Murder In The Cathedral: Detailed Summary

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      Murder in the Cathedral is based on the historical story of a martyr and it was originally written for an audience during a religious festival. T. S. Eliot turned to Greek Tragedy for the overall structure of the play and the use of the chorus. He also provides a sense of audience participation.

The opening scene is set in the Archbishop's Hall in the Cathedral of Canterbury. The date is the second of December, 1170.
Murder in the Cathedral


      The opening scene is set in the Archbishop's Hall in the Cathedral of Canterbury. The date is the second of December, 1170.


      The scene opens with the Chorus which consists of a group of poor women from Canterbury who have assembled near the Cathedral Suspecting some danger, but not cognizant of its exact nature or its source, they wait in a state of confused agitation and bewilderment. Perhaps, they feel, like seeking sanctuary in the Cathedral. Since they have already suffered so much that they feel that no further trouble can come to them. It is some strange foreknowledge of the act which they are to witness that has drawn them towards the Cathedral.


      The year has declined from the rich and pleasant October to a dull gloomy November with its barren waste of muddy fields. Apples and crops have been harvested and the weather is cold and winter has set in. Expectantly man and nature await the coming of Christ with Christmas and the birth of the New Year; it appears as if destiny itself is waiting to be enacted. The Chorus bemoans the seven long years of the Archbishop's absence. He had been a kind and good shepherd for his flock and during his absence, the people have suffered untold miseries, oppressed by the king's barons and exploited by the merchants. At times they were neglected but still have attempted to carry on with their routine work - tilling the soil, plying their trade, and keeping their household in order.


      Now that the Archbishop is about to return, the Chorus feels that it is not a suitable time for his return. They fear that a great disturbance will soon shake up the quiet seasons and their routine life. Death will arrive from the sea; spring will bring pain and destruction, summer will bring drought. The Archbishop's return is unlikely to bring any comfort or consolation to the people of Canterbury. Meanwhile, God is shaping a destiny at which they can only guess. Suspecting some danger, or peril ahead, they can only wait as saints and martyrs wait for those who will, in turn, be martyrs and saints. They, the poor and simple people, cannot control destiny. They can only wait and witness what is to come.

      The Chorus like its Greek counterpart gives us a great deal of information about the time, place and what the scene promises. The women are, as they realize, present just as observers and they feel that they are not willing but destined to be so:

"Some presage of an act
Which our eyes are compelled to witness,
has forced our feet
Towards the Cathedral."

      The Chorus exists on two levels. On one level, it is merely the poor women of Canterbury, existing from day to day, involved in routine duties and afraid of anything that threatens to change that routine. They want to avoid being involved in anything that demands a change from ordinary existence. On another level, women are more than their natural selves. They present a commentary of the action, anticipating the developments. It is from this role that they speak of "in a shaft of sunlight - a vision. As the Chorus falls silent, three priests of the Cathedral enter.

The Priests and the Messenger

      The first Priest remarks that with the end of summer it is exactly seven years since the Archbishop left them This echoes the words of the Chorus. The second laments the unending intrigues and conflicts between their King, the French King, and the Pope. The third Priest observes that there is no hope in temporal powers; there is only endless violence, treachery, and corruption. The strong rule and their motivations are greed and lust. The weak suffer and are destroyed. The first Priest wonders in despair how long this situation will have to continue. At this point, the messenger enters and announces the arrival of the Archbishop in England and that he is just outside the city. The messenger has come in a hurry to inform them so that they can prepare to receive him. The first priest demands to know whether the Archbishop's exile has ended and wonders how two men as proud as the king and the Archbishop could reach reconciliation. The third priest declares that peace between them i as impossible as between a hammer and an anvil. The second priest more calm and rational, than the other two, asks if the enmity has in reality ended, whether their pride has been subdued. The first Priest wants to know whether the Archbishop is returning on the fall assurance of his strength or relying on the Pope's power to protect him, or the moral security of the faith in his own rightness. In answer, the messenger says that Becket returns proud, sorrowful, steadfast in his claims, and confident that his people love him People have lined the road to welcome him enthusiastically. They have strewn flowers in his path and are seeking some souvenirs even if it is only a hair from his horse's tail. Becket has the support of the French King and Pope but the peace between Henry and Becket is of an uneasy kind. The Archbishop has no illusions but he has not given up his demands either. The messenger is disturbed by the report that Becket parted from the king as a man who will never see him again while he is alive. It is clear that this does not augur well.

