Essays and Criticism
Giving Your Life for Your Faith
In Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917) he presents a man on the verge of an emotional crisis who finds that his fear of humiliation and of committing a social faux pas prevent him from revealing to a woman the depth of his love for her. "There will be time," he remarks, "For a hundred indecisions, / And For a hundred visions and revisions," since he knows that he will change his mind a hundred times before doing anything so brave. He asks, "Do I dare / Disturb the universe" with his desire to be frank; since he is '"'no prophet—and here's no great matter," since he is "not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be," he sees himself as insignificant, "an attendant lord, one that will do / To swell a progress, start a scene or two." Terrified of acting, yet dissatisfied with the results of inaction, fearful of revealing himself, yet dying to "say just what I mean," Prufrock stands in sharp contrast to a later Eliot hero, Thomas Becket, as seen in Murder in the Cathedral (1935).
Becket is a man who does "dare disturb the universe" with his arrival in Canterbury and refusal to concede to King Henry's demands; he needs no time for a "hundred indecisions" since he sees that the path chosen for him by God is clear. He is "like a prophet"' and Prince Hamlet in that he serves the aims of a supreme, supernatural figure and sees himself as one faced with a task that can only culminate...
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Review of Murder in the Cathedral
When Carole M. Beckett observes that "the dramatic function of the women of the Chorus (in Murder in the Cathedral] is to comment upon the events which they witness,'' she, like others, skirts the perplexing critical question of why the chorus is composed solely of women What, in the design of the play, would necessitate an all female chorus?
The second priest in the play sees little use for the chorus of women:
You are foolish, immodest and babbling women. . You go on croaking like frogs in the treetops: But frogs at least can be cooked and eaten.
These women, however, do perform a vital function- they expand our understanding of martyrdom through a metaphor of birth. The female chorus reminds us that both women and martyrs give birth to new life. For a woman, it is the life of her child; for a martyr, it is the life of his belief. In the play, the women's chorus shows us how before giving birth, a martyr, like an expectant mother, must wait and suffer.
To introduce his metaphor of birth, Eliot first shows us that both the women in the chorus and the martyr are waiting. The women open the play waiting "close by the cathedral" where they acknowledge they "are forced to bear witness." As it turns out, they will bear witness to the birth of a martyr. At this point in the play, even though they are not consciously aware of waiting, intuitively they are expectant; they wait and wait....
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Voices in the Cathedral: The Chorus in Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral
In staging T. S. Eliot's poetic drama Murder in the Cathedral, one of the principal technical and artistic-interpretive problems involves the presentation of the choral speeches. Textually they appear as odes with no specific instructions to indicate differentiation of voices. But the first staging of the play set the precedent for assigning parts within the choral odes to individual voices or varying ensembles.
The decision is in part a musical one, involving an assessment of the voices available and an orchestration of those voices to produce a pattern of sound that enhances the aural effect of the language. Obviously, however, the arrangement of voices must also relate to the thematic development of the odes as well. We cannot separate sound and meaning. Thus, while the individual director has some freedom in designating parts of the choral speeches, the poetry itself places strictures on that freedom. What I seek to do here is to provide a reading of the choral odes which identifies the principal thematic and dramatic voices in them.
The choral ode which opens the play serves as prelude not only to the drama which follows, but also to the varying functions of the chorus and to the different voices which articulate aspects of those functions. The initial stanza is a full-voiced statement of the entire chorus speaking as "the poor women of Canterbury" and outlining their roles as harbingers of some danger which diey cannot comprehend...
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