Murder in the Cathedral
The play as written for the Canterbury Festival of June 1935, for which Eliot had been invited by the bishop of Winchester to write something on some episodes of local history. Eliot chose the murder, by four Knights, of Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury Cathedral. The murder was the result of his opposition to Henry II (1170).
Yet, instead of representing Beckett's personal struggle with his outer enemies, Eliot focused on his inner conflict , on his temptations and even on his doubts about the nature of his martyrdom: did he really seek it for God's greater glory or, ambitiously, for his own? The answer to this question comes at the end of the play when, offering his blood for Christ's blood, Beckett accepts death in His name. The scene opens with the priests' hysterical attempts to bar the door and save the Archbishop. But Beckett, with a violence reminiscent of Christ in the Temple among the merchants, orders them to open the church and let the enemy in, since it is out of time that his decision is taken and because it is through suffering that will now conquer. There is here the same conception of the Negative Way of St, John of the Cross: it is "by fighting , by stratagem or by resistance" that he will triumph, but by giving himself up, annulling himself in God's will. He has already conquered the "beast", for example the temptation to die for his own personal glory, a "BEAST" that is even worse than the four beasts named by the priests (lion, leopard, wold and boar), and is now ready to face the other "beast" embodied by the knights . So he does not oppose them and is killed.
Eliot's poetic style varies, in this scene, according to the characters. The Priests' language ia mainly short and broken, marked by urgency , as of scared people . Beckett, however, after his first outburst, speaks in calm, simple, unrhymed lines, insisting on using certain words and images, especially "blood and death", which had a liturgical tone in his sentences. The "slightly tipsy" Knights, on the contrary , speak in verse: at first all together, in rhyme quatrains all ending in repetitive rhythmical expressions , then separately , accusing Beckett with one-line sentences built on the same
rhythm and rhyme pattern, an irreverent parody of hymns. Taking up the same rhythm and their last word "traitor", the Archbishop answers the knights' accusations and reveals their treachery . Then , with a last prayer in prose ,
which sounds like one leg verse, he dies , commending his soul and the Catholic Church to God Almighty.