An Analysis/Summary of Thomas Stearns Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral

Author’s Background: Thomas Eliot lived between 1888 and 1965. He was an American poet, playwright and essayist. He became a British citizen in 1927. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Some of his most important works are ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915), The Waste Land (1922), Four Quartets (1943) and Murder in the Cathedral (1935). Eliot lived and wrote in the Modernist period and his essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919) defines the literary ideology of the period.

Background to Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral: Murder in the Cathedral is a historical play. This means that the incidents it depicts actually happened in real life. As the title suggests, the play recreates the murder of a priest in the church. The name of the murdered priest is Thomas Becket, who lived between 1118 and 1170. This was in the Medieval period, a time dominated by overt religiosity when the Church had complete control over people’s lives. Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of his murder. His position brought him in severe conflict with King Henry II, who wanted to cut back some of the powers of the Church in his domain, that is, England.

At this time in history, there was always the struggle for control between the Church and the State. The Church was the Roman Catholic Church headquartered in Rome. It was assumed that the Pope was the representative of God on earth and ruled over everyone, including Kings. Hence, Kings were expected to be subject to the powers of the Pope. On the other hand, there was the doctrine of the divine rights of Kings, a supposition that Kings derived their powers and authority from God and could not be questioned or checked. The implication here was that there was bound to be conflicts between the Church and the State in this kind of scenario. This is part of the conflict dramatised between Thomas Becket and Henry II or his agents in the play.

Murder in the Cathedral is also a Modernist play. It is a commissioned play published in 1935, some years after World War I and some years before World War II. As a modernist play, Murder in the Cathedral is noted for its experimentation in form and techniques. For instance, the play draws its material from the Medieval period to make important statements about the political climate of the modern world plagued by dictatorship, authoritarianism and uncertainty. Murder in the Cathedral is a tragic play whose tradition dates back to the classical period. Hence, the play deploys Greek tragedy principles like the elevated state of the tragic hero, his dignity and moral principles, wide acceptability, public admiration but with a tragic flaw. In Thomas Becket’s case, his hamartia is pride and arrogance, which makes him unbending and uncompromising to a fault.

Structure and Organisation of Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral: Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is divided into two parts. Each part has its characters and scenes or setting, both spatial and temporal. For instance, the characters in Part I are A Chorus of the Women of Canterbury, Three Priests of the Cathedral, A Messenger, Archbishop Thomas Becket, Four Tempters and Attendants. The characters for Part II are Three Priests, Four Knights, Archbishop Thomas Becket, Chorus of Women of Canterbury and Attendants. In between Part I and II we have the Interlude, which is Thomas Becket’s sermon on Christmas Morning in 1170 just before his murder.

Part I: Analysis: The scene is the Archbishop’s Hall on 2nd December, 1170, the year Thomas Becket was murdered. Plot wise, this means that the play has a non-chronological plot structure as the events begin in the middle and moves towards the end. The play begins with the Chorus of Women of Canterbury singing of the times and foreshadowing the impending tragedy – the murder of Becket. The Chorus are the poor and old women of Canterbury. That is exactly how they identify themselves: ‘For us, the poor, the poor women of Canterbury? What tribulation/With which we are not already familiar?’ This statement by Chorus infers poverty of common people in Medieval England and the steep class divide that existed among the nobles and the peasants at the time. What is easily noticeable about the speech by Chorus is that it is prosaic in nature, as it is with common and uneducated people’s speech. There is antithesis in the expression by the Chorus: ‘There is no danger for us, and there is no safety in the cathedral.’ Foreshadowing is captured in the expression, ‘Some presage of an act’.

 It should be noted that the presence of Chorus in the play does not only signal the deployment of Greek tragedy conventions in the play, but it also speaks of the modernist experimentation in form and techniques, as well as the modernist preoccupation with the ancients.

