Apologia of the Knights: Murder in The Cathedral

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Apologia of the Knights

      Departure from History The murder has been committed and the dreadful cry of the Chorus fades. The Knights advance to the front of the stage and address the audience:
"We beg you to give us your attention for a few minutes.."
      Upto this moment Eliot has kept his historical details more or less accurate even though they are not given importance. Here in this address of the Knights, he departs from history. In history, they rush out of the Cathedral shouting that they were the King's men. In Eliot's play however, they step out of their historical setting, come out of their medieval setting, and address the 20th-century audience. Furthermore, the address through which they seek to justify their action is couched in modern idiom and incorporates modern social, political and legal concepts. They point out that their action of murdering Becket was a disinterested one. They gained nothing from it. On the other hand, they would be probably exiled for their trouble, as the King out of political consideration would disclaim any responsibility for the murder. Knowing that it would bring trouble, they still acted as they did. They have acted selflessly, to benefit the country they loved. It had become absolutely necessary in the interest of the country to remove Thomas Becket: he had opposed the union of church and state which was necessary for strong and effective administration. It is also pointed out that Becket's death is not a case of murder at all. It is, says the fourth Knight, a case of suicide while of unsound mind. Thomas made no attempt to defend himself. He stayed away from seeking refuge at the altar, nor did he bar the doors. He could have escaped with his life into exile but he refused to do so. All these facts went to show that he went willingly to his death. He voluntarily sought death.

The Apologia thus has a significance in relation with the theme of the play and forms an integral part of the play. It cannot be dismissed as an amusing digression which makes us laugh and which detracts from the tone of the play.
Apologia of Knights

      Coming as it does directly after the tremendously impressive poetry of the Chorus and the agony of the martyr, the common prose of the Knights cannot fail to shock. At first sight, the whole passage appears unnatural, irrelevant and unrealistic. It seems to detract from the unity of tone and atmosphere of the play. The style has suddenly fallen into the style of a political meeting. The Apologia makes use of all the well-known cliches - cliches which will not fail to make the audience at least slightly uncomfortable. How many times has not the modern man heard of the English man's sense of fair play and sympathy for the underdog. How familiar are the idea of hearing both sides of a case and that of disinterested action for the benefit of others and the spurious praise for the vanquished enemy the Archbishop put up a jolly good show! So too the appeal not to be taken in by emotional clap-trap but to be rational in our approach. Another cliche is the reference to the trial by Jury which was introduced by Henry II himself. These very cliches, however, serve to underline Thomas's sincerity. These very worn-out figures of speech serve to subtly evoke our mistrust - more so because the whole force of what has gone before has been to show us how shallow these material arguments are.

Relevance of the Apologia

      The use of platform prose in intended to "shock the audience out of their complacency." This was said by Eliot regarding the Knights' Apologia. It cannot fail to surprise at least the audience but does it serve any further purpose or is it merely something the play could have done without?

      Eliot also wrote: "It is possible that what distinguishes poetic drama from prosaic drama is a king' of doubleness in action as if it took place on two planes at once." The ironic address of the Knights serves to illustrate this. The characters apprehend their situation at different levels. The Knights' level obviously is lowest on this scale and their thoughts and feelings show up their limitations. Their Apologia serves to point out the difference in levels.

      The address further forces upon us the broad clash of values and an "inherent, conquering strength in those which (as to the Knights) usually seem most nebulous-the values of religion". The Apologia is an integral part of the play as it is related to the central theme of martyrdom. It brings home to the audience, "the contemporary relevance of martyrdom". The natural style and the colloquial mode of speaking, bridge the chasm between the spiritual level of theme and the life lived on the material, physical plane. Logic and intellect are not enough to grasp spiritual mysteries; there is a need for emotional response. Logic and reason, as the Knight's address goes to show, would reduce martyrdom to "suicide while of unsound mind." Its real significance can only be realized through an emotional response.

      The Apologia of the Knights corresponds to the temptation of Becket: it tempts the audience to deny the true significance of Thomas's sacrifice. The Knights seek by every means, from blandishment to exhortation, cunningly using the techniques of modern political oratory, to make us admit the reasonableness of their action and to acknowledge that we are involved in it, since we have benefited from it. This temptation is to be overcome before the audience is to participate in the celebration of martyrdom. The knights' arguments, undoubtedly, will have the opposite effect to that intended by them. The justification of the killing does not lie in the arguments of the Knights; the benefits are spiritual rather than political. And that benefit comes from Thomas's suffering and not from the Knights' action as they erroneously think.

      On a superficial and simple level, the speeches of the Knights allow pauses to intervene between the initial revulsion heard in the penultimate Chorus speech and the tone of reconciliation that we find in the last.


      The Apologia thus has a significance in relation with the theme of the play and forms an integral part of the play. It cannot be dismissed as an amusing digression which makes us laugh and which detracts from the tone of the play.

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