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A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party

An introduction to Eliot’s greatest play

The Cocktail Party (1949) was T. S. Eliot’s greatest success in the theatre. Loosely based (according to Eliot himself) on EuripidesAlcestis, the play combines autobiographical aspects from Eliot’s own life with ideas derived from his Christian beliefs, as well as aspects of drawing-room comedy, family drama, and psychoanalysis and psychiatry.

In summary, The Cocktail Party focuses on the failing marriage between Edward and Lavinia Chamberlayne. The play opens at the cocktail party which provides Eliot’s play with its title. Lavinia has walked out on Edward, leaving him to pursue a relationship with Celia. Chamberlayne, a lawyer, is present at the party, along with Celia; also in attendance are their friends Julia (a talkative older woman), Alex (a traveller who recounts a number of exotic tales of his adventures abroad), Peter (a screenwriter), and an Unidentified Guest (played by Alec Guinness in the original 1950 production). Edward and the mysterious stranger strike up a conversation, and Edward reveals that Lavinia has left him. The Unidentified Guest (who is later revealed to be Henry Harcourt-Reilly, a psychiatrist) says he can get her back for Edward, but on the condition that Edward doesn’t question Lavinia when she returns. Read the rest of this entry

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A Summary and Analysis of Sophocles’ Oedipus the King

An introduction to a classic play

The plot of Sophocles’ great tragedy Oedipus the King (sometimes known as Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Tyrannos) has long been admired. In his Poetics, Aristotle held it up as the exemplary Greek tragedy. Samuel Taylor Coleridge called it one of the three perfect plots in all of literature (the other two being Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones). Oedipus the King might also be called the first detective story in Western literature. Yet how well do we know Sophocles’ play? And what does a closer analysis of its plot features and themes reveal? Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’

A reading of one of nonsense literature’s best-loved poems

‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ is probably Edward Lear’s most famous poem, and a fine example of Victorian nonsense verse. But can one really analyse nonsense literature, or subject it to critical scrutiny? After all, the very name implies that it’s not supposed to make ‘sense’. Yet whenever a poem attains iconic status, it’s worth discussing how it has earned that status.

I

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’ Read the rest of this entry