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Murder in the Cathedral

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  4,500 ratings  ·  178 reviews
T. S. Eliot's verse dramatization of the murder of Thomas Becket at Canterbury, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

The Archbishop Thomas Becket speaks fatal words before he is martyred in T. S. Eliot's best-known drama, based on the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. Praised for its poetically masterful handling of issues of faith, politics, and the commo
Paperback, 88 pages
Published March 18th 1964 by Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich/Harvest (first published January 1st 1930)
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A fabulous verse-drama about the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Most of the action is in Thomas's head, as he rejects the easy solutions presented by his Tempters, and decides to stick to the course which inevitably leads to his death. My favorite lines are the following:
The last temptation is the greatest treason
To do the right deed for the wrong reason
It sounds convincing, but I've never been able to decide if I agree. Given how uncertain people generally are about their motives, isn't what you
David Withun
One of T.S. Eliot's masterpieces, Murder in the Cathedral is a drama of the return to England and martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket. From the historical events, Eliot creates a piece of writing that is simultaneously, and in equal proportions, a prayer, a study in the psychology of both the murderer and the martyr, and a meditation upon the proper relationship between church and state. The result is one of the greatest works of 20th century literature in the English language.

Eliot begins shortly be
The Basics

An historical play written in verse that tells of the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170.

My Thoughts

Talk about going outside of your comfort zone. I don't read a lot of poetry. I don't read a lot of plays. And I don't read a lot of historical fiction. That title, though. I couldn't resist that title. Also, T.S. Eliot is a famous poet, and I've read some of his more famous works, enough to make me intrigued when I see his name. In the end, what can I say? I enjoyed it.

Robert Clay
I enjoyed this read, in large part because I just happened to read it in a cold and icy late December, which is the setting of the play. It's good winter fare; I particularly enjoyed the chorus of the Women of Canterbury; lots about the cyclical, mundane, and hard life of the common people, at the mercy of events swirling around them as they go about their daily labors. "For us, the poor, there is no action, But only to wait and to witness."

This is a verse play, and the first I've read of Eliot
I read this because I had heard it drew on the tradition of Greek drama when I was revising the source history with a student, and spotted it in my local charity bookshop.

The Greek drama aspects give the best scope for Eliot to experiment with Christian theology and imagery, which he does in quite a fresh and original way - to me though (I'm an atheist) this just emphasised how unappealing Catholic philosophy and oratory can be, full of references to violence, purity and corruption, the denigrat
Jun 03, 2010 §-- rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: plays
Completely unstageable, unperformable, but amazing. Reminds me a lot of Samson Agonistes--not very much happens except talking, but the poetry is just exquisite. It takes a TS Eliot to be compared to a Milton.

Much like stained-glass window artists, tapestry-weavers, and Milton, Eliot takes a historic event of religious significance and uses it as material for a work of art. Eliot was the greatest and most influential poet of the Twentieth Century, and he wrote the best Christian poetry of the ce
Defying D
Murder in the Cathedral brings into the account the life of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1100's who was eventually dedicated to his service-dedicated enough to refuse to pardon Henry II, the monarch who ruled during that era. King Henry and Thomas Beckett are good friends then, enough reason to appoint Beckett one of the highest position- as Archbishop of Canterbury. Beckett and the King had gone into several misunderstandings mostly about the king's failure to rule his kingdom ...more
Murder in the Cathedral was first staged in the 1930’s when the importance of the church in the individual’s life was on the decline. Moreover, the religious order and the Catholic Church were being persecuted in many countries across Europe, especially in Germany, Spain and Mexico. Writers such as James Joyce had already begun to express dissent against the Catholic Church through novels like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the novel, a young Stephen Dedalus begins to struggle with ...more
Just to be honest, the first part of this book was tough to get through (ok ok it was boring). Eliot sets up the first half largely as a dreamlike conversation between Archbishop Beckett and three invisible tempters. These evil apparitions reflect Thomas' own thoughts about betraying the king, appealing to the Pope or gaining glory for himself through martyrdom. The verse is unappealing and dry.

