Function of the Interlude in Murder in the Cathedral ?

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      Interlude's place in the plot. T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral is a play constructed in two parts with an Interlude in between. The plot-construction is simple and straightforward and, in spite of certain weaknesses, a unified whole. A careless reading of the play might lead one to consider it as two self-contained parts, separated by an Interlude that has hardly any connection with anything else in the play. However, such a conclusion would be quite incorrect.

Interlude and theme. The play has to be seen as an integral whole, in which each character or part has a role. As such, Thomas Becket's martyrdom is to be seen in a wider light - in its significance to society and its relevance even today. The Interlude becomes integral to the structure of the play, for it dramatises Becket's attempt to explain the meaning of martyrdom to the common people, represented in the play by the Chorus. The Interlude serves to emphasise that Becket's martyrdom at the end is a genuine, unselfish and impersonal act. The sermon is a beautiful explanation of the death that is to come.
T. S. Eliot

      Interlude and theme. The play has to be seen as an integral whole, in which each character or part has a role. As such, Thomas Becket's martyrdom is to be seen in a wider light - in its significance to society and its relevance even today. The Interlude becomes integral to the structure of the play, for it dramatises Becket's attempt to explain the meaning of martyrdom to the common people, represented in the play by the Chorus. The Interlude serves to emphasise that Becket's martyrdom at the end is a genuine, unselfish and impersonal act. The sermon is a beautiful explanation of the death that is to come.

      Interlude: an expression of Thomas's self-knowledge. At the end of Part I of the play, Thomas says: "I shall no longer act or suffer, to the Sword's end". Becket's initial desire to undergo martyrdom had not been perfect. He has had to face and overcome temptations of two types. Firstly, he is assaulted with the attractions of the worldly and sensuous life, of material success it is the temptation to Compromise, and thus avoid martyrdom. Thomas overcomes three temptations. But with the fourth Tempter comes the temptation to do Something much more serious and damning - to seek martyrdom with the ulterior motive of achieving eternal glory. Thomas finds the fourth Tempter unexpected - indeed, that goes to show how deep in his subconscious the motive lies. "To do the right deed for the wrong reason it is the greatest temptation, and the greatest treason. "With the recognition of this impure motive, Thomas comes to self-realization. What he had said of the Chorus of poor women - "They know and do not know - is equally true of him. Only at the end of Part I does he realize that extinction of self-will and surrender to the Will of God is what true martyrdom constitutes. The sermon which follows, in the Interlude, gives expression to the self-knowledge gained by Becket.

      Content and significance of the Interlude. An Archbishop preaching a sermon on Christmas morning is natural. Eliot enriches the scene by a sort of duality - Thomas's remarks are addressed both to a hypothetical congregation (the Chorus) and to the actual audience of the play. In the sermon Thomas expounds the true meaning of martyrdom.

      The sermon dwells briefly on two appropriate fundamentals - the Christian conception of "rejoicing"' and "peace". It is a strange paradoxs, that at the same time Christians rejoice at the birth of Christ (Nativity) and mourn his suffering and death. The word "peace" is used in a special sense. Thomas differentiates between the word "peace" as the world understands it and "peace" as meant by Christ when he used it in his words to the Disciples. It is not peace in the sense of political peace - the barons at peace with the king - or simple domestic contentment. "Not as the world gives, I give unto you", said Christ. The peace Christ spoke of was of a spiritual nature.

      Thomas goes on to analyse the meaning of martyrdom. Just as peace and rejoicing have different and deeper connotations in the religious sense as compared to the worldly sense, martyrdom too has a deeper meaning. The relevance of Christ's Crucifixion to any other martyrdom (a relevance implicit throughout the play), becomes specific here. It is no accident that the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is celebrated the day after Christmas. Thomas says:

"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 martyrs"

      There is sorrow at the sins 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. A martyr, explains Thomas, is not merely a good Christian who has been put to death because he is a Christian. In such a case, there would be just mourning. If it is merely an elevation to the company of saints, there would be mere rejoicing.

      Thomas explains the meaning of his self-abnegation. The significance of the fourth temptation is also explained.

"A Christian martyrdom is never an accident, for Saints are not made byy accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a saint, as man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of man".

      Will and clever planning may work on the temporal level. On a spiritual plane they have no place. Thomas has realized that true martyrdom involves complete surrender of human will into God's purpose. The true martyr desires nothing - "not even the glory of being a martyr". He says

"A martyrdom is always the design of God, for His love of man, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways".

"The true martyrs are the instruments of God. And in their death they rise high "having made themselves most low".

      Thomas concludes by stating that he has spoken this day of martyrs since he may never again preach to them, and since Canterbury may have another martyr before long, "and that one perhaps not the last". Thus Eliot establishes a sense of continuity, linking the past, the present and the future. Thomas says: "I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time." The sermon ends on a premonitory note. It is thus important in the context not only of what has happened before, but also of what is going to happen.

      It is significant that the sermon is addressed to the Chorus as well as the audience - for both are to be involved in the martyrdom of Thomas. The poor women of Canterbury, forming the Chorus, are an integrating factor in the play, A martyrdom is not complete in its effect unless it has been accepted in the right spirit by the common people. These poor women move from their initial fear and inertia to final acceptance of the meaning of Becket's martyrdom; they have ultimately understood the full import of the exposition of martyrdom given in the sermon. His attempt to explain it turns out to be successful. As a contrast comes the Knights' evaluation of martyrdom in their speeches directed at the audience - a worldly interpretation versus Becket's spiritual explanation. The Chorus accepts Becket's explanation, and that is the denouement of the play. The audience is left to make its own choice.

     Conclusion. The Interlude is at once a bold and suitable approach. The sermon is an appropriate vehicle for Thomas's generalized comments on his own fate. It corresponds to the "epiphany" of Greek drama, and it sets forth the idea of martyrdom. Thomas's words at the end of Part I - "Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain receive formal interpretation and ratification in the sermon. And in the end the meaning of martyrdom is understood by the poor women of Canterbury who represent the common people, The Interlude explains the pattern of martyrdom, "the eternal design" in theological and emotional terms. As Louis Martz points out, it "forms the nodus of theme, symbol, and tradition, of past and present, binding the play's two parts, and binding Becket's search for peace with our own".

University Questions also can be Answered:

Q. What is the function of the Interlude in Murder in the Cathedral ? Does it contribute to the dramatic pattern

Or

Q. With the aid of brief, appropriate quotations, give an outline of Thomas's sermon in Canterbury Cathedral on Christmas Day. What is its significance ?

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