Essay title: The Personalization of History in “murder in the Cathedral”
T. S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He went to school at Harvard and, after graduating, lived in England.It was here that he was employed as a schoolmaster, a bank clerk, and a literary editor for a publishing house called Faber & Faber.
After working there for a number of years he became a director. Eliot's poetry shows the growth of a poet with devout religious views, but Eliot was always careful not to become a religious poet. He believed that the power of poetry as a “religious force” was limited (Nobel 1).
However, the plays Murder in the Cathedral and The Family Reunion are viewed as Christian apologies. History is based on fact. Fact is often regarded with indifference; it is not bound by any moral code. In his play, Murder in the Cathedral, T.S. Eliot explores the morality and emotions that took place in a historical occurrence.
He elaborates on personal responsibility in the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. In a battle between church and state, Eliot describes a spiritual battle, and the courage it takes to fulfill the will of God. Archbishop Thomas Becket is the protagonist in this play. At one point, Becket was loyal only to the crown.
He served King Henry faithfully as a chancellor, and participated in a close friendship with the monarch. However, this friendship is the source of Becket’s struggle in the play. As chancellor, Becket regards the church harshly and with a stern hand; as a result, King Henry names Becket Archbishop when his predecessor dies. Henry feels that it is an excellent strategy to keep a friend in the church and, in so doing, maintaining some control. To the king’s dismay, Thomas undergoes a drastic change almost immediately after assuming the office.
Becket turns to service, and begins to put his spirituality before his faithful devotion to the crown.Becket’s conversion became an immediate annoyance to King Henry. King Henry tries to manipulate Archbishop Thomas Becket’s position in the church, but Becket resists. To exercise his power, the king attempts to have many law-breaking clerks tried.
Becket rebuts and asked for the release of the clerks on the grounds that a layman should not be allowed to make judgments for a clerk. He argues that, instead, the law-breaking clerks should be tried before the church. Henry denies the Archbishops arguments and does not allow the clerks to be tried before the church. Tension between the former friends climaxes on October 13, 1164 when Becket is accused of treason. When brought before the court, Becket stands and announces that no layperson would be allowed to try him, and he leaves the court. Soon after, Becket fleas to the Pope for support.
Becket has little success. He refuses any attempt at reconciliation and argues viciously with nearly everyone that confronts him about the matter.Eventually, after a six-year exile, Becket meets with King Henry and appears to make amends.
He returns to Canterbury and assumes his office once more. However, things fall apart soon after when Thomas refuses to absolve any bishops that he had excommunicated while in exile. This infuriates the king and he spouts out a tirade asking some one to rid him of such trials. Four knights overhear him and carry out the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket. The Archbishop’s death is a momentous occurrence in the Catholic Church’s history.
Because Becket put God before a long-time relationship with a monarch and before his own well-being, his death causes a schism in the church. Those who supported Becket strongly oppose those who supported King Henry. In Eliot’s play, he emphasizes the personal struggle of Thomas Becket in the battle between two political figures. Though the play describes the historical facts leading up to and taking place during the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Eliot is elaborating on the emotional state of a martyr just before death. By injecting emotion into historical fact, Eliot gives the audience the ability to relate to the characters. The modern audience would not be able to relate to an Archbishop who is constantly arguing with a monarch, but would not find it difficult to relate to a man swaying between the temptation of sin and the honor of committing to the will of God. Becket is an authority figure in the church and he still must deny temptation.
The fourth tempter sways Becket the most. He proposes that Becket accept martyrdom for the ever-lasting.