----- Original Message -----From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">Tom ColketSent: Saturday, August 01, 2009 6:34 PMSubject: Info on Sweeney Agonistes, post 5 of 6 - Vassar
Info on Sweeney Agonistes, post 5 of 6:
Production at Vassar, 1933
[Sweeney production at Vassar in 1933, Chinitz p124]
While nearing the end of his 1932-33 stay in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Eliot had received a request from director Hallie Flanagan for permission to put on Sweeney Agonistes at Vassar College. On March 18, 1933, Eliot wrote to give his approval, along with extensive instructions for the play's performance. "The action should be stylised," he wrote, "as in the Noh drama-see Ezra Pound's book and Yeats' preface and notes to The Hawk's Well"; "Characters ought to wear masks .... Diction should not have too much expression"; "See also F. M. Cornford: Origins of Attic Comedy, which is important to read before you do the play" (qtd. in Flanagan 83).
. . .
Pleased with Flanagan's staging of the Sweeney fragments at Vassar in May 1933. and stimulated both by her wish for a fuller version and by the plan of the experimental Group Theatre to produce Sweeney Agonistes in London, Eliot went back to work in the summer of 1934, producing a typescript scenario of a complete Sweeney play called "The Superior Landlord."
. . .
The twenty-five-line scene Eliot gave Hallie Flanagan in order to round off the ending of Sweeney Agonistes already reveals, in its contrast with the earlier fragments, how far Eliot had come. The "Agon" had ended with nine ominous knocks on the door, which in the 1933 addendum herald the arrival of an old gentleman who "resembles closely Father Christmas" (qtd. in Flanagan 83). He explains that his name is Time and that he has come "from the vacant lot in front of the Grand Union Depot" where he waits "for the lost trains that bring in the last souls after midnight." He and Sweeney then engage in a catechism-a procedure that recalls, for instance, the ritual questions of Parsifal at the Chapel Perilous. The old gentleman's responses, as David Galef argues, contain "echoes of an Old Testament searching as in Exodus. Here, the trail ends not in the Promised Land but in the wedding-breakfast of life and death, the coming of Christ and a corporeal-spiritual union and dissolve". The themes of death and resurrection have survived from Eliot's original design for the play, but they have now taken on a lightly shrouded Christian significance. The idea of reuniting art and ritual persists, but "ritual" no longer evokes pagan associations: the generic fertility god has given way to the One.
Just as importantly, Eliot's new scene differs sharply from the earlier fragments in rhythm, diction, and tone. Sweeney's anagogical questions, as Galef points out, are uncharacteristic of a man whose typical utterances include "That dont apply" and "We all gotta do what we gotta do":
When will the barnfowl fly before morning?
When will the owl be operated on for cataracts?
When will the eagle get out of his barrel-roll?
(qtd. in Flanagan 83)
The proletarian language of the original play is not the only casualty here. The new scene, largely in prose, is considerably less energetic than the fast-paced earlier fragments; the jittery, manic, modernist quality is greatly diminished; the striking jazz rhythms are gone entirely. In his letter to Flanagan containing the addition, Eliot even writes off the play's "Prologue," where the main interest lies in the syncopated speech rhythms, as "not much good". There can be little doubt, then, that even if Eliot _had_ gone on with "The Superior Landlord," the resulting play would have been quite different from Sweeney Agonistes in tenor and technique. A new Sweeney play at this point would necessarily have resonated with Eliot's Christian sensibility, and with the poetic style this inculcated, as much as the play of a decade earlier had reflected its Jazz-Age context.
[Sweeney Agonistes at Vassar, Chinitz, p127]
After the performance of Sweeney Agonistes at Vassar, Eliot took the stage to lead a discussion of his work. As Hallie Flanagan recalled:
Philosophic discussion engendered by the play continued most of the night in a flow of Eliot prose and verse which I fervently wish had been recorded. Roaming about the setting of his own play he talked about poetry with impersonal lucidity.
"My poetry is simple and straightforward," he declared; and when the audience laughed he looked pained.
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