Three Priests enter. They discuss the absence of the Archbishop from England for seven years going, as well as the surrounding reasons for that absence. Messenger arrives to announce that the Archbishop, Thomas Becket, is in England.  First Priest wonders if the King and the Archbishop, ‘two proud men’, have reconciled. Messenger replies that it is not reconciliation that has brought the bishop back but ‘pride and sorrow’ and his love for the people. Messenger also reports on the rousing reception accorded the Archbishop by the people of Canterbury. This is one of the facts that angered Henry II. Messenger equally hints that the archbishop draws his strength from the Pope and the King of France. Messenger and Priests would continue to converse until Becket arrives. Most of these conversations constitute historical allusions in the play as they hint or make reference to actual historical events.

There is an instance of literary allusion when Third Priest says: ‘What peace can be found/To grow between the hammer and the anvil’. The statement speaks of the uneasy peace brokered between Becket and Henry II by the King of France at the instance of the Pope. But the expression ‘hammer and the anvil’ takes our mind to a poem by Kofi Awoonor entitled ‘The Anvil and the Hammer’. However, within the context of the play, the anvil and the hammer constitute a metaphor for the two opposing figures in the conflict of the play. It also specifically speaks of the unbending and difficult postures of Archbishop Thomas Becket and King Henry II, their pride and their irreconcilable nature, albeit their warring attitudes towards each other.

Another issue that emerges during these conversations is the conflict between temporal and spiritual powers and the quest for supremacy by their wielders. Temporal power is wielded by Henry II while spiritual power is commanded by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The question that the play seeks to ask and attempt an answer is: what happens when an individual or a group seeks or holds absolute power? Are there consequences or fallouts? Who suffers in the process of exercising absolute control over state affairs?

One question that keeps being repeated at this point in the play is: is it peace or war? The question is asked by Second Priest and First Priest. To this, Messenger replies: ‘Peace, but not the kiss of peace./A patched up affair, if you ask my opinion’. This statement hints at the refusal of the King to accord the archbishop the symbolic kiss of peace after the reconciliatory meeting. This is why Messenger calls it ‘A patched up affair’ because the peace deal is not genuine. This is an indication that trouble will erupt between the King and Thomas Becket later in the play.

Foreshadowing is seen in the following words by Messenger: ‘If you ask my opinion, I think that this peace/Is nothing like an end, or like a beginning. /It is common knowledge that when the Archbishop/Parted from the King, he said to the King,/My Lord, he said, I leave you as a man/Whom in this life I shall not see again.’ Chorus equally makes a statement that constitutes foreshadowing in the play: ‘You come with applause, you come rejoicing, but you come bringing death into Canterbury’. This statement refers to the Archbishop’s return to England and what it portends for the people and the Church.

Second Priest is glad that the archbishop is returning to the church in England after seven years in exile, stating that his return would provide the much-needed leadership in the church: ‘He will tell us what to do, he will give us orders, instruct us.’ Second Priest, therefore, urges the other priests to welcome the bishop back to church.

In response, Third Priest says: ‘For good or ill, let the wheel turn./The wheel has been still, these seven years, and no good./For ill or good, let the wheel turn./For who knows the end of good or evil?’ The wheel spoken about in the speech by Third Priest refers to the wheel of fortune, which was at the centre of the belief system of people in the Medieval period. The wheel of fortune was controlled by the goddess Fortuna, who turns the wheel to alter or change human destiny and conditions either from good to bad or from bad to good, depending on their position on the wheel at a particular time. The expression ‘who knows the end of good or evil?’ is a rhetorical question. This implies that for the people of the medieval period, fortune or wealth was fated and was in the hands of the supernatural forces and they grant it to whoever they wish. The statement also speaks to the unpredictable nature of human existence, especially as perceived by the medieval people. This is expressed in the grim and pessimistic speeches by Chorus throughout the play. A good example can be seen in the following words by Chorus: ‘Living and partly living./There have been oppression and luxury,/There have been poverty and license,/There has been minor injustice,/Yet we have gone on living/. Sometimes the corn has failed us, /Sometimes the harvest is good, /One year is a year of rain, /Another a year of dryness. . .’

