The Cocktail Party

The Cocktail Party T.S. Eliot the Dramatist

T.S. Eliot was known, first and foremost, as a poet, one of the most well-known and influential poets of the 20th century. His poems "The Waste Land, "The Hollow Men," "Ash Wednesday," and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" are considered some of the best poems in the English language and in 1948, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his contributions to poetry. Less widely discussed are his contributions to the stage; Eliot wrote seven plays during his career.

Inspired by Elizabethan and Jacobean dramas, Eliot wrote most of his plays in a blank verse. In 1933, he told an audience at a lecture he was giving, "Every poet would like, I fancy, to be able to think that he had some direct social utility . . . . He would like to be something of a popular entertainer and be able to think his own thoughts behind a tragic or a comic mask. He would like to convey the pleasures of poetry, not only to a larger audience but to larger groups of people collectively; and the theatre is the best place in which to do it." His first play was Sweeney Agonistes in 1926. His other plays include Murder in the Cathedral, The Cocktail Party, The Family Reunion, The Confidential Clerk, and The Elder Statesman. Murder in the Cathedral is widely considered his most successful play, and utilizes a Greek chorus.

Eliot's acclaim as a playwright never matched the praise he received as a poet. Many critics believed that his dramatic work was inferior to his lyric poetry, even though he thought that drama was superior to all other forms of poetry because of what the Encyclopedia Brittanica describes as his "belief that even secular drama attracts people who unconsciously seek a religion."