Becket’s Passage towards “the still center of eternity”: The role of the Knights in the prelude to Martyrdom


  • Dr. Nitai Chandra Saha Associate Professor of English Munshi Premchand Mahavidyalaya Sevoke Road, Siliguri-734001 Dist. Darjeeling, West Bengal India


Murder in the Cathedral is a study in the philosophical and religious aspects of martyrdom, and so there is very little room for effective characterization. The Priests, the four Tempters, and the four Knights are types rather than flesh and blood creations, and Eliot deliberately makes little effort to present them personally. The four knights first confronted Thomas Becket at the cathedral of Canterbury in a political argument, during which Thomas was openly contemptuous of them, despite their obvious drunkenness. They left and soon returned with more men, and when Thomas refused to leave with them, they brutally murdered him in the midst of the cathedral, a great sacrilege considering the holy ground.

In his versification and language, Eliot could achieve remarkable success, but he himself was quick to realize that he had given, “attention to versification at the expense of plot and character.†The characters in Eliot’s plays are not individualized in the true sense. With few exceptions, as for example, in The Confidential Clerk and the chorus in Murder in the Cathedral, all the characters are aristocratic, either by birth or by connection or by association. They are all sophisticated. “Even when they are comparatively insensitive, they live in the smart world of country houses and cocktail parties. They are often cosmopolitan, a natural extension of that same world†(Pearce 48). They have insights which are of a remote and unfamiliar kind. It is the complexity and profundity of their insights, their spiritual conflicts which have come in the way of the appreciation of Eliot’s plays. There are other plays also in which there is complexity and profundity, but the characters are real, the readers or the spectators feel a sense of involvement and hence enjoy the play. But Eliot’s characters lack reality, they are, “altogether too cerebral, creations of the mind unimpelled by emotions of their own†(Pearce 56). They have no existence of their own except as agents manipulated to make real some spiritual experience.


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