VIOLET CLIFTON'S Sanctity is descended in direct line from T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. The family resemblance is, at least superficially, quite unmistakable. A life of a saint has been selected from subject matter—St. Elizabeth of Hungary in this ease. Her progress towards the state of sanctity, the argument. Her death, the culmination.
In method of presentation the resemblance holds too. Miss Clifton moves her story along swiftly without breaks in continuity; from youth to age time passes with the swift imperceptibility of life itself. She uses poetry, varied by hard prose occasionally for contrast. The chorus (angelic this time) is integral to Sanctity as it was to Murder.
But there resemblance ends—just on that note that whereas Miss Clifton's play was called Sanotity (emphasis on the spiritual) Mr Eliot's was called Murder etc. (emphasis on the material) and whereas Miss Clifton was so much the less subtle by presenting the spirituality of Elizabeth as something practically accomplished before her life began, T. S. Eliot allows the spirituality of Thomas to emerge more strongly as time passes from an obstinate pridestuffed character of unpromising material for saintliness.
No condemnation is implied in this statement for Miss Clifton's work. Hers is a devotional sermon to the converted, a pictorial meditation drawn with lively language and a deeply spiritual imagination. Mr. Eliot's play was of sterner, controversial, worldlier stuff maybe you'd call it. Etherealism, even of the heavenly variety, it didn't know. It dealt with human problems and dealt with them, too, with deep spiritual imagination, so that the sanctity it set out to establish was made as fundamentally real to the unbeliever as to the believer.
From their mutual use of chorus. much can be learnt of these playwrights' varying attitudes. Miss Clifton's angelic host are always commentators on the spiritual progress of Elizabeth—Mr Eliot's earthly women of Canterbury suggest the atmosphere and mood of the next: action of the play.
The Sunday Theatre's production of Sanctity in the hands of E. Martin Browne was smooth-flowing and ritualistic, like a liturgical service, and Marie Ney, playing the part of Elizabeth, gave as dimensional a portrait as the stainedglass conception of Miss Clifton's saint warranted. To the chorus, commendation. Their lines, the most lovely in a play of true poetry, were spoken worthily.