"Murder in the Cathedral" by T. S. Eliot

Categories: Murder

Murder in the Cathedral is a verse drama by T. S. Eliot that represents the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, initially carried out in 1935. Eliot drew heavily on the writing of Edward Grim, a clerk who was an eyewitness to the occasion. The play, dealing with an individual’s opposition to authority, was composed at the time of rising Fascism in Central Europe, and can be taken as a protest to people in afflicted countries to oppose the Nazi regime’s subversion of the perfects of the Christian Church.

[1] Some product that the manufacturer asked Eliot to remove or change during the writing was transformed into the poem “Burnt Norton”. [2]
The action happens in between December 2 and December 29, 1170, narrating the days leading up to the martyrdom of Thomas Becket following his lack of 7 years in France. Becket’s internal struggle is the primary focus of the play. The book is divided into 2 parts. Part one happens in the Archbishop Thomas Becket’s hall on December 2, 1170.

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The play begins with a Chorus singing, foreshadowing the coming violence. The Chorus is an essential part of the drama, with its voice altering and establishing throughout the play, offering remarks about the action and providing a link between the audience and the characters and action, as in Greek drama.

Three priests exist, and they show on the absence of Becket and the increase of temporal power. A declare announces Becket’s arrival. Becket is right away reflective about his coming martyrdom, which he welcomes, and which is understood to be a sign of his own selfishness– his deadly weak point.

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The tempters get here, 3 of whom parallel the Temptations of Christ. The first tempter offers the prospect of physical safety.

Take a pal’s suggestions. Leave well alone,
Or your goose might be cooked and consumed to the bone.
The second deals power, riches and fame in serving the King.
To set down the excellent, protect the poor,
Underneath the throne of God can man do more?
The third tempter recommends a coalition with the barons and a possibility to resist the King.
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, a fourth tempter urges him to seek the glory of martyrdom. 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.

The Interlude of the play is a sermon given by Becket on Christmas morning 1170. It is about the strange contradiction that Christmas is a day both of mourning and rejoicing, which Christians also do for martyrs. He announces at the end of his sermon, “it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr”. We see in the sermon something of Becket’s ultimate peace of mind, as he elects not to seek sainthood, but to accept his death as inevitable and part of a better whole. Part II of the play takes place in the Archbishop’s Hall and in the Cathedral, December 29, 1170. Four knights arrive with “Urgent business” from the king. These knights had heard the king speak of his frustration with Becket, and had interpreted this as an order to kill Becket. They accuse him of betrayal, and he claims to be loyal.

He tells them to accuse him in public, and they make to attack him, but priests intervene. The priests insist that he leave and protect himself, but he refuses. The knights leave and Becket again says he is ready to die. The chorus sings that they knew this conflict was coming, that it had long been in the fabric of their lives, both temporal and spiritual. The chorus again reflects on the coming devastation. Thomas is taken to the Cathedral, where the knights break in and kill him. The chorus laments: “Clean the air! Clean the sky!”, and “The land is foul, the water is foul, our beasts and ourselves defiled with blood.” At the close of the play, the knights step up, address the audience, and defend their actions. The murder was all right and for the best: it was in the right spirit, sober, and justified so that the church’s power would not undermine stability and state power.

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"Murder in the Cathedral" by T. S. Eliot. (2016, Oct 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/murder-in-the-cathedral-by-t-s-eliot-essay

"Murder in the Cathedral" by T. S. Eliot

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