T(homas) S(tearns) Eliot

Definition

Theater

  • (1888 - 1965) US-born British poet, dramatist, and critic.Born in St Louis, Missouri, he studied philosophy at Harvard beforeleaving for Europe in 1914. In 1915 he decided to settle in the UKafter marrying an English woman. Working first as a schoolteacherand then as a bank clerk, he managed to establish himself in his sparetime as perhaps the most significant poet of the age; by the mid-1920she had also become the poetry editor of Faber and Faber and the founder-editorof The Criterion (a literary journal).

    Despite a long interest in the stage, it was not until the1930s that Eliot's first important plays appeared. The poetic dramasMurder in the Cathedral (1935), about the martyrdom of Thomasà Becket, and The Family Reunion (1939) were not immediatelyaccepted into the repertoire of the commercial theater. In the 1950s,however, his prestige as a major poet entitled his three post-warplays The Cocktail Party (1950), The Confidential Clerk(1954), and The Elder Statesman (1954) to prestigious West-Endproductions. All Eliot's plays reflect his preoccupation with religion(he became an Anglo-Catholic in 1927) and his own personal sense ofguilt (largely connected with the mental illness of his first wife,their separation in 1933, and her death in 1947). In the decades sinceElliot's death, however, those plays have been given very few revivals.Indeed, it seems ironic that Eliot's best-known contribution to the stageis now the libretto of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Cats(1981), which is based on the light-hearted verse contained in hisOld Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939).

    In 1984 Eliot's tortured marital life became the subject ofthe controversial play Tom and Viv by Michael Hastings.

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