Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

Destiny waits in the hands of God, not in the Hands of Statesmen

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Destiny waits in the hands of God, not in the hands of statesmen . . .

The Murder In The Cathedral by T. S. Eliot, American and then British modernist poet, is my personal favorite 20th century play and full of encouraging truth for the growing Christian believer. It is a diatribe against the excesses of Modernism and a lamentation of the state of Western culture.

Eliot’s play concerns the assassination of Archbishop Samuel Becket by Henry II.  The play begins with a Chorus singing, foreshadowing the coming violence. The rest of the play concerns four temptations (roughly paralleling the temptation of Christ).

Every tempter offers Becket something that he desires–but he will have to disobey the Lord and his own conscience.

The first tempter offers long life. He makes an existential appeal that is quite persuasive.

Take a friend’s advice. Leave well alone,

Or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone.

The second offers power, riches and fame.

To set down the great, protect the poor,

Beneath the throne of God can man do more?

The third tempter suggests a coalition with the barons and a chance to resist the King. This –compromise– temptation is very appealing.  He even uses biblical language!

For us, Church favour would be an advantage,

Blessing of Pope powerful protection

In the fight for liberty. You, my Lord,

In being with us, would fight a good stroke

 Finally, he is urged to seek martyrdom!  The very thing he may do is thrown in his face as a selfish act!

 You hold the keys of heaven and hell.

Power to bind and loose : bind, Thomas, bind,

King and bishop under your heel.

King, emperor, bishop, baron, king:

 Becket responds to all of the tempters and specifically addresses the immoral suggestions of the fourth tempter at the end of the first act:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:

Temptation shall not come in this kind again.

The last temptation is the greatest treason:

To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

A martyrdom is never the design of man;

for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God,

who has lost his will in the will of God,

not lost it but found it,

for he has found freedom in submission to God.

Becket continues.

The church lies bereft,


Desecrated, desolated.

And the heathen shall build

On the ruins

Becket will die, but not for any nostalgic reason.  Not for any sentimental purpose.  He will die in obedience to our Lord God.  He defies hyperbole.

In these Post-Modern times, as we struggle to make sense of all the hard times we face, of all the good things we can do.  Let us choose the obedient thing to do, not the thing that may seem right in our own eyes.

There is a crisis of ethics in our time. Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think he can turn the wheel on which he turns.

To do the right deed for the wrong reason . . . in this age of compromises, of good intentions, it is critical that we follow Becket’s example.  Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

The church shall be open, even to our enemies.

We are not here to triumph by fighting , by stratagem, or by resistance,

Not to fight with beasts as men. We have fought the beast

And have conquered. We have only to conquer

Now, by suffering. This is the easier victory.

For every life and every act

Consequence of good and evil can be shown.

And as in time results of many deeds are blended

So good and evil in the end become confounded.

In life there is not time to grieve long.

O father, father

Gone from us, lost to us,

The church lies bereft,


Desecrated, desolated.

And the heathen shall build


On the ruins

Their world without God.

I see it.

I see it.

A Good Father

Friday, February 26th, 2010

One of the interesting aspects of modern American drama is the absence of good fathers, or, for that matter any powerful male figures. David Blankenhorn, Jr., Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, describes a good father:

It would never occur to him–or to his children or to his wife–to make distinctions between “biological” and “social” fathering. For him, these two identities are tightly fused. Nor would it ever occur to him to suspect that the “male income” is more important for children than the “male image.” For him the two fit together. Consequently, he seldom ponders issues such as child support, visitation, paternity identification, fathers’ rights, better divorce, joint custody, dating, or blended families. His priorities lie elsewhere . . . (p. 201)

The Cry of Modern Humankind

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

The great religious writer Unamuno creates a character, Augusto Perez, in his book Mist, who, through omniscient narration, turns to his maker (e.g., Unamuno) and cries: “Am I to die as a creature of fiction?” Such is the cry of modern humankind. The Christian author and Harvard Professor Robert Coles laments that we “we have the right to think of ourselves, so rich in today’s America, as in jeopardy sub specie aeternitatis, no matter the size and diversification of his stock portfolio.” It seems, at times that we are lost. “The sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless is pervasive in contemporary culture,” Walter Brueggemann writes. “The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit.” This world does not provide what the characters in these plays need. No, not it really doesn’t. My class advisor in Harvard Divinity School, Dr. Forrest Church, now pastor in a Unitarian Church in New York City, writes, “In our faith God is not a given, God is a question . . . God is defined by us. Our views are shaped and changed by our experiences. We create a faith in which we can live and struggle to live up to it . . . compared to love a distant God has no allure.” Indeed. This thought has gotten us into quite a mess.

