The famous and one of the highly performed Poetic Dramas, ‘Murder in the Cathedral ‘has earned the Nobel Laureate Thomas Stearne Eliot a lot fame and name. The author was responsible for revival of the ‘Poetic Drama’ after centuries, with this particular work of his. The drama is an excellent take on the political scenario of England. It has also inspired several artists and filmmakers worldwide, to create adaptations of the great drama. The Murder in the Cathedral is inspired by the story of Thomas Beckett, the multi-faceted statesman, who became the Archbishop of the Church. This was the closest one could ever get to the Pope.
Thomas Beckett was born into a poor family, and rose to the status of prominence, thanks to his friendship with King Henry II, as well as his own intelligence. He rose to the ranks quite quickly and soon managed to acquire the position under the Archbishop Theobald. This was instrumental in his career. It was through this position, the political appropriateness, and wit that Beckett possessed, that he got quite close with the King Henry II. This also led to Henry II naming Beckett as the Chancellor, which was one of the highest ranks, in administration of the kingdom.
The friendship or the relationship that the King Henry II and Thomas Beckett shared was not ‘textbook’ stuff- it was something extraordinary, that a King would actually mingle with someone from who was a ‘servant’ of his, technically speaking. This is the era, where the decorum and diplomacy ruled. King Henry II and Beckett’s friendship was beneficial for both of them. Thomas Beckett enjoyed the lavish life, and the pleasures that came along with it. For King Henry II, it was simple-he had found an ally, to make his work easier now. He could reinstate the importance of the King, and completely negate the involvement of the Church. The system dictated that the Church and State are separate. This was the time of great turmoil, when King Henry II was desperately trying to get matters under his control completely.
Things took a drastic turn, maybe for good or for worse, when the Archbishop Theobald died. King Henry II, just like a perfect ‘King’, or a ‘diplomat’, saw a window of opportunity here. He named Thomas Beckett the Archbishop. Now, the King could easily have a significant dominance over the Church as well, which functioned with autonomy. The team of Beckett and King would now be invincible, and King would take the absolute charge over the country.
But of course, things don’t turn out that way, fortunately. Beckett, perhaps, has a realization of things going awry, and out of sheer dedication towards the Church and his position as the Archbishop, he resigned from the Chancellorship. As and when he started to get to know about the role of Archbishop, it seemed as if he realized his folly. He started to oppose the King Henry II, which was obviously a shock for him. A battle ensued, and as always, the power was triumphant. Beckett fled England, and was on an exile to France.
Upon his return, he faced the danger of being killed, and he was quite aware of this peril. Enter the ‘temptresses’ or the Knights, who tempted him with almost everything possible- but Beckett refused to budge. Soon, he was killed in the Cathedral, by the four Knights. The Cathedral now became a place of pilgrimage, and Thomas Beckett was pronounced as a Saint. King Henry II eventually did take it upon himself. He agreed that ‘his words did inspire’ the actions of the Knights.
The entire incident has a myth-like feel to it, and Eliot has done complete justice to it, one can say. He added the usage of chorus, in the classic Greek manner, which adds to this mythical feel. The characters in the poetic drama represent the moral judgement and the stance, woven in an absolute intricate manner. This leaves the audience in an emotional frenzy. The sheer delicacy of the highly controversial matter is handled by Eliot very tastefully, which is something only he can achieve.