Murder in the Cathedral



  • T. S. Eliot's verse play about the events leadingto the martyrdom (29 December 1170) of St Thomas à Becket.It was first staged in Canterbury Cathedral, the scene of the murder,in 1935 with Robert Donat as Becket. Usually considered Eliot's mosteffective work for the stage, the play combines elements of Greektragedy and the medieval morality play. It has often beenrevived; Richard Pasco assumed the title role in a successful 1972production.

    The play begins with the chorus of the poor womenof Canterbury giving voice to their sense of expectation and dread.Becket returns from seven years of exile to resume his confrontationwith King Henry II, who is seeking to control the Church. After refusingto compromise and giving himself up to God's will, Becket is accusedby the king's knights of treason. The Chorus despairs as Becket refusesto go back into exile and is consequently murdered by the knights.After the killing the assassins take it in turns to justify theiractions in a series of direct addresses to the audience. The playends with the Chorus and priests praising God for Becket's martyrdomand for the benefits it will bring to the Church.