The Cocktail Party by TS Eliot is one of his most famous works. It is a morality play that deals with the failing marriage between Edward and Lavinia.
The play according to Eliot is a comedy but has very less comic elements. Instead, it has profound aspects and themes which make it quite odd. It has the following main themes
- the conflict that arises after marriage
- choices made by the main characters
- people should accept their roles
The play is based on the Alcestis Legend by Euripides (in Greek mythology Alcestis sacrificed herself to save her husband). Here in this play, Lavinia Edward’s Wife makes a sacrifice for her husband. The play has been divided into three acts.
- The first act is set during the cocktail party at Edwards house
- The second act is set in Reilley’s office
- the third act is set at Edwards house after 2 years
The First Act opens during a party arranged by Lavinia but she herself is absent. When the guests ask Edward about her he tells them that she has gone to meet her sick aunt. Alex narrates a story but repeatedly misses points making others curious about it.
Little latter guests leave except for an unidentified guest. Edward starts a conversation with him. It is revealed that Lavinia has left him. The couple was married 5 years ago but they were not comfortable with each other. They also didn’t have children.
The unidentified guest makes Edward reveal that he needs his wife back. The unidentified guest says that he will do so only if Edward promises that he won’t ask her for an explanation. Edward agrees and the stranger leaves singing a song.
Julia returns back saying that she has forgotten her glasses in the house. On reaching she finds it in her own back and goes away.
Peter enters and tells Edward that he has fallen in love with Celia and is quite sad because she hasn’t responded to him. Saying this he asks Edward for help.
Alex comes making Edward irritated. He goes to the kitchen and uses all his eggs to make food for him. Meanwhile, Celia enters and says to Edward that it is a suitable time for them to get married as Lavinia has left him. Edward tells her that Lavinia is coming back.
At this, both decide to end up their relationship because neither of them finds the other suitable for the life ahead. The next day Lavinia comes back and both talk about their marriage. They also have an argument and after resolving it, they make plans for dinner.
Act II opens in the office of the unidentified guest. It is revealed that he is a therapist namely Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilley. He was watching Edward and Lavinia for some time. He arranges to counsel of Edward and Lavinia first individually and then jointly.
In the latter session, both of them reveal their secret affairs (Edward with Celia and Lavinia with Peter) Edward tells that he realised that he didn’t love Celia. On the other hand, Lavinia tells that she didn’t love Peter as he fell in love with Celia.
Thus both are fed up with their extramarital affairs. Reilley advises them to give another try to their marriage. After some discussion, the couple leaves.
A little later Celia arrives as she needs counselling as well because she is feeling guilty for committing sin. Reilley suggests her that she should either resume her old life or can go on a tough religious journey. Celia chooses the latest suggestion. After that Reilley also converses with Julia and Alex.
The final act is set two years later at Chamberlain’s home. Edward and Lavinia are quite happy with their marriage. They have forgiven each other. All the guests from the previous cocktail party at present except for Celia.
Alex tells that Celia who had gone to Africa as a missionary got killed in a village of ‘heathen natives’. All consider her a martyr. Reilley who is also in the party is not surprised by this revelation as he had predicted it 2 years ago. The play ends with everyone achieving but they wanted