Drama of the Christian Faith

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

The British evangelical Dorothy Sayers writes:

The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man–and the dogma is the drama. [The central doctrine of Christianity is a tale of] the time when God was the under-dog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men He had made, and the men He had made broke Him and killed Him. Nobody is compelled to believe a single word of this remarkable story. But the divine Dramatist has set out to convince us.

How true Dorothy Sayers’ words are! I am preparing for my sermon this weekend, Romans 4, and I am struck again at how rich the “drama” surrounding our faith! We say in a negative way, “Don’t make so much drama!” But we can never eclipse the drama we read in the Gospel.

But we try. Television has become the command center of our new epistemology. It promotes shallow thinking and has pretty well killed reading and rhetoric. The clearest way to see through a culture is to see how it speaks to itself. The television has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse. Truth is not and can never be show business. (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves To Death). Americans want show business. This is one danger of our fascile Christian culture (Dawn, Dumbing Down).


Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Another important important contemporary of Sophocles playwright is Aeschylus. The importance of Aeschylus in the development of the drama is immense. Prior to his writings, tragedy (as opposed to comedy) had consisted of a chorus and one actor. Aeschylus introduced a second actor, expanding the dramatic dialogue and he revolutionizing Greek tragedy. He acted in his own plays, and directed the chorus. The role of director assumed a new importance in the person of Aeschylus. His most famous tragic trilogy, Oresteia, the only example of a complete Greek tragic trilogy which has come down to us, consists of the “Agamemnon,” the “Choephorae,” and the “The Furies.” Students should read at least one of the trilogy selections and compare it to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The following is the beginning of Agamemnon:

Pray the gods to quit me of my toils,
To close the watch I keep, this livelong year;
For as a watch-dog lying, not at rest,
Propped on one arm, upon the palace-roof
Of Atreus’ race, too long, too well I know
The starry conclave of the midnight sky,
Too well, the splendours of the firmament,
The lords of light, whose kingly aspect shows–
What time they set or climb the sky in turn–
The year’s divisions, bringing frost or fire.
And now, as ever, am I set to mark
When shall stream up the glow of signal-flame,
The bale-fire bright, and tell its Trojan tale–
Troy town is ta’en: such issue holds in hope
She in whose woman’s breast beats heart of man.
Thus upon mine unrestful couch I lie,
Bathed with the dews of night, unvisited
By dreams–ah me–for in the place of sleep Stands
Fear as my familiar, and repels
The soft repose that would mine eyelids seal.
And if at whiles, for the lost balm of sleep,
I medicine my soul with melody Of trill or song–anon to tears I turn,
Wailing the woe that broods upon this home,
Not now by honour guided as of old.
But now at last fair fall the welcome hour
That sets me free, whene’er the thick night glow
With beacon-fire of hope deferred no more.
All hail! [A beacon-light is seen reddening the distant sky.
Fire of the night, that brings my spirit day,
Shedding on Argos light, and dance, and song.
Greetings to fortune, hail!
Let my loud summons ring within the ears Of Agamemnon’s queen, that she anon
Start from her couch and with a shrill voice cry
A joyous welcome to the beacon-blaze,
For Ilion’s fall; such fiery message gleams
From yon high flame; and I, before the rest,
Will foot the lightsome measure of our joy;
For I can say, My master’s dice fell fair-”-Behold! the triple sice, the lucky flame!
Now be my lot to clasp, in loyal love,
The hand of him restored, who rules our home:
Home–but I say no moreore: upon my tongue
Treads hard the ox o’ the adage.
Had it voice,
The home itself might soothliest tell its tale;
I, of set will, speak words the wise may learn,
To others, nought remember nor discern.
[Exit. The chorus of old men of Mycenà enter, each leaning on a staff. During their song Clytemnestra appears in the background, kindling the altars].
(Charles W. Eliot, The Harvard Classics, Vol. 8< /SPAN>, NY: P. F. Collier and Co., 1937, 7-8).

In Ancient Greek tragedy, like Oedipus Rex, there was as an attempt to attain what Greek critics (e.g., Aristotle) called the “art impulses of nature.” Like mixing acids and bases in a chemical compound until one reaches equilibrium, Greeks sought to mix passion and realism to attain a sort of cosmic equilibrium. Thus the tragic plot would emphasize the realism of this play and the metaphysical lyrics of the chorus would highlight the passionate ingredient of the same play. The hope was that the net result would be a pure tragedy full of feeling and reason.

Students should ask themselves these questions, “Was that balance attained=2 0by Sophocles in this play? Was the play too incredible and passionate to enjoy? Or did Sophocles manage to inspire and to inform the view at the same time?”