How is "Murder in the Cathedral" a poetic drama different from other plays?
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Murder in the Cathedral is a poetic drama, true. It was written by Thomas Stearns Eliot in 1935 and is regarded as one his major works, a testament to his skill as a poet and a dramatist. Eliot composed the play for the Canterbury festival to be held the same year and revitalised verse drama - a form that had not been widely employed for almost three hundred years. Critics praised Eliot’s use of poetry or verse and his ability to invest a past historical event with modern issues and themes, such as the ways in which a common person react to intrusion of the supernatural in their daily lives.
The Play as a poetic drama-
A poetic drama is one in which poetry and drama are fused. Since the dialogue between the characters is in verse, the play becomes a combination of music, imagery, and ritual. These factors create high intensity and dramatic effect.
English poetic drama in the twentieth century arose as a reaction to the deteriorating naturalistic prose plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Galsworthy. Stephen Phillips perhaps initiated the revival of poetic drama with Herod (1901), with great Irish writers like Yeats, Synge and O'Casey later reinforcing the movement.
"The craving for poetic drama is permanent in human nature", Eliot once remarked. He placed a high ideal of poetic plays before his age, beginning with Murder in the Cathedral, for which he did a lot of experimentation. He asserted that "no play should be written in verse for which prose is dramatically adequate." Clearly, the poetic drama needed to symbolise the emotional realities, in contrary to the socioeconomic issues that constituted the naturalistic plays. In Murder in the Cathedral, he chose to retell the inner conflict of Becket to win over temptations and be a martyr by losing "his will in the will of God". The play demonstrate religion as the ultimate meaning of human existence, leading people "to think in Christian categories."
Poetry in the Play-
The language of Murder in the Cathedral combines the metre of Morality Plays. Some of the best poetry comes with the Chorus, as in Part I:
"Here is no continuing city, here is no abiding stay.
Ill the wind, ill the time, uncertain the profit, certain the danger.
O late late late, late is the time, late too late, and rotten the year;
Evil the wind, and bitter the sea, and grey the sky, grey grey grey."
In Part II the Chorus cries:
"Clean the air! Clean the sky! wash the wind! Take stone from stone and wash them.
The land is foul, the water is foul, our beasts and ourselves defiled with blood.
A rain of blood has blinded my eyes."
Poetry in the play is merely decorative. It helps in revealing the personae of the characters as the objective co-relative of their minds, while its symbolism works out the thematic implications.
Eliot regarded poetry as the most apt form of expression in theatre.He stated that the subject matter of the Murder in the Cathedral was well suited for verse drama and justified that the two prose sections by saying that Beckett’s sermon would not be convincing if it had been in verse.
Murder in the Cathedral enjoys a wide range of possibilities and unquestionably a testament to the writer’s poetic skills.
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