The Priests' Comments

      The first priest voices his fears. He feels that the Archbishop had become proud, as a result of his sudden rise to prosperity and a high political position. He fears that Becket's refusal to submit to anyone but God could result only in trouble. The second priest expresses more optimism. The Archbishop is back after a long absence; the flock has its shepherd once again. Now he will be there to guide them and their doubt and dismay will come to an end. They should feel secure in Rome's support and welcome Becket happily. The third priest fatalistically resigns himself to the events. He compares them to the turning of a wheel which they do not control. The speeches of the priests both strengthen and vary the impression that the words of the Chorus produce. A different rhythm is used for their words. The piety of these Priests has an element of worldliness and on the surface, they accept any change without any thought.

"For good or ill, let the world turn..."

      This placid acceptance of change is objected to by the Chorus.

The Chorus

      They hysterically lament the impermanence and corruption of life. They speak of their sense of impending evil. They want the Archbishop to return to France. His coming would bring disaster. They are merely asking for a quiet undisturbed existence. For seven years they have lived quietly day to day, bearing misfortunes like poverty, injustice, bad harvests, flood, and drought. But now there seems to be something more terrible in store for them-something more dreadful than ordinary birth and death. They are gripped by a fear which they cannot understand. They entreat Thomas to leave England and live in safety in France. He is unaware of the fears of the small people who are drawn into this design of fate. He would be their Archbishop even in France.

      The intensity of their foreboding increases. When they have finished, the second priest reproves them as babbling, foolish women. Thomas enters and orders the priests to let the women be.

Thomas Arrives

      Thomas says that the women in their simplicity know intuitively more than what they are conscious of. Instinctively they glimpse God's scheme for man. They sense, imperfectly, that in life "action is suffering and suffering is action." They know instinctively that man must submerge his will to the will of God and must accept the unknown. 

      "Peace. And let them be, in their exaltation.
They speak better than they know, and beyond your understanding..." is deliberately ambiguous so as to allow it to be spoken again later in a different situation. What Thomas says about the women, is true about himself at this moment.

      The second priest now begs forgiveness for not having prepared a better welcome for Becket. He adds, however, that seven years of patient waiting have prepared their hearts for his coming. He will have the Archbishop's room prepared and a fire laid. 'Thomas' reply strikes an ominous note. He does not expect much rest in Canterbury since there are restless enemies like the bishops of London, York and Salisbury who have attempted to prevent his safe arrival in England Broc. Warenne and Kent and met him, swore to kill him; they had desisted only at the intervention of John, the Dean of Salisbury. For the moment he is safe but the enemies are merely waiting for an opportunity, like hungry hawk's to swoop down on the prey. However, the end will come as God wills it. Meanwhile, waiting is more difficult than facing the event itself, He says that the first act in Canterbury would be a strife with shadows. At this point in the drama there is a new development. The situation has been adequately presented and now Eliot goes on to present the repercussions as they occur in Thomas's mind. These are examined not through the technique of soliloquy as in the Elizabethan drama but through the technique of allegory or "objectification". The transition from one level of reality to another is made unambiguously

"All things prepare the event. Watch."

      The words are tense and abrupt, preparing us for the arrival of the first tempter, who enters now.


First Tempter

      He represents Thomas, the gay courtier, and reminds him of the good times of the past, his friendship with the King, the life of pleasure and gratification of the senses at court with all its wit, wine and wisdom. He urges Becket to leave his ascetic way of life and come back to the "mirth and sportfulness of the past". Thomas is, however, unmoved and says that the past is past and cannot come back. Only a fool would think himself capable of directing the course of a life which is ordained by God. The first tempter then warns him that he is too proud and that this may prove dangerous. In the past Becket was not so hard upon sinners. It is better and safer to go easy, enjoy and let others enjoy than to stubbornly seek one's own doom. But Becket gives a curt reply that it is twenty years too late. At this, the tempter replies that he would leave Thomas to his fate, and to higher vices for which the price to be paid would also be higher. He leaves and Thomas comments on how even the impossible and undesirable can still be temptations. At this point, the second tempter enters.

