Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Murder in the Cathedral” as Want to Read:
Murder in the Cathedral
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Murder in the Cathedral

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  5,471 Ratings  ·  212 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Murder in the Cathedral, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

John Sproule
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn WaughThe Power and the Glory by Graham GreeneThe Screwtape Letters by C.S. LewisThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. TolkienThe Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
Catholic Fiction
20th out of 419 books — 349 voters
The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyOf Mice and Men by John SteinbeckThe Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Best Books of the Decade: 1930s
74th out of 457 books — 820 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
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
Dec 21, 2014 David Withun rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, literature
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
Petruccio Hambasket IV
Wonderful writing, deals with the thoughts of Thomas Becket before he is confronted with his royal assassins. I don't have the slightest idea how this could ever be performed as a play however: the lines are too personal, too absorbed in the folds of their own meaning to be neatly expressed to a large group of festival onlookers (the original design of the work).

Eliot's writing is weighty as per usual and does not lose it's touch from being written into theater. The strangest part of this entir
Jul 13, 2014 Quill rated it really liked it
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
Sep 13, 2012 Robert Clay rated it liked it
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
Jun 24, 2014 Zanna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, philosophy, drama
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
Dec 23, 2008 Christina rated it did not like it
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
Jun 13, 2013 Cbj rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british-classics
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
Jun 03, 2010 §-- rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 21, 2012 Defying D rated it really liked it
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
Aug 09, 2009 Mazel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: théatre
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
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.
Melissa Ski
Aug 07, 2016 Melissa Ski rated it liked it
Shelves: classics

"I have tasted the savour of putrid flesh in the spoon"

"I have eaten smooth creatures still living...they live and spawn in my bowels, and my bowels dissolve in the light of dawn"

"I have lain in the soil and criticized the worm"

"I have smelt corruption in the dish, incense in the latrine, the sewer in the incense"

"rings of light coiling downwards, descending to the horror of the ape"
Swarnadeep Banik
"Endurance of friendship does not depend
Upon ourselves, but upon circumstance.
But circumstance is not undetermined.
Unreal friendship may turn to real
But real friendship, once ended, cannot be mended.
Sooner shall enmity turn to alliance.
The enmity that never knew friendship
Can sooner know accord."

what a great piece of verse-drama! kudos, eliot! it was like his philosophy, earlier seen in his poems, reflected heavily on his other forms of artistic creation. i was so enriched that this play actuall
I really love T. S. Eliot's writing - his lyricism is beautiful and the way he makes words flow is beyond belief. When you've got things like

"Yet we have gone on living,
Living and partly living."


"The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

or even

"King, emperor, bishop, baron, king:
Uncertain mastery of melting armies,
War, plague, and revolution,
New conspiracies, broken pacts;
To be master or servant within an hour,
This is the course of temporal power
Jul 28, 2011 Phillip rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
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
Oct 14, 2013 Brian rated it it was ok
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
Oct 28, 2011 Misha rated it did not like it
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.
Eliot's prose is on-point, but this is mostly in verse and I couldn't stand it. I do believe I might come to feel differently if I saw this performed, but no, let's all just be forced to READ plays meant to be WATCHED.

I'm not bitter.
Aug 27, 2009 Peter rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 18, 2013 Correen rated it it was amazing

After reading Hilary Mantel's books, this play became appealing. It is a complicated piece of work filled with symbolism and thoughtful writing.
Norman Styers
Jul 11, 2016 Norman Styers rated it it was amazing
A true classic. Becket gets the best lines, but who would begrudge him that?
Jun 13, 2012 Tessa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Arrestingly brilliant.
John Pistelli
I should not like to close without attempting to set before you, though only in dim outline, the ideal towards which poetic drama should strive. It is an unattainable ideal: and that is why it interests me, for it provides an incentive towards further experiment and exploration, beyond any goal which there is prospect of attaining. It is a function of all art to give us some perception of an order in life, by imposing an order upon it. The painter works by selection, combination and emphasis amo ...more
Jul 05, 2015 Christopher rated it liked it
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
Anna C
Apr 13, 2014 Anna C rated it liked it
"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
Nov 11, 2014 Jaz rated it it was amazing
Murder in the Cathedral is a verse drama by T. S. Eliot that portrays the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, first performed in 1935. In 1951, in the first Theodore Spencer Memorial Lecture at Harvard University, Eliot criticised his own plays in the second half of the lecture, explicitly the plays Murder in the Cathedral, The Family Reunion, and The Cocktail Party. The lecture was published as Poetry and Drama and later included in Eliot’s 1957 collection ...more
Oct 05, 2014 Ralph rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics-read
"Many persons have the wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose." ~Helen Keller

I first heard of Archbishop Thomas Becket of Canterbury last month while reading The Pillars of the Earth . I decided to do a little research on him and noticed that there was a book about him on my classic to-read list. Perfect, I thought now I can learn more about the martydom of Becket and mark off one of the classic pl
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Becket
  • The Ballad of the White Horse
  • Feasting the Heart: Fifty-Two Commentaries for the Air
  • Saint Joan
  • A Man for All Seasons
  • The School for Scandal
  • The Song At The Scaffold
  • J.B.
  • Daily Strength for Daily Needs
  • The Etiquette of Illness: What to Say When You Can't Find the Words
  • The Caretaker
  • Three Tragedies: Blood Wedding, Yerma, Bernarda Alba
  • Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays (Everyman's Library)
  • The Elizabethan World Picture
  • The Playboy of the Western World
  • Travesties
  • Selected Poems and Two Plays
  • My Father's Tears and Other Stories
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...

Share This Book

“The last act is the greatest treason. To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” 83 likes
“Unreal friendship may turn to real
But real friendship, once ended, cannot be mended”
More quotes…