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Murder in the Cathedral (1935)

by T. S. Eliot

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,729284,230 (3.7)82
A dramatization in verse of the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. " The theatre as well as the church is enriched by this poetic play of grave beauty and momentous decision" (New York Times). " Within its limits the play is a masterpiece.... Mr. Eliot has written no better poem than this and none which seems simpler" (Mark Van Doren, The Nation).… (more)

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» See also 82 mentions

English (26)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
The story of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket told in the form of an ancient Greek drama. Although the work is highly praised, I found that it did not evoke an kind of emotional reaction. The one surprising thing about the work was that it provided a good justification of Becket's killers. ( )
  M_Clark | Jan 23, 2022 |
Can be staged or read as a closet drama. The chorus is "of Women", the players are three male cathedral priests, a messenger, Thomas Becket, four Tempters/Knights, and attendants. Set in the Hall of the Archbishop, Canterbury, December 2d, 1170.

The chorus of women introduce themselves--"we are not ignorant women"-- and set the stage with particulars of the Archbishop's return to Canterbury, and ending with the question "Shall the Son of Man be born again in the litter of scorn? For us, the poor, there is no action, But only to wait and to witness."

The play exposes the consequences--fear and chaos of entire peoples [20]--caused by the idiocy of tyrant Kings who engage in endless "intrigue, combinations", devouring their own people. [14]

Becket is "tempted" by four Temptors: First, by friendships and kissing pleasures, then by power, and then by rough English unity against a tyrant King. Finally, by Mystery--the appeal of "eternal grandeur" as a martyr for the Church.

The "Interlude" has the Archbishop preach a Christmas Sermon. The message highlights the cruel combination of celebration and grief engaged in the feast of celebration of the Savior's birth, who is at once mourned.

The Priests express their devotion with ineffective (cowardly) tactical evasions--flight, perhaps back to France. The Knights kill Becket. And then "having completed the murder", they advance center stage and address the audience. They beg the audience to hear "the merits of this extremely complex problem" and proceed to make brilliant arguments justifying their action--stone cold murder!

The Priests continue to make lame/ineffective invocations, and the Chorus returns to recite a great hymn to pantheism--"We praise Thee, O God, for Thy glory displayed in all the creatures of the earth..."!

Of course, the dramatic but subtle takeaway may be the exposure of the fact that the entire world is foul. Even among the most conscious creatures, cruelties abound. The outcomes never, ever, never never never result in justice. "Our hearts are torn" even as they beat with life, and even the air and the stones of the world "cannot be cleaned or redeemed". [78]

Does Faith provide space for Hope in this journey? ( )
  keylawk | Jun 22, 2020 |
One of the darkest plays I have ever read. Absolutely wonderful!! ( )
  thePatWalker | Feb 10, 2020 |
The greatest work of verse by the great American/English poet T.S. Eliot was not in a poem (though some readers of The Waste Land might disagree). It is surely Murder in the Cathedral. In a short play, Eliot shows his mastery of the British form of Church and State. In so doing, he sends a message that those who do not practice justice shall some day receive vengeance.

The story of the 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Becket is well-known. He spoke out against a tyrannical King. The King of the English would not relent, so he killed Thomas in his cathedral. Thomas’ blood, however, spoke volumes about King Henry. His story later called to mind when another King Henry beheaded another Thomas (More) over the expedient English separation from Rome. This type of story is a reminder through the ages that ultimately, integrity trumps power. No one knows much of Henry II, but Thomas Becket’s story still speaks to English school-children.

Eliot was born in St. Louis but settled in England. He worshipped English culture with his whole heart. As an adult, he converted to Anglo-Catholicism and thereafter practiced his devotion until his death. While teaching at Harvard for a year, he came into contact with the idea that theater was the new venue of poetry. Out of these currents, he put together this play, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The story is short; the tale is epic; the writing is clear; and the topic is masterful. Works like this simply make life more worthwhile. ( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
Amazing poetry and performances. On the nature of ambition and opposition to authority. A perfect story for our times. I have access to six recordings of the performance (1938, 1953, 1968, 1976, 1983, 2003) and the version from 1953 with Robert Donat is the best IMO and critically acclaimed. I dipped into the others and they don't have the same gravity or are over-produced, though a wide variety of interpretive performances. The text is quite rich and the play rewards. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Nov 18, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
T. S. Eliotprimary authorall editionscalculated
Coghill, NevillEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kern, A. FransTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nijmeijer, PeterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schröder, Rudolf AlexanderTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Here let us stand, close by the cathedral.
We have all had our private terrors,
Our particular shadows, our secret fears.
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Wikipedia in English


A dramatization in verse of the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury. " The theatre as well as the church is enriched by this poetic play of grave beauty and momentous decision" (New York Times). " Within its limits the play is a masterpiece.... Mr. Eliot has written no better poem than this and none which seems simpler" (Mark Van Doren, The Nation).

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Book description
The Archbishop Thomas Becket speaks fatal words before he is martyred in T. S. Eliot's best-known drama, based on the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. Praised for its poetically masterful handling of issues of faith, politics, and the common good, T. S. Eliot's play expanded his reputation as the most significant poet of his time.
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Ediciones Encuentro

2 editions of this book were published by Ediciones Encuentro.

Editions: 8474909570, 8474903947


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