The speech quoted above reveals the rhythm of life for the common people in medieval times. But it also signals the deep sense of uncertainty and pessimism that characterised the modern world in which Eliot lived and wrote. Thus, it is insightfully creative for Eliot to use the past to infer not only the present, but also the future. Anaphora can be seen in the positional repetition of the word ‘talked’ in the following statement by Chorus: ‘Talked at the corner of the fire, /Talked at the corner of the streets, /Talked not always in whispers.’

We have patriarchal invectives in the words of Second Priest directed at Chorus, whose speech Second Priest sees as pessimistic about the return of the bishop to Canterbury. Second Priest says: ‘You are foolish, immodest and babbling women’. These invectives depict the patriarchal views on women in medieval times. Simile is seen in the expression, ‘You go on croaking like frogs in the treetops’. There is an implied metaphor when Second Priest says: ‘But frogs at least can be cooked and eaten’. He is indirectly comparing the women to frogs, only that they are not as useful as frogs. This statement is misogynistic by today’s standards, to say the least.

The Archbishop Thomas Becket arrives and converses with the priests. He greets them with the word ‘Peace’ and goes on to make a speech on the necessity of action and suffering. This speech contains antithesis and paradox: ‘They know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer. /They know and do not know, that action is suffering/And suffering is action. . . That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action/And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still/Be forever still.’ This is a deeply philosophical statement by the archbishop. The speech is indicative of his resolve to go through the rites of martyrdom by taking the necessary actions even though it leads to pain and death. He immediately perceives it as something that cannot be avoided because it is fixed and established, meaning that it has happened before and it is likely going to repeat itself.

The bishop’s return is too sudden for the Priests to give him a befitting welcome. This is seen in the speech by Second Priest who blames Chorus of the Women of Canterbury, ‘these foolish women’, for distracting him. The bishop’s speech in response to Second Priest’s words is suggestive of the threats he faces, the intrigues in politics and power play. There is omen and foreshadowing in the words: ‘And will try to leave them in order as I find them’, referring to his rooms as mentioned in the last words of Second Priest’s speech, but implying his impending martyrdom.

The intrigues in the politics of England and its power struggle with Rome which puts the archbishop’s life in danger is described in the following words: ‘With eager enemies restless about us. Rebellious bishops, York, London, Salisbury, /Would have intercepted our letters, /Filled the coast with spies and sent to meet me/Some who hold me in bitterest hate.’ By rebellious bishops, Thomas Becket refers to those Bishops who helped to make Henry II’s son co-heir to the throne of England when it was actually Thomas Becket who should have carried out the function. Becket suspended the bishops and also got the Pope to back the suspension. Interception of letter is the major espionage activities of this time. But it also speaks of the political suspicion in Europe at the build-up to World War II.

Foreshadowing is seen in the words of Thomas Becket: ‘End will be simple, sudden, God-given.’ In this speech, Eliot uses Becket’s words to make a statement on the play itself: ‘Meanwhile the substance of our first act/Will be shadows, and the strife with shadows. . ./All things prepare the event.’

First Tempter enters. He tempts the archbishop with reuniting with the King to bring back past pleasures and friendship. He equally tempts the bishop with present and future pleasures which the bishop successfully overcomes. The bishop resists this temptation successfully: ‘You talk of seasons that are past. I remember. Not worth forgetting.’ It should be noted that these temptations constitute biblical allusion in the play, as they allude to the temptation of Christ as recorded in Luke Chapter 4 Verses 1 to 13.

It should be noted that part of First Tempter’s speech is rendered in rhymed verse, thus: ‘You see, my Lord, I do not wait upon ceremony:/Here I have come, forgetting all acrimony, /Hoping that your present gravity/Will find excuse for my humble levity’. The four lines quoted rhyme: aaaa. There is, however, no meter in this speech, as it is prosaic in nature. The perception of time as cyclical is noted in the words of Becket to First Tempter: ‘Men learn little from others’ experience./But in the life of one man, never./The same time returns.’ William Butler Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’, a modernist poem, describes this perception of time in the opening lines: ‘Turning and turning in a widening gyre. . .’.