In an interlude Thomas gives a sermon about Christmas being a time for grief and rejoicing and compare
prix nobel de littérature 1948

Meurtre dans la cathédrale est une pièce de théâtre en vers et en prose de T. S. Eliot, consacrée au meurtre de l'archevêque de Cantorbéry Thomas Becket en 1170.

Créée le 15 juin 1935 dans le chapitre de la cathédrale de Cantorbéry, elle fait ressortir les impératifs contradictoires du spirituel et du temporel grâce à sa construction très symétrique (première partie, interlude, seconde partie ; correspondance entre quatre tentateurs spirituels et quatre chevaliers
I do much better when I can see a play rather than read it, and Murder in the Cathedral is one I definitely needed to see. In fact, Murder in the Cathedral was one of the harder plays for me to read, and I think it would have helped if I had at least listened to it on tape because then I could hear the different voices.

As is it, Murder in the Cathedral was hard to visualize, and I spent most of my time being lost in the language rather than the plot. I finished it and immediately asked, “okay…wh
One of my biggest complaints about the way history is taught is that it doesn't leave much room for the human aspect of monumental goings-on of the past. Leave it to T.S. Eliot to rectify that problem.

Using a Greek theatrical method as the vehicle for an American emigrant's retelling of 12th-century English martyrdom satisfied so many of my geekier interests. As did Eliot's breathtaking way with words.
Eliot's play just seemed a bit too awkwardly poetic to be put on stage. I mean, many of the chorus' parts (especially, though some other characters are equally confusing) sound more like Eliot's densely allusive poetry than ike the kind of speech meant to convery meaning to a hearer in the theatre. However, I did like what the play did with Becket's moral conundrum--the notion that his pride and desire to be martyred might be the very sin that would prevent him from becoming a saint. But my favo ...more
Matt Ambs
Of love and madness, of silence and shouting, of action and imprisonment. T.S. Eliot screams from the Heavens and the very pit of Hell as he tells the story of Thomas Becket, the doomed Archbishop of Canterbury who battles his own transient rationality with spiritually filial submission. This is magnified with a battle of ethics between the politics of this world and the code of the Martyr which burdens the mind of the one whose eyes are drawn to the heavens but whose feet are planted firmly on ...more
Murder in the Cathedral is not an easy book to understand. It is short but still takes a deep amount of thinking and interpreting, especially being written in prose. For anyone that likes Church history, this is a great book. It deals with a significant figure in history when it comes to Church and government affairs, Thomas Becket. T.S. Eliot is a great writer and keeps you engaged with a subject from hundreds of years ago. Overall, the play is a good historical read but is not the most enterta ...more
The 1934 play Murder in the Cathedral is a product of T. S. Eliot’s conversion to Christianity a few years previously, namely a high-church Anglicanism that struck this American-born poet as deeply embedded in the soil of his adopted England. The subject of the play is the killing of Archbishop Thomas Becket on a cold winter day in 1170 at the hands of three knights sent by King HenryII. The king had wanted the church to be more subordinate to the state, while Becket was adamant that the spiritu ...more
Oct 06, 2014 Tony rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: drama
MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL. (1935). T. S. Eliot. ***.
Eliot was born in St. Louis in 1888, and died in London in 1965. He moved from America to England, and became a British citizen in 1927. He is well-known and respected for his poems and criticism. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948. He wrote several plays, of which this is the best known. The other play that is often performed is “The Cocktail Party.” I have never seen this play performed, but have read it before during my college days
Anna C
"Murder in the Cathedral" was my first introduction to Eliot, and I finished it with mixed feelings.

This short play tells the story of Thomas Becket's 1170 murder in Canterbury. After returning to England after seven years in the Continent, Becket faces a difficult dilemma. He must either reconcile with Henry or die. Anyone remotely familiar with British history knows how this story will end. Thomas Becket is a saint and hero for a reason; he is the martyr who refuses to betray his convictions
Danny Daley
Eliot's play, "Murder in the Cathedral," is devastating. Written in poetic form, the chorus cries some of the most beautiful words I have ever read. The play is based on true events, the murder of an archbishop in 1170. The final scene allows for so many images. One of my all time favorite pieces of writing.

