Temptation Episode: in Murder in The Cathedral

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      Murder in the Cathedral has an overtly religious subject and it is appropriate to such a subject that there is an element of temptation in it. In the medieval play, the characters were personified vices and virtues. Here, likewise, the Tempters are personifications of Becket's inner self. The conflict in Part I is an internal one and the stage for the action is the Archbishop's mind. The conflict has been dramatized by personifying temptations. The dialogue between these personified temptations and Becket brings to light the struggle for self-purification, that takes place in his mind.

The first three Tempters are the thoughts and desires that Thomas Becket consciously entertained.

Relevance to theme of martyrdom:-

      Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, returns to Canterbury after seven years of exile in France. The differences between King Henry II and Thomas have apparently been patched up, but Thomas is quite aware of the fact that it is not a real nor lasting peace. Thomas is quite ready to face the consequences but unwilling to give up the rights of the Church. As a potential martyr, it is quite natural that he should be subject to temptations.

The strife with shadows:-

      The shadows appear one after another. They are the temptations working in Thomas's mind and firstly comprise of the temptations to compromise and avoid martyrdom, then the temptation to accept martyrdom for the wrong reasons pride and glory. They are abstractions in the style of the medieval Morality play.

The first three Tempters:-

      The first three Tempters are the thoughts and desires that Thomas Becket consciously entertained. The first Tempter reminds Thomas of the delights of Companionship with the King. He is a voice from the past and tempts with the joy that wine and good company can offer to a man burdened wh melancholy. Thomas Becket is able to reject this temptation, to return to the amusements of an age gone by rather easily. There is in fact nothing very religious involved in this rejection. It is just something any man of maturity would do, that it is impossible to return to a way of life that sufficed for earlier years.

      The second Tempter offers something of more serious implication and something more difficult to resist. What he says is that Becket by befriending the King again should take up the position of Chancellorship and forget "holiness" for the present. The first Tempter offered a return to the past merry-making; the second Tempter prompts Becket to seize temporal power now, in the present. "Power is present What is offered here is not in reality so reprehensible if measured by earthly standards, i.e. use of power for the benefit of people. Thomas, however, has an answer for this-that under the Pope he has a greater power:

"Delegate to deal the doom of damnation,
To condemn kings, not serve among their servants,
Is may open office."

      As spiritual head of the country, he has power even to condemn kings. Accepting power from the King would mean that he would be ranked with his servants; now he is in a position higher than the King himself. There is a clear indication of the pride, and arrogance of Becket here. The first and second Tempters derive from the past-they offer temptations which are essential to the past. The third Tempter speaks of what lies in the future. This Tempter counsels Thomas to ally himself with the barons, against the King in a power struggle. In this way, the power of the Church would increase. He tempts Thomas to look to the future and live for the future:

"Time past is time forgotten.
We expect the rise of a new constellation."

      But the very knowledge that this alliance would imply a threat to the rule of law, as well as disgust at the idea of stooping to political maneuvering, enables Thomas to overcome this temptation and say.

"Shall I who ruled like as eagle over doves
Now take the shape of a wolf among wolves?
Pursue your treacherous as you have done before,
No one shall say that I betrayed a king."

      The three Tempters so far were more or less 'known' to Becket. But now comes the fourth Tempter - unexpected and the most dangerous and the most serious.

The fourth Tempter:-

      This figure is a representation of desires deep-rooted in Thomas and yet repressed by his conscious mind. He brings out into the open the motive that Thomas has refused to admit himself capable of He tells him to seek martyrdom for self-glorification - "do the right act for the wrong reason". He could achieve eternal glory - "Dwelling forever in the presence of God".

      It is the moment of greatest temptation. As Mason remarks: This is a sin beyond the veniality of yielding to the senses, beyond the vanity of resuming temporal authority. Beyond the attractiveness of moving with the course of history. It is the sin of spiritual pride. The fourth Tempter tempts Becket with his own thoughts, which he has been unwilling to acknowledge or understand for what they are. As these strictly suppressed thoughts come to light, Thomas is made to realize their worthlessness and he appropriately enough sinks into despair:

"Can I neither act nor suffer
Without perdition?"

      It is now that the Tempter reminds him of the words that Thomas himself spoke regarding the meaning of action and suffering. You know and do not know. Obviously ironical, it makes clear the fact that Thomas thought he knew the true implication of the action and suffering whereas in fact he did not know, had not made the perception a reality in his life. The words of the fourth Tempter serve to make Thomas aware of the sin he was almost about to commit. The conviction of sin must precede salvation, and Thomas's despair here corresponds to the desire of the Chorus, later in the play, which prepares them for purification. (C.H. Smith) The dialogue with the fourth Tempter brings Thomas to the realization that he thinks his state to be in his own hands and that he can manage to gain a position in the court of the heavenly King. A sense of helplessness comes with the conviction of sin and this helplessness is the basis on which free will can be truly exercised in agreeing, to God's inevitable "design".

      The fourth Tempter is in one aspect God's agent - it is temptation that awakens men to the knowledge of their true inner self. Thus Thomas in facing this temptation can overcome it by fully understanding the truth of the words "Action is suffering and suffering Action." It is now that Thomas can truly consent to that eternal design and become a martyr by submitting to the will of God.

      The first three temptations represent the world in its three temporal manifestations - past, present and future. They represent that authority which can control events on a temporal plane of reality. The fourth Temptation goes beyond this to the achievement of eternal glory.

      The temptation scene is significant as it brings forth the struggle a martyr goes through before achieving martyrdom. It also serves to knight the parallel of Becket's martyrdom to the pattern of Christ's Crucifixion. C.H. Smith traces the analogy:

      "Thomas's four temptations, though not exactly analogous to Christ's in the desert, are close enough to be convincing if one equates the Devil's request that Christ turns the stones into bread with the first Tempters appeal to Thomas's appetites, the Devil's offer of the kingdoms of the world with the inducements of the second and third Tempters, and the Devil's attempt to make Christ throw himself down from the pinnacle in order to prove his divinity with the fourth Tempter's appeal to Thomas's pride in willing martyrdom."

      Other critics have seen the four Tempters as analogous to Job's four Comforters. In each, it is the last figure which is responsible for the attainment of self-awareness of sin and in making the way clear for redemption.

      The episode brings to an end the internal conflict of Thomas Becket. He has realized that although both pride and humility would lead him to death, yet there is a powerful difference between the two, one death being the extinction of body and soul and the other the path to salvation and consecration. The sermon following is a measure of his spiritual progression.

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