Nancy, thanks for the email. I’ll respond to you off-list in a separate email.
Dear John,I agree with what you say, though as an actor ( English professor who acts for fun in a Shakespeare ensemble), I think one could do a fabulous and exciting performance of Sweeney Agonistes. I also saw a brilliant performance of Murder in the Cathedral in the Cathedral at St. Andrews. It was performed all through and around the audience. That seems to affirm what you say about the comedies: he really had not figured out that there are living humans with a much wider range of emotion than religious ecstasy or despair. But I wonder why, then, you chose them. Do you think they could be directed and acted in ways that would make them work now?Nancy>>> John Angell Grant 11/07/11 1:31 PM >>>
P. S., of course he seemed much changed by human love when he finally experienced it.
Hi Nancy,Thanks for the thought. I am a theater person myself, and have talked with other theater folk about the issue. Draw is always an issue. My sense is that Eliot's plays have a smug "I know the secret to life" feel to them, which is alienating and, in my view, paradoxically unchristian--a link to his Puritan heritage. Here's a 1950 review by of the The Cocktail Party, by William Barrett from the Partisan Review, which Jewel Brooker includes in her Contemporary Reviews book, which nails some of it, in my view. Barrett is referring to the 2 choices of life offered in The Cocktail Party (2 choices represented by the Chamberlaynes, and Celia):
“Here we must remember that Eliot, the last great product of the Puritan mind, has never shown in his poetry any real belief in the possibility of human love. The moment of love is presented always as the moment of withdrawal and renunciation, the awful daring of a moment’s surrender, one of ‘the things that other people have desired’; and consequently the beauty of the world is never present in the fullness of joy, but always with that painful clutch at the heart as at something taken away, lost, uncapturable. No doubt, resignation is necessary to get through life at all, and Freud himself stated that the aim of analytic therapy was to enable the neurotic to bear the sufferings inevitable in human life; but this is only half the picture, for the work of the analyst may also be to liberate the patient for the positive joys that life can hold, even perhaps for the possibility of love, and if the neurotic were told that he is to be resigned only for resignation’s sakes, it is very unlikely that he would have the strength to go on.
“I was surprised to read that one critic found in the play the gaiety that Stendhal recommends for all art, for it seems to me that at bottom the world of The Cocktail Party is the same empty world of Prufrock, except that 37 years ago Eliot did not disguise his contempt for this emptiness. So I feel at the heart of this play some immense tricherie [cheating], or at least self-deception, for I can’t believe that Eliot takes the Chamberlaynes as serious as he pretends to. Here again, comparison with Sweeney Agonistes becomes instructive, for in this earlier fragment Eliot fully realized all his hatred of human life and really enjoyed himself in the raucous company of Doris, Sweeney, Klipsteins, and Krumpacker—in comparison with whose vulgar vitality the characters at the cocktail party are genteel skeletons. As a writer Eliot has never really given us God’s plenty: the qualities of his genius are not robustness and richness, but precision, terseness, and intensity; and the shadow which haunts these qualities is a certain tendency to thinness and brittleness that here in The Cocktail Party has at last caught up with him.”
On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 9:57 AM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Dear John,I would think you could learn more about that from theater people than TSE enthusiasts. You might want to ask some theater faculty or directors.My guess is that they are not only rather outdated for contemporary audiences but are in verse. I imagine directors would doubt that they would draw. That's only a guess based on what is produced.Best,Nancy>>> John Angell Grant 11/07/11 12:48 PM >>>
I'm writing a Master's Thesis on Eliot's 4 drawing room plays (Family Reunion, Cocktail Party, Confidential Clerk, Elder Statesman). Does anyone have thoughts about why they are rarely performed these days. I set up Google Alerts for all 4 a few months back, and only one production popped up, and that wa 6 rehearsed staged readings of The Cocktail Party by the English-language theater in Abu Dhabi! Donmar did a series a few years back. And there was an NYC production a year or so back.