It is seen from the play that First Tempter deploys all the tricks in the book; threats, blackmail, persuasion, to get the bishop to give in without success. For instance, he tells the bishop: ‘You were not used to be so hard upon sinners/When they were your friends. Be easy, man!’ This statement is an instance of humour in the play. It refers to the time when Becket was Chancellor and friend to King Henry II. First Tempter’s threat is found in the expression: ‘The easy man lives to eat the best dinners. /Take a friend’s advice. Leave well alone, /Or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone’. Another important thing to note is that these temptations come in the form of Becket’s own thoughts. Thus, the play is deeply psychological, which is an aspect of modernist literature, because in modernist literature, man is a vulnerable psychological subject.

Second Tempter entices the bishop with returning to the post of Chancellor with all the powers and pleasures associated with the office. The Bishop is urged to forgo spiritual power for real power, which is temporal power. According to Second Tempter, ‘Real power/Is purchased at price of certain submission. Your spiritual power is earthly perdition’. Again, this raises the conflict between earthly and spiritual power in the play. There is a historical reference in First Tempter’s mention of Clarendon, which hints at the Constitution of Clarendon that Becket refused to sign to grant Henry II more powers and which generated more tension in his relationship with the King. Now Second Tempter urges Becket to compromise and reconsider his stance, saying that Becket’s resignation from the post of Chancellor was a mistake and that he could still get it back. When Becket questions what joy earthly possessions could bring to a man of God, Second Tempter wittily replies: ‘Power is present. Holiness hereafter’.

One cannot help but notice the intelligence and eloquence of Second Tempter. He is portrayed as one very knowledgeable in politics and other aspects of public affairs. He is also very clever in his speech which is full of wits. In his responses, Becket also shows himself a man of steep educational, political and religious awareness. It is seen that Becket values spiritual powers over temporal powers, as can be observed in his speech resistant to Second Tempter’s wiles: ‘No! shall I, who keep the keys/Of heaven and hell, supreme alone in England, /Who bind and loose, with powers from the Pope, /Descend to desire a punier power?’ He considers returning to his post as Chancellor a demotion, ‘mean descent’. Please bear in mind that the temptation is nothing but Becket’s own thoughts.

Third Tempter calls himself ‘an unexpected visitor’. He tells Becket that there is no hope of reconciliation with the King. He urges the Becket to align with the Barons against the King. Becket replies that he does not want to betray the King. Unlike Second Tempter, Third Tempter is a country Lord, probably a Baron. He lacks the sophistication of Second Tempter who is a schooled gentleman and a courtier.  Third Tempter plays the ethnic political card by appealing to Becket’s Norman origins which set him apart from Henry’s origins. Becket succeeds in overcoming Third Tempter’s seduction with the same principle of rejecting temporal powers: ‘Shall I who ruled like an eagle over doves/Now take the shape of a wolf among wolves?’ He uses this rhetorical question to resolve not to betray the King. Irony and sarcasm constitute Third Tempter’s parting remarks to Thomas Becket: ‘Then, my Lord, I shall not wait at your door. /And I well hope, before another spring/The King will show his regard for your loyalty’. Again, there is an indication that Becket is merely being tempted by his own thoughts: ‘To make, then break, this thought has come before, /The desperate exercise of failing power.’ There is biblical allusion in the expression ‘Samson in Gaza did no more’, implying that what Sampson exercised at the climax of his life was a failing power. This is exactly what Third Tempter wants Becket to exercise. Becket resists this and states that he rather breaks himself than break anyone else.

Fourth Tempter is a surprise to Thomas Becket who does not expect a visitor after Third Tempter. Fourth Tempter says that he always precedes expectation. He tempts Becket with the exercise of his spiritual powers over the King. He also tempts the archbishop with immortality through martyrdom: ‘. . . Saints and martyr rule from the grave.’ It should be noted that the fourth temptation is the hardest of all. Becket acknowledges this thus: ‘Who are you, tempting with my own desires?’ This implies that Becket himself desires martyrdom.

