the informal Oxford literary group centred on C.S. Lewis, whose other members included J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. He was, however, best known as the most influential amateur theatrical director of the period, particularly for his open-air productions performed in college gardens under the auspices of the Oxford University Dramatic Society.

For a history of the Oxford University Dramatic Society, see Humphrey Carpenter, OUDS (Oxford &c., 1985). Coghill's involvement with University drama is described in chapter 7, `The Coghill Era'. See also To Nevill Coghill from Friends, ed. John Lawlor and W.H. Auden (1966), and John Wain, `Nevill Coghill', Dear Shadows (1986). A selection of Coghill's essays has been reprinted in The Collected Papers of Nevill Coghill, ed. Douglas Gray (Sussex &c., 1988).

Access Information

Entry to read in the Library is permitted only on presentation of a valid reader's card (for admissions procedures see

Acquisition Information

The Coghill papers were bought, through Bertram Rota Ltd., from Mrs. Carol Martin, in 1986.


Collection level description created by Emily Tarrant, Department of Special Collections and Western Manuscripts.

Other Finding Aids

A full catalogue is available in the Library. An online catalogue will shortly be available (

Related Material

For Coghill's prompt-book for the Burton-Taylor Dr. Faustus (1966), see MS. Eng. misc. c. 922. Other material relating to OUDS and drama at Oxford will be found in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library.