Second Tempter

      This figure represents Becket the Powerful Chancellor, the great guide and guardian of the state. He makes his meaning clear by saying that it was a mistake on Thomas's part to resign the Chancellorship, for power can bring glory and fame even after death. Those who gave their service and love to God get only sadness in return. Temporal power is solid-as Chancellor he would rule the country, set down the great, protect the poor, be great on earth and perhaps, in heaven too. He could purchase this power just by submitting to the King and giving up this pretense of priestly power. Becket's emphatic "No" implies the strength of the temptation. The tempter then threatens him that he could find himself, a ruler without a realm if he does not accept the offer. He will be trapped and killed like a stag surrounded by hounds. Thomas raises the problem of the bishops whom he had excommunicated, and the barons whose privileges he had curtailed. To this, the tempter replies that the former would curb their hatred and would not create trouble because of self-interest, whereas everybody, including the commoners and the King, was against the barons. Thomas strongly resists the temptation by stating that he thinks it better to have spiritual power, with its power to damn people or give them salvation than secular power. As Archbishop, he has the power to condemn kings, why should he then become a servant to the King? The tempter leaves Becket to his fate. Thomas reflects that a return to temporal power now would mean a descent.

Third Tempter

      The third tempter arrives; no trifler, politician, or courtier but a rough, straightforward Englishman. He represents the outspoken reasonable aspect of Becket's nature. He openly declares that any reconciliation between Thomas and the King is impossible. It is impossible, to achieve anything in isolation. The Archbishop should seek new friends, the Norman barons of England. England was the land of the Normans; why should an Angevin rule? Henry was fighting in Anjou; let him be destroyed there. Then the barons would be the sovereigns. Church favor would then be of advantage to the cause of the barons, and Becket could be helpful to England and Rome at the same time. Thus there will be an end to the jurisdiction of the King's courts over the bishop's and baron's courts: Both Church and the people have complaints against the throne. Let them unite to usual benefit. Thomas declares his unwillingness to betray the King and associate himself with a band of traitors. The tempter departs after ironically stating that Thomas will soon see the king's regard for his loyalty. These three tempters who have tried to influence Thomas are representations of temporal and material benefits. Thomas finds the offers, fairly easy to resist. They also go to show the truth of what Thomas says,

"The impossible is still temptation"

-that one is tempted to do things that one knows one cannot do. Now enters the fourth Tempter,

Fourth Tempter

      This tempter enters congratulating Thomas on his strength of will and promising to be his friend. He is given a sinister aura. Thomas is surprised at his arrival and doesn't know who he is. Thus it is made clear that he represents an aspect of Becket's mind that Becket himself is as yet unconscious of. He expected only three visitors and yet here is a fourth one. The tempter evades the question as who exactly he is, but just tells Thomas that he has never met him before. There is a wary verbal fencing between them. The Tempter says things with which the Archbishop can only agree. The king's hatred for Thomas is unending and he will never again trust Thomas. The barons being small men, will go on envying him and they are worse because they care for nothing except private profit whereas the King thinks of public policy. He advises the Archbishop to move forward to the bitter end. All other ways are closed. He urges Becket to hold on to spiritual power. He flatters the Archbishop by saying that he holds the keys to Heaven and Hell. (These are the very words Thomas himself used when speaking to the third tempter). Let Thomas use this power to hold both the King and bishops at his heel. He can be supreme in this land except for one person.

      The fourth tempter speaks in riddles. He tells Thomas that he must not expect to be told anything in addition to what he knows already. He tempts Thomas with glory after death, the thought of his enemies creeping to his shrine to pay homage and of the miracles which will be performed in his name. Kings would not be remembered but Saints will be. Thomas confesses that he has thought of these things. But, of course, says the tempter, the shrine may be looted and its fame soon comes to an end. 'Thomas asks if there is anything at all which is permanent. Then the tempter's advice becomes more explicit and it becomes clear that he symbolizes the ambition in Thomas's mind to become a martyr:

"Seek the way of martyrdom, make yourself the lowest
On earth, to be high in heaven."

      It is ultimately the vitiation of martyrdom through hypocrisy. The tempter tells him that there can be no higher satisfaction for Thomas - he could have greatness in Heaven and watch his enemies suffer everlasting torment below. "The other tempters offered him worldly goods but they were real, says Thomas, whereas this last offer would only lead to damnation, The tempter replies that he offered only what Thomas desires deep down in his heart. Thomas is in a dilemma and cries out in desperation, if there is nothing that does not lead to damnation:

"Is there no way, in my soul's sickness,
Does not lead to damnation in pride?
I well know that these temptations
Mean present vanity and future torment.
Can sinful pride be driven out
Only by more sinful? Can I neither act nor suffer
Without perdition?"

