MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
T.S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral can be very aptly be termed as the first successful modern religious play. He wrote this play for June 1935 Canterbury Festival.
Murder in the Cathedral has a historical background. It refers to the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in the cathedral of the city.
THOMAS BECKET IN MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
Theobald, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, recommended Thomas Becket to King Henry II. Very soon the King raised Becket to the rank of Chancellor, which was the highest office in the state. Henry II and Thomas Becket became good friends. The King then made Becket the Archbishop of Canterbury. The King thought this would be advantageous.
CONFLICT BETWEEN THE KING AND THE ARCHBISHOP
Very soon the King realized his mistake. Becket, the worldly chancellor became Becket, an ascetic monk and a spiritual leader. As a result Henry II became annoyed with Becket and a series of minor disputes took place between them. These disputes ultimately lead to a major quarrel and a murder in the cathedral of Canterbury. Thomas Becket was assassinated by four knights at the altar of the cathedral.
THEME OF MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
The central theme of the play is the significance of martyrdom. Hence temptation is very closely related to this play and has religious significance. Thomas very easily overcomes the first three tempters; for he is more or less beyond what these tempters offer him. The fourth tempter however offers him something to which Thomas is in danger of succumbing. But as soon as Thomas becomes aware of it, this ceases to be a temptation. Thomas now knows the true reason of martyrdom. Thus, he overcomes the reason that could have led him to damnation and is ready to face martyrdom for the right reason.
THE ROLE OF TEMPTATION IN MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
The first three tempters personify the obscure thoughts and desires of Becket. The fourth Tempter is a representation of deep-rooted desires which his conscious mind repressed. However, these four tempters play a significant role in the plot development.
THE FIRST TEMPTER IN MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
The first Tempter is a desire from Becket’s past. He reminds Thomas of the merry days of his youth. This tempter in Murder in the Cathedral reminds Becket of the delights of companionship with the King. When the King and Becket reconcile they could go back to the same enjoyment. However, Thomas Becket does not have much difficulty in turning down this temptation.
THE SECOND TEMPTER IN MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
The second Tempter offers Becket alliance with the King. This however, no mean offer for any man to aim for. But Thomas Becket possesses a greater power under the Pope. Hence, he rejects the lure of this power.
THE THIRD TEMPTER
This Tempter brings some obscure desire in Thomas Becket. Thomas desired to align himself with the barons to strengthen the hands of the Church, and extend the power of the Pope. This alliance would also end Henry’s tyrannous rule over the Barons and the clergy. But Thomas is aware the rule of law is threatened by this knowledge. He feels disgusted at stooping to political maneuvering. This enables him to dismiss the third tempter.
THE FOURTH TEMPTER
The fourth Tempter comes quite unexpectedly to Thomas. Thomas never suspected that he had any such idea. Hence, the fourth tempter’s quiet voice comes unexpectedly to him. This temptation originates in his unconscious. The offer of this tempter is the most serious. He offers eternal glory in the future. He represents that part of Thomas which was long hidden in the subconscious. This was his envisaging martyrdom for self-glorification as a saint and martyr. Then he could rule from the tomb.
The offer of the fourth tempter is the greatest temptation and in succumbing to it Thomas would commit the gravest sin. It is the sin of spiritual pride. Ultimately, Thomas overcomes this greatest and most terrible of all temptations.
At last defeating all the four temptations he is ready to face the future that is in store for him without involving his own desire or will in it.
ROLE OF CHORUS IN MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
The chorus is an essential component of classical drama. In the original Greek drama, a group of people interpreted the action to the audience, while taking part in the action. These groups of people are chorus. The chorus explained and commented on the action of character and analyzed their significance.
In this play Eliot depended heavily on the Chorus. The reason behind this is that the essential action in this play is somewhat limited. Hence, the introduction of excited and somewhat hysterical women, added to the development of the plot. These hysterical women reflecting in their emotion, the significance of the play helped in a wonderful manner.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE CHORUS IN MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
Eliot’s Chorus comprised of the charwomen, the poor of Canterbury. They represent the mass of humanity that Christ came to save.
On one level the play deals with the killing of Thomas and on another level, it presents the achievement of true martyrdom by Thomas Becket. However, this is not enough. True martyrdom requires the fulfillment of both the halves of a pattern.
Initially, the women of Canterbury are unwilling. They are reluctant to participate in anything that might affect their routine way of life. They know by their instinct that the coming misfortune will be different from those they had already experienced. And this upcoming misfortune will cause an upheaval that they simply fear to face.
Through the Chorus Eliot expresses the fears, desires, and intuitive knowledge of the mediocre human soul who faces the terror of a direct clash between good and evil. And through this Eliot brings out the significance of true martyrdom.
THE KNIGHTS IN MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
The four Knights, Reginald Fritz Urse, Sir Hugh de Morville, Baron William de Traci, and Richard Brito are the assassinators of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
These four Knights are not individualized personalities. They represent different aspects of secularism.
ROLE OF THE KNIGHTS IN THE MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL
The Knights play their role in the drama in two different phases. In the first phase, they are the agents of King Henry II. They came to Canterbury to execute the bishop. On the second phase or better to say in their Apologia, they speak out emphasizing the contemporary significance of martyrdom.
The Knights in Murder in the Cathedral represent evil as they burst rudely into the Cathedral slightly tipsy and singing a parody of a hymn. When Thomas refuses to submit to the king’s will, they murder him instantly.
However, after the murder, the Knights advance to the front of the stage and address the audience. Their address was in the manner of after-dinner speeches. Each Knight offers a vindication of their action.