Experience into Words: Essays on Poetry

By D. W. Harding | Go to book overview

8 1
Progression of Theme in Eliot's Modern Plays

AS a result of Eliot's widened popularity and heightened public repute in recent times, accompanied as they are by a persistent undercurrent of the antagonism he used to provoke, we can expect a tide of adverse criticism to flow against him with growing force over the next few years. It will largely be due to the psychological processes that govern vogue, its causal connection with the merits and limitations of his work being tenuous and indirect. Although, no doubt, Eliot's literary criticism will soon come under fire, the most inviting targets for the first attacks have been the plays. In this situation the place of criticism--discriminating assessment--is only too likely to be usurped by the confident reversal of attitude that comes from lackeying the varying tide.

As a first step towards assessment we need to be clear what the plays are about and what Eliot has done in them. Comments on the quality of characterization, the dramatic structure, the verse form or any other of the conventional foci foci of critical attention are beside the point unless we are clear clear about the interests and attitudes that the plays convey. In the course of saying what statements the plays seem to make a critical evaluation may begin to emerge, but my aim is only elucidation; and the misconceptions evident in some of the critics' comments suggest that the task is not altogether easy, nor a waste of time.

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1
Based on the Wood Memorial Lecture given at Hughes Hall, Cambridge, England, 21 May 1955.

-132-

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