Places: The Cocktail Party

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1950

First produced: 1949

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Comedy of manners

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Places DiscussedChamberlayne flat

Chamberlayne Cocktail Party, Theflat. London apartment owned by the Chamberlaynes, in whose drawing room most of the play is set. Although the apartment has an offstage kitchen, there appears to be virtually nothing eat in the apartment, except for a few eggs. The lack of food for the party, or even ordinary meals, symbolizes the lack of provision for any life in this shell of a home. As the play unfolds, both Chamberlaynes prove to live hollow existences that each of them has come to loathe. Relationships that Edward starts with Celia Coplestone and that Lavinia starts with Peter Quilpe prove fruitless and unsatisfying. Once the pretenses of husband and wife are unmasked, they learn to love each other, and are at last “lain” in their “chambers,” as their last name suggests. The last cocktail party held in this home shows that Edward and Lavinia have grown closer together, and Guardians toast to the partial success they have had.

Harcourt-Reilly’s consulting room

Harcourt-Reilly’s consulting room. Office of the psychotherapist Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. The office is arranged so that Sir Henry can manipulate the entrances and exits and meetings of people at his will. His consulting room functions like the central office for a spy network. Along with the other two Guardians, Mrs. Julia Shuttlethwaite and Alexander MacColgie Gibbs, these three function like the Greek Fates who shared an eye between them as they wove the tapestry of people’s lives. Sir Harcourt-Reilly sings about “One-Eyed Riley” and Mrs. Shuttlethwaite–whose name suggests weaving–is constantly looking for her glasses with only one lens. Alex completes this seemingly all-knowing trio with his globetrotting habits for gathering information about patients. Sir Henry ultimately sends Celia to her martyrdom, while salvaging the marriage of the Chamberlaynes, and trying to help Peter, whose future remains uncertain at the end of the play. For all of their insights and schemes, the Guardians prove limited in their ability to shape and direct lives.

BibliographyArrowsmith, William. “Notes on English Verse Drama, II: The Cocktail Party.” Hudson Review 3 (Autumn, 1950): 411-430. The best available article on The Cocktail Party. Offers a lucid analysis of the play’s rich Christian implications and its intricate internal structure. Arrow-smith ranks the work as highly for verse drama as he ranks The Waste Land for poetry.Jones, David E. The Plays of T. S. Eliot. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960. In chapter 5, Jones analyzes the play’s relationship to its Greek model, Euripides’ Alcestis, and explains the strengths of a verse drama that is easy to follow and yet profound.Kari, Daven Michael. T. S. Eliot’s Dramatic Pilgrimage: A Progress in Craft as an Expression of Christian Perspective. Studies in Art and Religious Interpretation 13. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990. Examines Eliot’s steadily improving use of characterization, verse techniques, and stagecraft as an expression of his movement from ascetic to communal models of Christian faith. An innovative and readable critique.Lightfoot, Marjorie J. “The Uncommon Cocktail Party.” Modern Drama 11 (1969): 382-395. A lucid and revealing article that analyzes the rhythms that make The Cocktail Party so successful on stage. Also discusses why Eliot’s verse drama is seldom understood.Tydeman, William. “Murder in the Cathedral” and “The Cocktail Party.” Houndmills, Basingstoke, England: Macmillan, 1988. A simple and straightforward interpretation of the plays as dramas. A good choice for directors and actors wishing to perform the play.
Categories: Places