      And now we reach the point when the tempter ominously and chillingly repeats to "Thomas the very words that he spoke to the women of the Chorus

      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 will it
That the pattern may subsist, that the wheel may turn and still
Be forever still.

      Man is not free to choose his own course; everything is predetermined. This repetition of Thomas's words neatly shows how very mixed up Thomas's motives are. The whole dialogue with the tempter symbolizes an introspective process. It was easy until now to isolate the temptations and discard them. Now tempter and tempted begin to merge; Thomas can no longer guard his own mind strongly; he is involved in a mixture of motives which he can only partially analyze: Something from outside has now to prompt him to a decision. This incitement to a decision comes from the Chorus.


      Once again it gives expression to its sense of foreboding that something evil and important is about to take place. There is restlessness and a sense of anticipation. There is a sickly smell of death in the air and the earth is heaving to give birth to some foul deed.

Four Tempters: Their Chat

      Now the four tempters speak together. They speak of the illusion and disappointment of man's days on earth. All things are either unreal and deceptive or disappointing. They call Becket obstinate and blinded by pride which is a great enemy of society and destroys a man's soul.

Three Priests

      The three priests express their fears and advise the Archbishop to not tempt fortune and go against the tide and wind. Let him wait until danger subsides before he goes on.

Chorus, Priests, and Tempters

      Alternately they warn of the danger that lies ahead. The doors should be barred yet death knows no bars. The watchman should be on his beat but that may not prevent danger. Precautions may prove futile, for Death can come in too many ways and can come unseen and unheard. Therefore, he should be careful.

The Chorus Laments

      Fears are again expressed. They have gone through ordinary suffering and sorrows of life, but they continue to exist. In the past, God always gave them some hope, some reason, but now they are oppressed by a new terror and they feel as if God is leaving them and the ministers of darkness are surrounding them

"The forms take shape in the dark air:
Puss-purr of leopard, footfall of padding bear,
Palm pat of nodding ape, square hyena waiting,"
      For laughter, laughter. The Lords of Hell are here.

      The images of historical hopelessness in their speech suggest a sense of horror and panic. They cry out at last

O Thomas Archbishop, save us, save yourself that we may be saved;
Destroy yourself and we are destroyed

      Their appeal to Thomas indicates that his decision is crucial to their condition. They identify their own balance between hope and despair with his decision. And with this desperate cry Thomas is free of hesitancy:

"Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain...."

      He realizes that his decision is no longer personal or autonomous. He has to resolve the problem in his conscience with integrity for it is closely connected with his own integrity, as well as the spiritual integrity and well-being of the whole Church and the people who are its members. Eliot has managed dexterously to combine poetry and the excitement of the situation to make the point dramatically effective.

Thomas's Speech

      At last, Becket finds the path before him clear. He will never be tempted again in this way. The last temptation was the greatest because under its influence he would have done the right deed, i.e. become a martyr, for the wrong reason to achieve personal glory. Thirty years ago he had searched all the ways that led to pleasure, advancement or praise. Then he loved all activities. When the early enthusiasm and energy of youth are spent, one starts becoming ambitious. Even while engaged in doing good, sins multiply. When he was Chancellor, he despised even the nobility. At that time he never wished to become a servant of God, for in such a position a man has greater chance of doing evil, for, those who serve a greater cause may also make the cause serve them. It is possible that the course he has chosen may seem to others as no better than suicide by a madman. But he has chosen. He will no longer act or suffer; he places himself in God's hands and wants to become His instrument. He is in God's hands; let Him do with him what He likes.

      The speech is technically used to suggest that the act is now nearly over. The act ends with Thomas finally and irrevocably dedicated to what he now recognizes as his necessary purpose

"Now my good Angel, whom God appoints
To be my guardian, hover over the sword's points."

      By the end of Part I, the implications of the action are clearly set before us. what remains to be shown is the factual outcome of the inward struggle, Thomas's death and its after-effects.


      The Interlude is a sermon preached by the Archbishop on Christmas morning, 1170. The text he has chosen for the sermon shows his resignation to the Will of God. The text is from the gospel St. Luke 2: 14. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of goodwill. The theme of the sermon is the meaning and mystery of the Christmas day mass, which re-enacts the death and suffering of Christ on the day of his birth as savior. A strange paradox, for in the same moment, Christians rejoice that their Lord has come, as well as witness in the mass his suffering and death. This simultaneous rejoicing and mourning of the believer on the feast of the Nativity are one of the sacred mysteries of the Christian religion.

