Dramatic Verse gives Murder in the Cathedral its Quality

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      Murder in the Cathedral was T.S. Eliot's first attempt at reinteroducing poetic drama to the English stage. Indeed, the style and versification of the play was determined by Eliot's intention of restating the tradition of poetic drama in a form that was suitable to contemporary taste and situation. It was his well-considered opinion that poetry should be used, not as mere decoration, but with dramatic justification. Thus the subject of the play should be such that verse is the most appropriate medium for it to be expressed in. In the case of Murder in the Cathedral, the subject is obviously suitable for poetic drama. However, Eliot's use of verse is remarkable in this play mainly because it is dramatically functional as well as emotionally appropriate. Nowhere in the play is the verse out of place, nowhere is it a mere superficial device to attract attention. We are mostly unaware that a special verse is being used - that itself is a tribute to Eliot's technical skill, for the verse is eminently suitable to express the particular emotion, thought or feeling expressed as well as suitable to the persona of the character expressing it.

The poetry in the play is integral to the action of the play - so much so that "the language is the verse, which is the action, which is the atmosphere, which is the meaning" as Sean Lucy puts it. Indeed, the theme of the play is expressed, and the action is given unity and intensity, through the dramatic verse employed. "The verse varies from the slacker, extremely conversational pitch of the lighter passages, to the heightened rhythm of the more emotional". Eliot offers a verse which suggests the contemporary atmosphere, approaching, as it does, at many places the cadence of prose; at the same time, the verse is far enough removed from the present so as not to jars the ears when it becomes more intense or emphatic.
Murder in The Cathedral

      The poetry in the play is integral to the action of the play - so much so that "the language is the verse, which is the action, which is the atmosphere, which is the meaning" as Sean Lucy puts it. Indeed, the theme of the play is expressed, and the action is given unity and intensity, through the dramatic verse employed. "The verse varies from the slacker, extremely conversational pitch of the lighter passages, to the heightened rhythm of the more emotional". Eliot offers a verse which suggests the contemporary atmosphere, approaching, as it does, at many places the cadence of prose; at the same time, the verse is far enough removed from the present so as not to jars the ears when it becomes more intense or emphatic.

      The metres employed by Eliot are again used appropriately in each context to suit the thought and the character. In a sensible move, Eliot did not adopt blank verse. He has gone back to the versification of Everyman. Nor is Eliot averse to the use of prose where verse will not suffice. Furthermore, in this play the shift to prose is used to mark a shift in the relation between the audience and what is going on in the play.

      The most successful poetic effort in the play is, of course to be seen in the choric speeches of the poor women of Canterbury. The difficulty of writing choric verse is recognized. It does not allow for much variation in metre because it has to be spoken collectively. Nor, On the other hand, can it be too regular, tor then there is a danger of it becoming a monotonous sing-song. Free metres with the necessary variety in length of line is the only verse form fit for the choric passages. Eliot manages only too well here.

      The imagery used by Eliot is as functional and dramatically valid as the verse forms he uses. Each image helps to convey the meaning of the dramatist and to intensify the emotion concerned. The main images of the choruses are drawn from two sources - from nature and from the life of the poor. Both type of images are integrated to reinforce the impression of the mundane and orderly lives of the poor women. The imagery, however, develops as the play proceeds. In the earlier speeches of the Chorus, nature imagery emphasises a sense of destruction and revulsion, But in the end, all of Nature is seen as affirming the glory of God. Thus the imagery reflects the spiritual development in the Chorus.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Q. "The poetry of the play is not to be thought of as a kind of outer coating, a kind of decoration which is external to the action of the play". Substantiate with reference to Murder in the Cathedral.

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Q. Examine the imagery employed in the chorus of Murder in the Cathedral and give your comments.

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Q. Bring out the meaning and relevance of the chief images used in Murder in the Cathedral.

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Q. Comment on the verse, imagery and symbolism in Murder in the Cathedral.

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Q. The language is the verse, which is the action, which is the atmosphere, which is the meaning", says Sean Lucy of Murder in the Cathedral. Elucidate the statement.

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Q. It is the power of the dramatic verse that gives Murder in the Cathedral its quality of unity and intensity" Discuss.

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