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Exploring the Lyric-Dramatic Interaction in the Work of T.S. Eliot

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posted on 15.11.2021, 02:45 by Coelho, Patrick Prashant

T. S. Eliot's fascination with the interaction between the lyric and the dramatic is evident from the fact that his poetry was often dramatic even before he began to write verse drama. Part of the reason for this interaction in Eliot was a kind of radical modernism that ensured a return to a primitivism where there was little distinction between the lyric and the dramatic. In this thesis I argue that this interaction is central to the nature of Eliot's creative work. The need for an interaction between the lyric and dramatic meant that The Waste Land (1922) possessed several dramatic qualities making it a precursor to Eliot's entry into the realm of poetic drama with the play, Sweeney Agonistes (1932). As part of my thesis, I conducted theatre workshops of the first two parts of The Waste Land in order to discover what dramatic elements emerged from the text and how their presence affected the lyric-dramatic interaction in the work, something which can surface only through performance. I argue that The Waste Land and Sweeney Agonistes occupy critical spaces in the mapping of the lyric-dramatic interaction in Eliot's creative oeuvre. The intensity of the lyric-dramatic interaction in Eliot's poetry builds up to a moment where he comes extremely close to drama in The Waste Land moving him to ultimately write his first play, Sweeney Agonistes. While Eliot's works after these two texts continue to exhibit characteristics of this lyric-dramatic interaction, the nature of this interaction undergoes a transformation after Eliot's conversion, manifesting itself in his religious poetry and drama which turns out to be a cul-de-sac in his experimentations. The intensity of this interaction in his work then gradually reduces to a point where the lyric and the dramatic no longer overlap especially after Eliot's first commercially successful play, The Cocktail Party (1949). By examining the reasons for the slow disassociation of these two crucial elements in Eliot's later work, I aim to stress the centrality of The Waste Land and Sweeney Agonistes to the lyric-dramatic trajectory in his work.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Ferrall, Charles; Wagner, Matt