What is Peace?

      Another fundamental thing that the sermon deals with besides the concept of "rejoicing," is the idea of peace in Christianity. It may seem strange, says the Archbishop that the angels should have announced peace to a world in which war has existed and continues to exist. But think, he says, how Christ himself promised peace to his disciples when he departed from them. It was not earthly peace which he left them, for many of them were to suffer imprisonment, torture and martyrdom. No; Christ promised peace, but not peace as the world knows it.


      Thomas then analyses the idea of martyrdom. The day after Christmas they celebrate the feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. It is no accident, says Thomas, for just as the Church rejoices and mourns at the birth and passion of Christ, so it rejoices and mourns the death of the martyrs. There is sorrow at the sin of the world which lead to such deaths and joy that another soul has joined the blessed in Heaven, for the greater glory of God and for the salvation of men.

      The relevance of the crucifix to martyrdom (an association implicit throughout the play) now becomes specific:

"Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the
Birth and in the Passion of Our Lord; so also,
in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn
in the death of the martyrs."

      A martyr is not simply a good Christian who has been killed for his faith or one elevated to the company of saints. In the former case there would be just mourning and in the latter, mere rejoicing. The whole meaning of Thomas's self-abnegation and the meaning of the fourth temptation is expounded clearly :

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.

      The true martyr is the instrument of God, and desires nothing for himself, not even martyrdom. Thomas concludes by stating that he has spoken on this day for martyrs since he may never again preach to them, and since Canterbury might have another martyr before long. He asks his flock to remember his words and to think of them at another time.

      The Interlude separates Part I and Part II and its approach is at once bold and suitable. The sermon is an appropriate vehicle for Thomas's generalized animadversion on his own fate. The whole scene is enriched by a sort of duality. Thomas speaks both to a supposed congregation (the Chorus), as well as to the audience.



      Part II opens with a Chorus, a series of questions and answers It is intricate. There is no comfort in sight and the women in the Chorus are mournful. The sea bird is driven inland and this, is a symbol suitable for the Chorus themselves, driven from their settled sense of security. The spring is like death rather than renewed life; it is unnatural. The season bringing death instead of birth is an image for the general context. The Chorus emphasizes the unnaturalness of the season:

"Longer and darker the day, shorter and colder" the night."

      And also that there is something waiting to happen

"But a wind is stored up in the East."

      The starving crow waits and the owl hoots hauntingly - two signs of ill-omen. The imagery now develops into something that has overtones of religious writing;

"And war among men defiles the world, but
death in the Lord renews it."

      The Chorus has misgivings and is anxious about what is to come in the future. It waits in apprehension anticipating some portentous event:

"We wait and the time is short
But waiting is long"

The Priests

      Priests come in a procession, each celebrating a particular Saint's day. They carry banners representing different saints, St. Stephen St. John, the Apostle, the Holy Innocents. They sing hymns connected to them. The liturgical passages and introits have ominous words, warning of violence and death; they foreshadow death and destruction. The stylized passage denotes the passage of time. It is now the 29th of December, 4 days after Christmas. Interest is developed by the Priests asking what is special about this day, and the third Priest answering:

Everyday is the day we should fear from or
hope from. One moment
Weight like another.
Even now, in sordid particulars
The eternal design may appear.

      With the audience's interest fixed on this day, the Knights enter and the arraignment of Thomas takes place.

The Knights

      They say they have arrived from France on the King's business. They demand to speak to the Archbishop. The Priests offer the hospitality of the Church. They invite the knights to dinner. The Knights however rudely reject the offer and insist that they must attend to their business first. When Thomas comes they make charges against him.


      The knights say that Becket has rebelled against the King. He has broken laws. Made Archbishop by the King, he should have as the King commanded. Getting so many favors and honors from the King, Thomas should have acted as the King's instrument. But he refused to do so. They insult Becket, call him a brat from Cheap side. They call him a louse creeping out of the London filth. They accuse him of being a cheat and swindler and finally a traitor. Thomas denies these charges and says that he was always loyal to the King. One knight accuses him of creating trouble in the French territories. Another blames Thomas for creating a rupture between the King and the Pope. Another knight charges Thomas with instigating rebellion amongst the faithful servants of the King. They demand that Thomas withdraw the ex-communication order served to the Bishop who officiated at the coronation of the Prince. Thomas's reply is that it can be withdrawn by the Pope alone. Thomas is then told that the King has ordered him to leave the country with his followers. Becket answers that he has been away from his followers for too long and he would not leave them again. The knights call the Archbishop a traitor and angrily go out after telling the priests to hold Thomas.