Fourth Tempter is depicted as very persuasive in his speech. He tells Becket that the King would not trust him again after everything that had happened, which is one of the principles of politics; never completely forgive an enemy who was once a friend. Fourth Tempter tells Becket: ‘You know truly, the King will never trust/Twice, the man who has been his friend. . .’ Becket, according to Fourth Tempter, would merely be walking into a trap if he tries to be friends with the King again: ‘You would wait for trap to snap/Having served your turn, broken and crushed’. There is an implied metaphor in the expression ‘You would wait for trap to snap’ as it compares Becket indirectly to an animal because of the word ‘trap’. Fourth Tempter also states that it would be difficult for the barons to dethrone the King because the King can only be destroyed by greater enemies. By this speech, Fourth Tempter justifies Becket’s rejection of all previous temptations. It also clears the way for Fourth Tempter to tempt Becket with Becket’s own desires: martyrdom. Fourth Tempter’s speech is full of wits such as ‘Wantonness is weakness’ which is an epigrammatic expression.

Fourth Tempter even throws back Becket’s words at Becket, repeating his speech ‘You know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer’. Becket’s lame resistance to Fourth Tempter’s temptation is to contemplate if the suggestion constitutes pride which ultimately leads to eternal destruction: ‘Is there no way, in my soul’s sickness, /Does not lead to damnation in pride?’ Fourth Tempter’s speech even suggests a philosophic mind when he declares that ‘All things are unreal’.

Three Priests speak in unison, asking Becket ‘not to fight the intractable tide’. This is followed by the alternating dialogue among Chorus, Priests and Tempters. These speeches are in the form of rhetorical questions and witty expressions. For instance, Chorus asks, ‘Is it the owl that calls, or a signal between the trees?’ Chorus also says: ‘A man may walk with a lamp at night, and yet be drowned in a ditch.’ This is followed by Chorus of the Women of Canterbury recounting their suffering and asking the bishop to save them: ‘God is leaving us, God is leaving us, more pang, more pain than birth or death. . . O Thomas Archbishop, save us, save us, save yourself that we may be saved. Destroy yourself and we are destroyed.’ The expression ‘God is leaving us’ speaks more to the modern world than the medieval period which, to them, can only be considered an unbelievable prophecy. It is seen in the other part of the speech that the fate of the common people in Canterbury is linked to that of the bishop. Thomas Becket makes a long speech that brings the first part of the play to an end. This is followed by the Interlude.

Interlude: The Interlude is Becket’s sermon on Christmas morning in 1170. This is his final sermon before he is murdered. His preaching is a form of omen or foreshadowing. It touches on the theme of martyrdom of a Christian. He says that Christmas day affords Christians both celebration and mourning – celebrating the birth of Christ and mourning his death through mass. As already stated, the sermon foreshadows Becket’s death: ‘I do not think I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr.’

Part II: This part takes place in the Archbishop’s Hall and later in the Cathedral where Becket is murdered. The second part begins with Chorus describing the times, peace, war, seasons and harvest, nature, God and death, among other things. One of the striking statements made by Chorus in this speech is: ‘The peace of this world is always uncertain, unless men keep the peace of God’. This statement depicts man’s over-dependence on God in the medieval period. But for the moderns, it reveals why they are going through tumultuous times filled with war and bloodshed.

St Stephen’s Day is being celebrated after Christmas Day. This is denoted by First Priest coming on stage with a banner of St Stephen. He is said to be the first martyr as recorded in the Bible in Acts Chapter 7 Verse 58-60. The portrayal of St Stephen’s Day heightens the theme of martyrdom in the play, as well as the idea that we will soon have another martyr in the person of Archbishop Thomas Becket. It is little wonder then that this scene is followed by the entrance of the ominous Knights.

Historically, the four knights who killed Becket are Reginald Fitze Urse, Hugh de Morville, William de Traci and Richard Brito. In the play, they are represented as First Knight, Second Knight, Third Knight and Fourth Knight. The Knights tell Priests that they want to see Thomas Becket because they have urgent business from the King. Priests invite them to dinner, with the expression, ‘Dinner before business.’ The Knights decline the dinner offer with the expression ‘business before dinner. We will roast your pork/First, and dine upon it after.’ ‘Pork’ is a metaphor for Thomas Becket. Hence, this statement is an implied metaphor full of foreboding.

