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T. S. Eliot – Part IV

Dr. White begins the fourth of his Broadstairs series on Eliot with a recapitulation of the main themes of the preceding lectures and considers additional key episodes in Eliot’s life, such as his conversion and its relationship with his becoming an English citizen. He considers Eliot’s love of Shakespeare’s Pericles and the formers’s Marina, named after the daughter and the reunion from arguably the greatest reunion scene in all of literature. Discussing Ash Wednesday, Dr. White suggests that Eliot begins to firmly grasp essential truths, and notes the solitary life Eliot lead after the point at which the consensus was reached that his wife should go into an institution.

Dr. White also explores the return of Eliot’s “first love” – the stage, and examines the choruses in The Rock and discusses Murder in the Cathedral, in fact commissioned by Canterbury. The latter work is compared with Waiting for Godot, which is also about waiting (and the writers of both plays loved and were immersed in Dante), transmuted into patient suffering under a divine pattern whereunder souls play a part. Finally, the doctor explains the four temptations present in Murder in the Cathedral – sensuality, which gives a false joy; it is the temptation of youth, which Becket rejects. The second is the temptation to make peace with the state and acquiesce. The third is the revolt against tradition, and the fourth – which Thomas admits is unexpected – is pride: “Be a martyr!” Dr. White also notes the unique interaction of the play’s actors with their audience – which sees the four 4 murderous knights presenting their case to their auditors. The play concludes with a beautiful hymn to the martyrs with a Te Deum in the background.

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