The Three Priests: in Murder In The Cathedral

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      Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral follows Greek Drama in its strict adherence to the convention that all the parts of a play should be relevant to the whole. Thus all the characters have a function or role; none is superfluous or introduced for mere decoration. The three priests in the play have their specific roles.

     The Three Priests in the play are fellow members of Becket's Church. Though not completely individualized, they are subtly differentiated - as their speeches clearly indicate. They represent, like the Chorus, the claims of humanity from without, just as the tempters represent the temptations from within. Their speeches, after the Herald has come and gone with the message that "Thomas Becket is returning to Canterbury after the exile, provide the background and contribute towards the exposition of the play. As E.M. Martin Browne remarks, "the demands of characterization, limited though they are in this play, are much subtly fulfilled than may at first be apparent."

The Three Priests in the play are fellow members of Becket's Church. Though not completely individualised, they are subtly differentiated - as their speeches clearly indicate.
The Three Priest's

      The Three Priests are numbered - one, two, and three. It would be easy to dismiss this numbering as done for the sake of convenience at the first reading. Yet it would be difficult to assign one's speech to another at random. It is clear that they are sharply individualized and their speeches bring out their particular attitudes.

      The First Priest voices his fears. At the same time, we are given an idea of Thomas's pride in his own virtues. Thomas had been a Chancellor who had been either liked or feared by the courtiers and flattered by the King. Thomas's isolation is referred to - his difference from other human beings is thus emphasized and prepares us for future happenings. We are made aware of Thomas's tendency to ride rough-shod over temporal affairs, "wishing subjection to God alone." He is an elderly, worldly-wise man, fond of his food. He is also an emotionally excitable person and easily affected by the joy or the danger of the events around him.

      The Second Priest, while voicing his optimism that it is all for the good, also explains that the Archbishop is friendly with the Pope and the King of France. He is younger and aggressively loyal. He is also a more prosaic and reasonable person, efficient and practical in his outlook.

      The Third Priest is more philosophical than the other two. In the beginning, he seems rather skeptical and pessimistic; but he is able to see the end of things. It is befitting that it is he who in the end pronounces the epitaph on The Knights: "Go, weak, sad men, lost, erring souls, homeless in earth or heaven." Grover Smith says that the first priest resembles the women of the Chorus the second priest typifies the potential moral strength of the knights' immoral practicality, and the third priest resembles Becket himself.

      The unities as well as his dramatic purpose demand that Eliot begin the play towards the end of Becket's life. But necessary information about the historical context has to be given. This is done through the speeches of the Priests. On another level, the speeches indicate the different levels of spiritual awareness of the Priests which is necessarily lower than that of Thomas. The speeches also conjure up the atmosphere of tension that had existed before and exists still, at the time of Thomas's return. The stubborn will and pride of Thomas do not bode good. To the Priests it appears dangerous on a worldly level; in the context of the whole play, it is dangerous, on a spiritual level. It is to be seen in the rest of the play how things will turn out-whether good or evil will come out of Thomas's return.

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