Murder in the Cathedral is a two-part, verse drama, tragedy play written in 1935 by Thomas Stearns Eliot, also known by his pen name as T. S. Eliot. It joined many similar writings in the year of 1170 when Archbishop Thomas á Becket was assassinated in the cathedral at Canterbury by four knights ordered by King Henry II following Becket’s rejection of the King’s new marriage (Trudeau 2). Eliot’s most famous works including The Waste Land (1922) and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) were in the past, and a new style of writing would emerge from the more pensive, older Eliot. This type of writing revolved around Christianity and religion, and included mostly plays that lacked the quality of his world-renowned poems. Eliot’s impact on twentieth-century literature is undeniably one of great magnitude; however, Murder in the Cathedral, while still laudable and celebrated among its peers, marked the beginning of the end of his reputable and impressive career.
T. S. Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1888 as the youngest of seven children. His father was president of the Hydraulic Brick Press Company, his mother a teacher, social worker, and writer (Trudeau 1). Despite his family’s strict religious beliefs, Eliot grew up a skeptic and an agnostic. Soon he left his hometown to attend Harvard University, studying French literature and philosophy. After a graduate school at several universities, a failed marriage, a nervous breakdown, and the publishing of his most famous work The Waste Land, Eliot made some major changes. He transferred to Anglicanism and became a British citizen, both possibly being big reasons for his change in writing style (Trudeau 1). Eliot died in 1965 of emphysema.
Eliot’s grandfather was a Unitarian priest who strongly believed in the Christian ideals and tradition set forward by his church. He also focused on the importance and praise of martyrs who would give up their life to defend what they believe in. He once said in a sermon, “The blood of the martyr is the seed not only of the Church, but of truth and liberty” (Clark 2). This admiration for martyrs may have been the inspiration for the young T. S. Eliot to eventually write Murder in the Cathedral and address the deliberation Becket faces in Part I about his upcoming inevitable martyrdom.
The Catholic Church commissioned Eliot in 1935 to write a play for Kent’s annual Canterbury festival. Without many restrictions on his writing, he decided to honor the most famous Canterbury saint, Thomas Becket. It would be directed and produced by E. Martin Browne, who directed Eliot’s last play, The Rock (1934). It debuted in the Chapter House of the Canterbury Cathedral, and was then moved to the Mercury Theatre in Notting Hill Gate in London where it was featured for several months. Today, many movies have been made based on this play, several of which were award winning. This was not the first production of Thomas Becket’s assassination though, and it wouldn’t be...