Thomas Becket: as Tragic Hero || Murder In The Cathedral

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 Tragic Hero :-

The Aristotelian concept of tragic hero is that of a man, who though good and just to a great extent, has a flaw, which is some error or frailty (but not vice or depravity). Thomas Becket corresponds to this concept in that he is certainly not flawless. His pride and egoism are definite flaws of human character. Yet, the similarity ends here, for the catastrophe in the play does not result from the flaw. Thomas is able to realise his fault and overcome it. Thomas is eventually a saint and sainthood implies perfection; whereas it is necessary for a tragic hero to be imperfect, for that very imperfection is what ultimately causes his downfall. He quite calmly faces his murderers and refuses to hide behind barred doors. He refuses to escape and does nothing to save his life. Thomas appears to be too good to be an Aristotelian tragic hero.


Thomas appears to be too good to be an Aristotelian tragic hero.
Thomas Becket

Action Concentrated on Becket's Later Life :-

The action of the play is confined to the last days of Becket's life. The struggle within him is concentrated and given form in his conversation with the tempters. From the speeches of the first three tempters we get to know the bare facts of Thomas's early life; they are there as temptations which throng his mind. They cannot be dismissed as mere recapitulation. They appeal to the senses; the lure of secular power, the idea of winning against Henry in a political game thus is able are temptations. he had experienced earlier and thus. is able to overcome re easily. Yet they have not entirely lost their lost their power:

"The impossible is still temptation...

Voices under sleep, waking a dead world,

So that the mind may not be whole in the present."

Impure Motives :-

      Becket masters the first three temptations and then faces the fourth-unexpected one of the present. The Temptation to do the right eed for the wrong reason", to become a martyr to achieve personal glory is strong as well as shocking for Becket. The audience is not wholly unprepared to find that Thomas possesses this spiritual pride; Eliot has given hints, firstly in the words of the first priest which portrays Becket clearly as a proud man, and this comes out again in Thomas's rejection of temporal power. Pride implies the "setting up of the self against the Will of God", and is thus the deadliest of sins. Thomas could not foresee this obstacle to true martyrdom as he is blind to this weakness in himself. The words of the fourth tempter shocks Thomas into the realisation of his mixed up motives for becoming a martyr - he has been thinking of achieving the glory that comes with martyrdom which will exalt him to a position above earthly kings and give him his final victory against Henry. Confident that is cause is right, there is no deflecting him from this purpose. As he becomes aware of this impurity in his motives, he is aghast and cries out:

"Can I neither act nor suffer

without Perdition ?"

Realisation and Submerging of Will :-

      Thomas has now to understand the words that he spoke to thee women of the Chorus on his return. The fourth Tempter throws them back at him:

"You know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer.

You know and do not know, that action is suffering,

And suffering action. Neither does the agent suffer

Nor the patient act. But both are fixed

In an eternal action, an eternal patience

To which all must consent that it may be willed

And which all must suffer that they may wil it,

That the pattern may subsist, that the wheel may turn and still

Be forever still."

      While The Priest's and The Chorus and The Tempters counsel him to avert action, Thomas comes to his awakening. The proposition which he intellectually asserted has now to become a reality in his life. Only God's will can be the criterion of right and wrong, action and suffering. In supplanting God's will with his own, in electing to be the centre of the wheel without God, Becket will call upon on his own head, whatever evils might ensue from his choice.

      Now he has to recognise that the only way in which he can reach the stillness at the centre of the turning wheel is to yield to the mover, God. Only by extinction of self-will can he avoid the mortal sin of pride. Action and suffering are distinct only on the circumference of the wheel, in the area of physical appearance, but at the heart of reality, they merge into one another. Those on the circumference have to turn towards the centre, in order that the "eternal design" may be fulfilled. They have to "consent that it may be willed" and "suffer that they may will it."

      Now Thomas assents to losing his will in the will of God and achieves "the reconciliation of all irreconciliables". He is content that he "shall no longer act or suffer, to the sword's end," for God, not he, is the only agent through whom good can proceed from evil; what God wills brings neither pain nor suffering to the one who submits to it. It is with this spirit of acceptance - he will not look for, nor will he escape martyrdom-that he waits for the knights:

"I give my life

To the laws of God above the law of man"

Thomas fulfils his part in the eternal design.

      As Grover Smith says, there are two aspects in which Thomas's character can be seen. Becket rejects the idea of conscious glory in martyrdom. In one sense this act is merely an intensification, a validation of his position as an appointed martyr. As such he can be seen as a character of static type. In another sense, he can also be seen as a person capable of development: his moral struggles teach him the meaning of martyrdom as the perfection of will. Becket's initial desire is imperfect from this he rises to a greater good. Thomas faces death boldly, a death which could have been avoided. He achieves the awareness that a true martyr desires nothing - not even martyrdom. He must become a willing but passive instrument of divine will. And in achieving this level of spiritual awareness he achieves a position which is beyond earthly experience and thus he is a little remote. Becket could be said to be "a type of Christian here conquering pride and attaining martyrdom."

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