From the opening chorus:

"Some malady is coming upon us. We wait, we wait,
and the saints and martyrs wait, for those who shall be
martyrs and saints.
Destiny waits in the hand of God, shaping th
This book was not for me and was only read as an English assignment for school. The whole thing was difficult to follow. I felt like there was something I should have known before beginning the book. The only thing I could comprehend from the plot was that the King thought Thomas the Archbishop had betrayed him in some way so now he wants him put to death and sent knights to do it. Blah. Blah. Blah. Boooorrriiiinggg. Next.
A play based on the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170. I saw the movie "Becket" with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton, so when I saw the book I thought it would be interesting, and it was was. It was a nice blend of literature and politics.
T. S. Eliot's imagery here recalls that of The Four Quartets, Gerontion, and Prufrock,. At the same time it is fresh,and dramatically compelling.
A sample:
"Of the men and women who shut the door and sit by the fire;
Who fear the blessing of God, the loneliness of the night of God, the surrender required, the deprivation inflicted;
Who fear the injustice of men less than the justice of God;
Who fear the hand at the window, the fire in the thatch, the fist in the tavern, the push in the canal,
Less tha
I listened to an audio version of this on a short coach journey and think that perhaps I wasn't mentally alert enough to properly take it all in. At times I wanted a written copy along with the audio so that I could follow it better and perhaps digest it at a slower pace. I enjoyed the commonplace voices of The Chorus, but I think I missed out on lot of the interpretation (and historical knowledge) needed to appreciate Murder in the Cathedral.

Would I come back to it at a later date when I was fe

After reading Hilary Mantel's books, this play became appealing. It is a complicated piece of work filled with symbolism and thoughtful writing.
T. S. Elliot aceptó escribir una obra por el Festival de Canterbury en Junio de 1935 (respondiendo al pedido de Geroge Bell, obispo de Chichester) y eligió como tema el martirio de el más famoso de todos los santos ingleses, Thomas Becket, quien fue arzobispo de Canterbury entre 1162 y 1170, y asesinado brutalmente en su propia catedral.

Murder in the Cathedral es una obra que explora las disputas entre la corona y la iglesia y las tentaciones de permanecer en el trono terrenal o permanecer por l
A poem-play that asks the complex questions that a life like Thomas Becket's raises. Was it foolishness, pride, or faith that set him on his path to death? And who is to judge?

In many ways, reminds me of the The Messenger, the Joan of Arc film that most impacted me as a child -- a film that raised unsettling questions about conscience and intention and the thin line between human pride and divine will.

A powerful explosion of language. Colorful and vibrant and piercing.

THOMAS: Peace! be quiet!
Suhasini Srihari
One of the best literary writings of T.S. Eliot, the verse-drama speaks of the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket. The lines are so moving as if they were definite axioms and I couldn't prevent myself from making an attempt to learn most of the lines. Eliot has a peculiar way of gripping the attention of the readers, the dialogues that he created are so profound and evocative, and the part of England's history (conflict between King Henry II and Thomas à Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, in 1 ...more
Rick Davis
Fantastic. Eliot's dramatization of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket written in a style reminiscent of Greek drama. Eliot's poetry is always haunting and beautiful. There are various themes of the play, but one main theme centers on the struggle between the power of the state vs the power of the Church. What role does faith play in public affairs, how far can secular authority go to restrain or command men's consciences. The speeches of the knights justifying their actions after they have murd ...more
Trinny Tat
A historical play written in rhymes, and verses. For each character, Elliot developed a technique of speaking. I love the creativity of his poems. However, Thomas Becket's death is NOT a martyrdom. His death is just a way to escape society. Unless he never knew about his upcoming death, I do not consider that a martyrdom. There are other ways to save the people aka the Chorus Women of Canterbury by returning to France (in which he rejected). He could not face the future dealing with the people a ...more
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Thomas Stearns Eliot was a poet, dramatist and literary critic. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry." He wrote the poems The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, The Waste Land, The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday, and Four Quartets; the plays Murder in the Cathedral and The Cocktail Party; and the essay Tradition and the Individ ...more
More about T.S. Eliot...
The Waste Land and Other Poems The Waste Land Collected Poems, 1909-1962 The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and Other Poems Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

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“The last act is the greatest treason. To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” 69 likes
“Unreal friendship may turn to real
But real friendship, once ended, cannot be mended”
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