Morality Play Essay

2796 words - 11 pages

POETIC DRAMA : MURDER IN THE CATHEDRALEnglish poetic drama in the twentieth century arose as a reaction to the deteriorating naturalistic prose plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Galsworthy. Its photographic realism failed to convey the tension and complexity of contemporary life. 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. Eliot took to writing plays late while already enjoying colossal poetic fame. Also a mature critic, he was well acquainted with the nature of poetic drama, its failure in the nineteenth century, and the problems, technical or otherwise, that a verse dramatist might face in his time. Through his criticisms, he frequently advocated for the poetic drama and crossed the misconceptions about it. In Matthew Arnold's words, he created "a current of fresh ideas" to help it flourish. "The craving for poetic drama is permanent in human nature", Eliot once remarked. He knew that it was still possible in the twentieth century, only "it cannot be the work of one generation working together, but has to evolve by the small contributions of a number of people in succession, each contributing a little." 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. First, 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".It's written in irregularly metred verse, mostly four beats to the line, with sporadic rhyming. A chorus of Canterbury women moan and wail in the background, supposedly representing the hopes and fears of the common folk.The characters of Eliot's most studied drama are not really individuals but representatives of positions in a moral argument. Becket, who ponders the nature of martyrdom and questions his own motives, is the only one who seems an individual, but he is too good for the real world. Apart from his momentary doubt over the "last temptation", he is too obviously venerated to be sympathetic to anyone who is not already an intense Christian. Murder in the Cathedral is supposed to be the showcase of Eliot's attempt to revive poetic drama. But it comes across as less a work for the stage than a long dramatic poem, and even that's exaggerating the theatrical possibilities.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. First, 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...

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