Wednesday 25 September 2013

Sweeney Agonistes

I suppose this counts as a Favourite Snatch, but it's hors de series. From T. S Eliot's Sweeney Agonistes, the only one of his plays I've managed to read all the way through (it's very short). The deeply sinister Sweeney (who, despite my references in yesterday's blog to Eliot's favourite comedian Ernie Lotinga, I imagine sounds more like the actor Kenneth Cranham) has the following exchanges with Doris, a working girl. Apologies for the slightly wonky layout.

SWEENEY: I’ll carry you off
To a cannibal isle.

DORIS: You’ll be the cannibal!

SWEENEY: You’ll be the missionary!
You’ll be my little seven stone missionary!
I’ll gobble you up. I’ll be the cannibal.

DORIS: You’ll carry me off? To a cannibal isle?

SWEENEY: I’ll be the cannibal.

DORIS: I’ll be the missionary.
I’ll convert you!

SWEENEY: I’ll convert you!
Into a stew.
A nice little, white little, missionary stew.

DORIS: You wouldn’t eat me!

Extract ©  The Estate of T. S. Eliot. The Complete Poems and Plays published by Faber and Faber

I've never seen a performance of this play.

The British premiere in November 1934 was staged in a first-floor flat off the Charing Cross Road. The following year it was revived by Robert Medley's Group Theatre under the direction of Rupert Doone, who equipped the cast with cellophane masks. It was Medley who had, as a fellow Gresham's schoolboy, prompted the young W. H. Auden to become a poet by asking him, during an afternoon walk, whether he wrote poetry at all. Auden claimed it was at that very moment he knew what he wanted to do with his life).

A pirated version of Sweeney Agonistes was produced by the unscrupulous New York publisher Samuel Roth, who not only printed the 'Agon' without permission and added the hoodlum title 'Wanna go home, baby?' but then wrote to the New York Post denouncing the author as 'both a prig and a blackguard'. 

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