Cornish literature is a treasure trove of historical and cultural gems, and among these, “Gwreans an Bys” or “The Creation of the World” stands out as a remarkable medieval miracle play. This blog post delves into the mysterious origins of “Gwreans an Bys,” traditionally attributed to William Jordan of Helston, Cornwall, while shedding light on recent insights that challenge the notion of Jordan as the play’s original author.

The Drama’s Enigmatic Creation

On the 12th of August 1611, a man named William Jordan, residing in Helston, completed the writing of “Gwreans an Bys,” another captivating miracle play in the Cornish literary tradition. However, recent scholarship has raised doubts about Jordan’s role as the true author of this drama. Notably, Whitley Stokes pointed out intriguing details in the stage directions that suggest an earlier composition date, possibly predating 1611. Furthermore, the mention of “limbo” within the play hints at a composition date before the Reformation.

The Transcriber, Not the Author

It appears increasingly likely that William Jordan was not the original author but rather a diligent transcriber. He may have painstakingly copied the text from an older, now-lost manuscript, possibly with the intention of preparing it for an actual performance. This revelation challenges the long-held assumption that the decline of miracle play performances occurred around 1620.

Linguistic Evolution and English Influence

A fascinating aspect of “Gwreans an Bys” is its linguistic evolution. The Cornish in which it is written demonstrates the growing influence of English, as loanwords from English become more prominent. This linguistic shift further supports the idea that Jordan’s manuscript reflects an evolving Cornish language influenced by the English language of the time.

Manuscript Treasures

Today, William Jordan’s original manuscript of “Gwreans an Bys” resides in the Bodleian Library, accompanied by a copy. These manuscripts are precious remnants of a bygone era, offering valuable insights into the cultural and linguistic heritage of Cornwall.


The story of “Gwreans an Bys” is a testament to the complexity of Cornish literature and its fascinating evolution over the centuries. While William Jordan’s name has long been associated with this remarkable play, recent discoveries suggest that he was more likely a transcriber than an original author. Regardless of its authorship, “Gwreans an Bys” continues to captivate scholars and enthusiasts alike, offering a window into the rich history of Cornwall and its unique contribution to the world of medieval drama.

As we unravel the mysteries surrounding this play, we gain a deeper appreciation for the enduring legacy of Cornish culture and its literary treasures.

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