Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in September 26th 1888. A poet, playwright and a literary critic, TS Eliot became a man that paved the way for the advancement of Anglo-American literature. According to most people he became the prime leader of the modernist movement in the field of Literature as his poetry and drama revolutionized the genres, as did his critical analysis of different forms of literature. His revitalizing work finally awarded him the Noble Peace Prize of Literature in 1948.
“Murder In The Cathedral” is one of the most famous Eliot’s works. In order to grasp the idea of the play, the readers should know the history of the main character- Thomas Becket. He is the Archbishop in the Canterbury cathedral and he embroiled in a bitter dispute with King Henry II for the rights of the Church in England.
After his graduation, Thomas became archdeacon in Canterbury. As such, he served King Henry, who wants to have absolute power over the country and the church. Beckett was loyal to the King and he performed several important missions abroad. This earned him a strong position in Henry’s eyes and after the death of Archbishop Theobald in April 1161, Thomas Becket was named Archbishop of Canterbury. However, Beckett unexpectedly changed from cleric who pleased the Crown into archbishop who fiercely protected the interests of the Church. Beckett involved into harsh conflict with the king. After the fight sharpened, Thomas left England. In 1170 the Pope threatened to excommunicate the King. Henry, in an attempt to prevent such an extreme measure, allowed Beckett to return to England. But the King and Thomas did not soften their positions, and the Henry, with the help of four Knights, organized a plot to kill Beckett. On December 29, 1170 the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, was assassinated.
Becket is a representative of the power of God and wants to override the King who executes the individual will. The play depicts the constant struggle between the spiritual and temporal power. At the beginning of the play, Becker returns in Canterbury after seven-year abroad where he is seeking support for the Catholic Church.
The play is divided into two Parts and an Interlude between them. Part I starts with the Chorus made up of the Women of Canterbury. They perform a central role in the play because they are the mediator between the play and the audience . The Chorus opens the play staying “close to the cathedral” and they are “forced to bear witness” . The women are speaking in simple language and they are talking about the cyclical, mundane, and hard life of the common people, left at the mercy of events swirling around them . From the words they use and the way they depict themselves we can infer that these women are commoners: “poor women”. They are not aware of what is going on and why they are waiting- is it for good or bad:
Here let us stand, close by the cathedral. Here let us wait.
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