A Study of T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral
Hamedreza Kohzadi and 2Fatemeh Azizmohammadi
Department of English Literature, Science and Research Branch, Islamic Azad University, Arak, Iran.
Abstract: T. S. Eliot's, Murder in the Cathedral, was originally written for the Canterbury festival and tells the story of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett (1118-70) by Henry II's henchmen. It is essentially an extended lyrical consideration of the proper residence of temporal and spiritual power, of the obligations of religious believers to the commands of the State, and of the possibility that piety can be selfish unto sin. It is this kind of interplay and the confrontation between Church and State which informed society at it's healthiest. It was men like Beckett and the Knights, willing to sacrifice even their lives in discharging their respective duties, who created the great Western institutions. So long as there were men like Beckett for the State to reckon with, to stand as moral examples and human rebukes to the power of the State, there existed a serious counterbalance to the worst excesses of that power. Indeed, such was the weight of Christian revulsion against this murder that Henry had to scourge himself publicly to atone for it. This article attempts to examine T. S. Eliot's short play, Murder in the Cathedral especially in terms of the traditional image of the turning wheel and the still point. Key words: T.S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral, Church, the Turning Wheel, the Still Point. INTRODUCTION In the Coriolan poems the manipulation of a continuous parallel by Eliot between antiquity and contemporaneity leads initially to a concern with the substitute the world seeks for the Word, and finally to a resignation leading to the discovery that our peace is in His will. This theme of timeless reality glimpsed in the world of Time is carried forward in Murder in the Cathedral in a circling movement, so that time humanized as history and time as "a pattern of timeless moments" is contained in a dialectical relationship in the "still point" the point of intersection of Time and the Timeless. Various possible orchestrations of meaning are sounded in the play between the well rhymed time as history and time as mystery. Murder in the Cathedral inscribes a number of patterns in terms of assimilated dramatic conventions and traditions and the use of language, illustrating the idea of time contained in eternity and eternity glimpsed at through time. If, on the other hand, poetry is to do in the theatre "a kind of humble shadow or analogy of the incarnation, where by the human is taken up into the divine" (1949). There is, on the other hand, the scientific legend to which Eliot appeals whereby he taps-what psychologists call our "race memory;" by making use of the primitive ritual in content and action he converges upon a pattern of co-extensiveness, concurrence and intersection of time and eternity. . In achieving this Eliot is verily a literary anthropologist who gives us in the play a pageant-like enactment as it were of the whole English dramatic form. Modes and elements from Greek drama through the medieval morality play to Bernard Shaw are brought together in the form of the play, Murder in the Cathedral. The poetry reveals, in its imagery, the fusion of the Christian and the pagan. The play itself is based upon the Dionysian and the Christian ritual and upon the correspondence between them. The relevance of C. L. Barber's description that Eliot's is a "tolerant Christian anthropology" is nowhere better seen than in a play like Murder in the Cathedral (1959). T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral: Murder in the Cathedral, as Francis Fergusson says, is based on a different idea of the theatre, a different basis in reality. It takes the audience as officially Christian and on that basis "the...