T.S. Eliot did just about everything literary. He was a poet, playwright, critic and editor.
He’s also a poet that 9/10 homeschooled kids adore by their freshman year of college. (While a joke, most of the homeschooled kids I knew at university were well versed in Eliot.)
I’ve read The Waste Land and Four Quartets.
But what I want to talk about today is Eliot’s plays. Specifically, Murder in the Cathedral and The Family Reunion.
Murder in the Cathedral:
This play is a dramatization of the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury.
Becket is tempted four times. Each temptation represents worldly pleasures, including temporal power against the king, temporal power against the king’s enemies, and spiritual power and glory. He confronts each of them and almost succumbs to the last. He dies at the hands of knights as a true martyr, meaning he did not actively seek his own death, but submitted himself to a fate ordained by God.
Eliot pulls in poetry when writing his plays. Actually, I’d say it’s a poem masquerading as a play. But so very, very readable.
“What day is the day that we know that we hope for or fear for? Every day is the day we should fear from or hope from. One moment Weighs like another. Only in retrospection, selection, We say, that was the day. The critical moment That is always now, and here.”
The Family Reunion.:
This play deals with a man’s guilt and his need for atonement.
In short, a party gathers at a stately home in the north of England to celebrate Lady Monchensey’s birthday. When her son, Harry, arrives he is haunted by the belief that he pushed his wife off the side of a ship. It’s revealed that he had an alibi, but whether he killed her or just wished her dead leaves him with guilt and that is his struggle in the play.
“Thus with most careful devotion
Thus with precise attention
To detail, interfering preparation
Of that which is already prepared
Men tighten the knot of confusion
Into perfect misunderstanding.”
I read Murder in the Cathedral in a day.
I first bought this play on a whim. Thinking I may read it, but I probably wouldn’t. The slim binding is what made me grab it late last year to read. I needed something short to read.
The first page captured me and I’ve never flipped through the pages of a play with so much interest.
The poem-play is crafted so well that the reader can easily follow the “plot” while immersing themself in beautiful words.
While I do hold the opinion that Murder in the Cathedral is the better of the plays, it isn’t because the language falls flat in The Family Reunion. The poetry of the play is still lovely and easy to read. In fact, I read the second one in just a few hours.
The Family Reunion wasn’t able to get at my heart the way Murder in the Cathedral was able to.
Have you any of Eliot’s work? What do you think about it?