The Cocktail Party Critical Overview - Essay

T. S. Eliot

Critical Overview

(Drama for Students)

T. S. Eliot is best known today as a poet, even though his production in that area was relatively meager, he wrote less than four thousand lines of poetry, but volumes of groundbreaking literary criticism and seven plays Today, Murder in the Cathedral, his 1935 drama about the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170, is probably his best-known play and the one most often performed. During his lifetime, though, Eliot achieved the most popular success with The Cocktail Party. The play opened at the prestigious Edinburgh Festival in 1949, with Alec Guiness in the role of Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. In America, it opened on Broadway in January 1950 and ran for 325 performances, taking in approximately one million dollars. It won the New York Drama Critics' Award for 1950.

Both the London and New York productions were met with mixed reviews, particularly aimed at Eliot for the play's similarities to his previous dramas. As time has passed, the play's satire of the polite British comedy has become dated, making it less accessible to modern audiences, while its philosophical implications regarding the nature of human relations have made it a continuing favorite of critics. In the early 1970s, as part of a resurgence in critical attention toward Eliot following his death in 1965, Michael Goldman called The Cocktail Party

Eliot's most successful play, because in it lies the vivacity of the author's line-by-line response to his theatrical opportunities at its height We feel this most strongly in two ways—first in the interaction of the characters, and second in the use of all the elements of the mise-en-scene (the arrangement or setting for a play) to advance the action and to intensify and render more subtle our experience of it, in particular to heighten our sense that...

(The entire section is 748 words.)