Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot

(New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1935), 94

The copy I have from the UA Library is full of wonderful notes and marginalia. As an example, this is on the first page:

The play cannot properly be called a tragedy, because Becket triumphs morally over both the tempters and the knights. The best analogue of T. S. Eliot's plot is the tribulation theme in the Book of Job.

Part I

Part I acts as a prologue to the historical action in Part II. Part I is necessary because unless Becket vanquishes the tempters he could not vanquish the knights.

  • "Wishing subjection to God alone. Had the King been greater, or had he been weaker things had perhaps been different for Thomas." (17)
  • Thomas: "We do not know very much of the future except that from generation to generation the same thing happen again and again. Men learn little from others' experience." (25)
  • Thomas: "To the man of God what gladness?" (27, from temporal power)
  • Tempter: "Real power is purchased at price of a certain submission." (28)
  • Thomas: "No! shall I, who keep the key of heaven and hell, supreme alone in England, who bind and loose, with power from the Pope, descend to desire a punier power?" (30, when asked to become Chancellor)
  • Tempter: "To be master or servant within an hour, this is the course of temporal power." (37)
  • Tempter: "Your thoughts have more power than kings to compel you." (38)
  • Thomas: "Can I neither act nor suffer without perdition?" (40)
  • Thomas: "Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain: Temptation shall not come in this kind again. The last temptation is the greatest treason: to do the right deed for the wrong reason." (44)
  • Thomas: "I know that history at all times draws the strangest consequence from remotest cause." (45)
  • Thomas: "I shall no longer act or suffer, to the sword's end. Now my good Angel, whom God appoints to be my guardian, hover over the swords' points." (46)


Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is never an accident) for Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. A martyrdom is always the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. It is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, and who no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of being a martyr.

Part II

Part II presents the motif of suffering action through Becket's suffering the acts of others.

  • "The peace of the world is always uncertain, unless men keep the peace of God." (53)
  • Thomas: "I submit my cause to the judgement of Rome. But if you kill me, I shall rise from my tomb to submit my cause before God's throne." (66)
  • Thomas: "Death will come only when I am worthy, and if I am worthy, there is no danger. I have therefore only to make perfect my will." (69)
  • Thomas: "The Church shall protect her own, in her own way, not as oak and stone; stone and oak decay, give no stay, but the Church shall endure. Open the door!" (73)
  • Thomas: "I give my life to the Law of God above the Law of Man. Unbar the door!...We have fought the beast and have conquered. We have only to conquer now, by suffering. This is the easier victory. Now is the triumph of the Cross, now open the door!" (74)
  • Thomas: "Now to Almighty God, to the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, to the blessed John the Baptist, the holy apostles Peter and Paul, to the blessed martyr Denys, and to all the Saints, I commend my cause and that of the Church." (76)
  • (Thomas is killed, and the knights then give their justification)
  • Knight: "No one regrets the necessity for violence more than we do. Unhappily, there are times when violence is the only way in which social justice can be secured." (82)
  • Priest: "The Church is stronger for this action, triumphant in adversity. It is fortified by persecution: supreme, so long as men will die for it." (84)
  • Priest: "In the small circle of pain within the skull you still shall tramp and tread one endless round of thought, to justify your action to yourselves, weaving a fiction which unravels as you weave, pacing forever in the hell of make-believe which never is belief: that is your fate on earth." (85)
  • "For wherever a saint has dwelt, wherever a martyr has given his blood for the blood of Christ, there is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it." (87)

Topic: St. Thomas Becket



file:(2023-08-09-Murder in the Cathedral)

New Words

  • libidinous: Having lustful desires; characterized by lewdness (85)

Created: 2023-02-06-Mon
Updated: 2023-08-10-Thu