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Defective Senses in Eliot’s The Cocktail Party

Defective Senses in Eliot’s The Cocktail Party

T.S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party, among all its banal or peculiar occurrences, is laced with images of defective senses and perception, particularly of sight. The muddle of reality and illusion confounds the main characters, and their attempts to escape drive the plot.

Within five lines of the play’s beginning we are confronted with defective senses: “You haven’t been listening,” (p. 9) complains Alex to the confused Julia when she asks about the tigers in his story. Julia exhibits another confused faculty, that of taste: at first she claims “What’s that? Potato crisps? No, I simply can’t endure them,” (p. 15), but later says “The potato crisps were really excellent” (p. 21). Soon she adds sight to the list: “I must have left my glasses here, / And I simply can’t see a thing without them…. / I’m afraid I don’t remember the colour, / But I’d know them, because one lens is missing” (p. 33). Even with her glasses, Julia’s sight will be impaired. And the glasses turn out to have been in her handbag all along. Yet Julia’s glasses, though often lost, through their very existence allow her to see better. The spectacles may indeed be a symbol for the play’s theme of blindness, but for Julia they provide an excuse to “see” more — to spy on her companions, as she admits when she says “Left anything? Oh, you mean my spectacles. / No, they’re here. Besides, they’re no use to me. / I’m not coming back again this evening” (p. 86).

The other characters of Eliot’s play all exhibit their own failings of perception. Alex finds no mangoes or curry powder in Edward’s kitchen, only eggs — no exotic or intense tastes, only the bland and prosaic. Alex says of his egg concoction that …

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…cent obliviousness “may remember the vision they have had” (p. 139) — but is “vision” here an apparition or a way of seeing? Do those who retreat from Celia’s discovery abandon a dream, or an entire sense? Reilly claims the retreat to normal life “I could describe in familiar terms / Because you have seen it, as we all have seen it” (p. 141), but, if Celia presses on, “the destination cannot be described…. You will journey blind” (p. 141) — our normal senses fail us, for we need some higher perception. An illusion or mirage is a failure of vision, so what of vision and mortal existence, whose illusion Celia has pierced? Such higher senses, perhaps, belong to the Guardians of Eliot’s half-hidden mythos. True sight may be granted only through travel “on the way of illumination” (p. 147).

Works Cited:

Eliot, T.S.,The Cocktail Party, Faber and Faber, 1950.

Free Hamlet Essays: Hamlet, Fortinbras and Leartes

Hamlet, Fortinbras and Leartes

Hamlet, Fortinbras and Leartes are all very different people with different lives, but as these men interact in the play we learn that there are many circumstances surrounding them that mysteriously connect them. All three of these characters had some reason to avenge some circumstance in their life, but they all had a very different way of conquering the object of their hatred.

Fortinbras had levied an army to attack and conquer Denmark. Though son of the late King of Norway, the crown of Norway had gone to his uncle, just as the crown of Denmark had gone to Hamlet’s uncle. This shows that in the world of the play it was not unusual for brothers to late kings to be elected to the throne over the pretensions of their younger nephews. But Fortinbras was not prepared to accept his constitutional dispossession so easily. If he had been deprived of the throne of his father, he would try to conquer a kingdom of his own in which, as he later tells Horatio, he has “some rights of memory.”

Fortinbras is not willing to put an end to his military adventures. Desiring to win honor through the sword, he cares not that the prize of his glory is worthless or that he will sacrifice thousands of lives and much wealth for this hollow victory. Like Hamlet, Sr., Fortinbras is an empire builder who desires only to fight for glory and so, in an ironic way, he is fitted by character to inherit the kingdom of Hamlet, Sr.

Laertes is a young man whose good instincts have been somewhat obscured by the concern with superficial appearances which he has imbibed from his father, Polonius. Like his father, Laertes apparently preaches a morality he does not practice and fully believes in a double standard of behavior for the sexes. But if his father allows him these liberties, it is that he may better approximate the manner of a so – called gentleman. More concerned with the outward signs of gentility than with any inner refinement of spirit, Laertes has well observed his father’s advice to be concerned with appearances since “the apparel oft proclaims the man.”

As unconcerned for the order of society as he is for his own salvation, he would rather “dare damnation” than leave his father’s honor and his own besmirched. Though the sight of his sister’s madness brings him to a moment of true grief, he is still primarily enraged by his father’s “obscure funeral – / No trophy, sword, nor hatchment o’er his bones, / No noble rite nor formal ostentation.

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