Chorus: Animals Imagery

      Again chanting their premonition of death and doom, they paint a dreadful picture of disaster with horrifying animal imagery. They chant about decay and destruction. It is too late to act and as yet too early to repent.

The Priests and Thomas

      The priests ask Thomas to retreat to the safety of the altar. Thomas firmly refuses. He also wishes the Chorus to be at ease with their visions and thoughts, and comforts them by saying that their suffering is part of the eternal design and has to be borne. In any case, they, would forget the horror in time. The priests try to drag Thomas to safety but he refuses to come. The Chorus's chants, once again speak of the nearness of Death, and punctuates the action.

      The priests close the doors to try to keep Thomas safe but he bids them to open the doors of the Cathedral. It is the house of God and it must not be turned into a fortress. God would protect in His own way and not through "Oak and stone". Having overcome the beast within him, Thomas is ready to suffer anything his enemies inflict upon him. It will be conquering his enemies through suffering and a victory for the Cross. Therefore, the door must be opened. The Priests obey and the Knights return, slightly drunk, ready to kill Thomas. Repeating their charge of treachery against Thomas, they strike him dead with their swords. The situation is dramatic enough and Eliot allows the murder to take place quite easily.

      The Chorus goes on as a background to the actual killing. The action being the climax, it is fitting that the Chorus's speech is simplified and makes use of hyperbole. They see blood everywhere; everything is defiled and polluted. They feel things will never be the same again. After the murder of Becket, Eliot deviates from historical fact. He makes the four knights address the audience.

Apologia of the Knights

      The first to speak is Reginald Fitz Urse who appoints himself as chairman. He calls upon the third knight, Baron William de Traci to speak. This speaker claims that they should not be blamed for their deed as they acted disinterestedly, out of concern for their country. The next speaker is Sir Hugh de Morville, who argues, that the King out of political acumen concentrated both secular and the religious powers, on one hand, that of Thomas. But Thomas Becket refused to cooperate and resigned the Chancellorship. The last to speak is Richard Brito, the fourth knight. He says that since Thomas did not try to save himself, he must be guilty of suicide. The leader of the knights sums up the arguments and asks the people to go quietly and create no disturbance. The Apologia is a form of diversion to keep our interest and is often dismissed as irrelevant. The arguments of the knights are not convincing, nor are they effective. But there is a purpose behind this passage.

      The knights's speeches are useful for emphasizing the incompatibility of their values (and the world's) and the values which Thomas holds. The first knight's speech with all its cliches, like "fair play," underdog", sense of honor," ironically serve to stress the Sincerity of Thomas's ideas and action. The speeches serve to emphasize once again how shallow these material arguments are. The clash has been between two orders-the spiritual order and the secular one, and we are shown how impossible a compromise is, between them. The knights may be sincere up to a point, but they are incapable of attaining the degree of sincerity that lies beyond them. Finally, these speeches serve the purpose of providing a break between the "initial revulsion heard in the penultimate Chorus and the tone of reconciliation that we find in the last." A sincerity of a deeper degree comes abruptly after the Knights's speeches, to the priests and Chorus.

The Priests

      The first priest laments the death of Thomas and the fact that they are left without a guide. The third Priest, however, explains how the Church is strengthened by Thomas's death and that the knights are now reduced to a spiritual death.

      The theme has been stated in the priest's speeches. The "emotional resolution" comes with the Chorus. They restate the material poetically and with emphasis. At last the Chorus becomes resonantly affirmative: they praise God for the glory expressed in all his creations; all nature and its creatures have lost their horror and frightfulness. All these animals are recognized as parts of a coherent whole, implying his glory even by negation:

the darkness declares the glory of light.
Those who deny Thee could not deny, if
Thou didst not exist.
They affirm Thee in living.

      Once again a martyr has redeemed the crumbling faith. The Chorus sings triumphantly of the thing they had so dreaded. They now sing of the very event they feared as an act benefiting mankind. They develop the statement of recovered peace in "strong, liturgical rhythms." They fall silent on an impressive line that cannot fail to strike one

"Blessed Thomas, pray for us."

      Thomas is blessed because of his martyrdom. It is by virtue of the act which they drew back from, that the women of Canterbury have now got an intermediary and advocate with God.

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