Then the Archbishop enters and makes a statement of huge dramatic import: ‘However certain our expectation/The moment foreseen maybe unexpected/When it arrives.’ Thomas Becket, by these words, knows that his martyrdom is already at hand. He speaks like someone who has prepared to die and has put his affairs in order: ‘On my table you will find/The papers in order, and the documents signed.’

The Knights demand to speak with the archbishop alone. Becket asks Priests to leave. When alone with the bishop, Three Knights accuse the bishop of rebellion, treason and disloyalty to the King despite being appointed to his present post by the latter. Becket denies the charges, saying that he had been loyal to the King. The Knights also accuse him of using his position to pursue personal and selfish purposes. These are serious allegations for a public officeholder. They equally bring up Becket’s humble background in order to humiliate him and foreground his betrayal of the man, the King, who lifted him: ‘This man who was the tradesman’s son: the backstairs brat who was born in Cheapside. . .’ When Becket enquires from the Knights as to the purpose of their visit, they reply that they visited Becket by the King’s command. Becket judges that the charges to be made would be of a public nature, which necessitates recalling the priests. When the Knights attempt an attack on Becket, the priests and the attendants defend Becket. This is the first attack. It is a sign that the Knights have evil intentions.

Another accusation levelled against Becket by the Knights is that he suspended the Archbishop of York and the other bishops who crowned Henry’s son co-heir to the throne. They ask Becket to forgive the disgraced bishops and restore them. Becket says that the matter is out of his hands and control, and that the suspension order could only be lifted by the Pope who affirmed the suspension of the bishops. This is not entirely true as it was Becket who suspended the bishops and got the Pope to do the same. The Knights tell the archbishop that it is the King’s order that he be banished from the land. Becket says he had already spent seven years in exile and does not want to leave his followers again: ‘Never again, you must make no doubt,/Shall the sea run between the shepherd and his fold’. The second part of the statement is an implied metaphor whereby ‘sea’ refers to the crown while ‘shepherd’ refers the archbishop.

Faced with banishment, Becket appeals to the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church which he refers to as authorities ‘higher than I or the King’. This statement angers the Knights because they see it as treasonable for Becket to elevate the Pope over the King. They start threatening him: ‘Priest, you have spoken in peril of your life’. They call him a traitor. Becket maintains his appeal to Rome but also states that if he is killed by the Knights, he will rise from his grave (resurrection, martyrdom and immortality). They Knights continue to issue their threats as they leave.

Chorus resumes, speaking of omens, especially that they smell the death-bringers, referring to the four Knights. In the end, Chorus asks the Archbishop to pray for them: ‘. . . pray for us that we may pray for you, out of our shame’.

Becket enters. He makes a speech about his coming death and the glory that will come with it after the ‘painful joy’ of death. The expression ‘painful joy’ is an instance of oxymoron. Priests enter. They are trying to scurry Becket away to a hiding place because the deadly and disgruntled Knights are coming back: ‘To the minster. Through the cloister. . . They are coming back, armed. . .’ Becket refuses to hide, saying that death will come only when he is worthy. This forces the reader to ask if Becket is deliberately seeking martyrdom. For instance, he tells the priests: ‘. . .And I am not in danger; only near to death’. The Priests urge him to go to vespers in the Cathedral. Still Becket refuses, urging the priests to go to vespers (prayer service) and pray for him there. The Priests try to seize him. Becket protests. But he is forces into the Cathedral.

The scene changes to the Cathedral as Chorus resumes, speaking of ‘horror’ and ‘more horror’, calling the Knights ‘agents of hell’.  The drama now focuses on the priests and Becket in the Cathedral. The priests bar the door of the Cathedral for safety but Becket commands them to open the door, which again leads us to believe that he deliberately desires martyrdom. He says: ‘Unbar the door! Throw the door open! I will not have the house of prayer, the Church of Christ, /The sanctuary, turned into a fortress’. Is Becket right in this assertion?  He says to the priests: ‘We have only to conquer/Now, by suffering’, referring to his death and martyrdom as ‘the easier victory’.

