T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral tells the story of Thomas Beckett, a man who reigned as Archbishop of Canterbury during the 12th century in England until his death in 1170. In order to tell Beckett's story, Eliot creates a series of equally interesting characters that each play a crucial role thought the play. The most unique rolefound within the play is the Women ofCanterbury, or the Chorus. Throughout the piece, the Chorus delivers seven choral odes. These choral odes, when looked at as a collective work tell a story. They begin with brief foreshadowing of events that will occur later in the play, but then quickly jump into necessary storyline; one which summarizes the events of the pasts, and then immerses the audience into the common man's view of the events in the present. The first choral ode begins with heavy foreshadowing. The Women of Canterbury are drawn towards the Cathedral, but they do not know why. At first, there is confusion. They question, "Are we drawn by danger? Is it the knowledge of safety that that draws our feet towards the Cathedral?"As they reach the cathedral however, they come upon a realization. "There is not danger for us, and there is no safety in the cathedral. Some presage of an act, which our eyes are compelled to witness, has forced our feet towards the cathedral." They recognize that it is not their own personal danger that draws them closerto the cathedral, but instead the foreshadowing of a horrifying act in which they will be forced to bear witness. It will be an act so terrible, that safety can not even be found within the hallowed halls of the cathedral. After the period of foreshadowing, themood of the first choral ode drasticallyshifts away from the dark and mysterious presage of an act to a description of the concrete past. The remainder of the choral ode serves as away to bring the audience up to speed on the last seven years of Canterbury'shistory. While they convey the events of the past, the women of Canterbury express a constant lurking fear for the safety of their Archbishop. A perfect example of this common theme found within the first choral ode is in the following stanza, in which the Chorus states: "Seven years and the summer is over,
Seven years since the Archbishop left us,
He who was always so kind to his people.
But it would not be well if should return."
These lines are typical of the first choral ode, for not only do they explain to the audience that the Archbishop Thomas Beckett has been gone for seven years now, but they fear for his well being and for the wellbeing of Canterbury if he were to return. As the choral ode draws to a close, the Women of Canterbury give off a sense of unavoidable waiting. They say: "Come happy December, who shall observe you, who shall preserve you? 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"
They welcome the month of December,but then question how it could possibly be a joyous time. Who would be able to celebrate the Christmas and Advent season with the terrible events that are about to occur? Could Jesus bereborn into such scorn? The Women ofCanterbury know that there is little they can do at this time. They must wait, and then witness the act that they fear. With the commencement of the secondchoral ode, the general mood shifts from confusion and waiting to fear. The Women of Canterbury have been informed that Beckett is returning to Canterbury. Such an announcement stirs great anxiety amongst them. They fear that their way of life will be disrupted and endangered. They plea to a Thomas who has not yet arrived to: "Return. Quickly. Quietly. Leave us to perish in quiet.
You come with applause, you come with rejoicing, but
You come bringing death into Canterbury:
A doom on the house, a doom on yourself, a doom on the world." The women say that though they will be rejoicing on the outside, their deep insides will be dominated by fear,...
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