The door is opened and the Knights enter. They are not only armed, but also drunk. They ask for Becket. Becket presents himself. His words indicate that he is ready to die: ‘Ready to suffer with my blood. . .’ Among the demands made by the Knights include Becket absolving the suspended bishops, resigning his arrogated powers, returning the King’s money and resuming his obedience to the King. Becket refuses to accent to these demands, reiterating that he is ready to die so as to liberate the Church. He, however, asks that his priests be spared. Becket then makes one last prayer, committing himself to God before the Knights descend on him. Archbishop Thomas Becket is murdered in his Cathedral. Chorus takes over, asking for cleansing for land that has been polluted by this foul crime of murdering a man of God in his church.  

The four Knights then go outside to address the people who had gathered outside the Cathedral. They are trying so hard to rationalise on their actions. First Knight (Reginald Fitze Urse) is the first person to address the people. He pleads with the people to give him their attention, noting that the people are likely to condemn them for what they have done: ‘You are Englishmen, and therefore you believe in fair play: and when you see one man being set upon by four, then your sympathies are all with the underdog.’ First Knight adds that he is a man of action and not of words. Because of this deficiency, he will only introduce the other Knights who are better talented in speech making.

Third Knight (William de Traci) speaks next. He is the eldest among the four Knights. He says that they have been objective in their action of murdering Becket: ‘. . . in what we have done, and whatever you may think of it, we have been perfectly disinterested.’ They did not kill Becket for their own selfish goals. It was love for country, patriotism, that prompted them to act. He also envisages the fallout or consequences of their actions – exile, for instance, for them, as he knows that the King would not take responsibility for the murder. Third Knight also acknowledges that Thomas Becket will have the final victory over them.

Second Knight is introduced by First Knight. Second Knight’s name is Hugh de Morville. He is schooled in diplomacy and constitutional law. He maintains that the English always sides with the underdog. He says the King wanted a more centralised administration through the unification of spiritual and temporal powers exemplified in the offices of Chancellor and Archbishop of Canterbury. The King had thought that Becket would help him achieve this, but the moment Becket was made Archbishop, he resigned his Chancellorship position and allied more with Rome and the Catholic Church. He tries to make the people see reason why Becket had to be taken out of the way, difficult as it was for them as Knights: No one regrets the necessity of violence more than we do. Unhappily, there are times when violence is the only way in which social justice can be secured’. Is he right?

Fourth Knight (Richard Brito) is introduced by First Knight. Fourth Knight, in his speech, tries to establish that Becket actually wanted to die so as to become a martyr and that his death is suicide, not martyrdom: ‘I have unimpeachable evidence to the effect that before he left France, he [Becket] clearly prophesied, in the presence of numerous witnesses, that he had not long to live, and that he would be killed in England’. Fourth Knight also says that Becket had ‘determined upon death through martyrdom’ through deliberate actions of provocation towards the crown’. Fourth Knight adds: ‘. . . he [Becket] could still have easily escaped; he could have kept himself from us long enough to allow our righteous anger to cool’. All these point to the fact that, in the view of Fourth Knight, Becket deliberately wanted to die. The Knights leave the stage after these speeches. They equally ask the people to disperse to their different houses, warning them against loitering and breaking public peace. This shows that they are afraid of the people.

The Priests are left to mourn the demise of Thomas Becket. First Priest says that ‘The Church lies bereft’. Third Priest disagrees with First Priest, saying that the Church is stronger than what the Knights have done. Third Priest says that they now have another saint in Canterbury. This is a fact of history as Canterbury became a site of pilgrimage after Becket’s demise.

Chorus continues in praising God, urging man to acknowledge God no matter their station of life: ‘Even with the hand to the broom, the back bent in laying the fire. . . the back bent under toil, the knee bent under sin, the hand to the face under fear, the head bent under grief. . .’ Chorus also asks for forgiveness and prays for the late Thomas Becket.

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