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Murder in the Cathedral

4.1 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156632775
ISBN-10: 0156632772
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Editorial Reviews


Murder in the Cathedral revives the awesome 1953 Old Vic performance of Eliot's play about the power struggle between Henry II and Thomas Becket, originally performed in the cathedral itself at the 1935 Canterbury Festival. In it you will hear echoes - 'Humankind cannot bear very much reality' - taken up in 'Burnt Norton'...this was Robert Donat's finest performance. - Christina Hardyment, The Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1888. He moved to England in 1914 and published his first book of poems in 1917. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. Eliot died in 1965.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 88 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt (March 18, 1964)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156632772
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156632775
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Daniel P. Baker on October 15, 2004
Format: Audio Cassette
The audiobook version of "Murder in the Cathedral" (with Robert Donat playing Thomas Beckett) is a surprising delight, especially for those who love rich language and philosophical musings.

Centered around the age-old story of how Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was murdered by knights for defying the king's authority, the play explores a variety of themes: church vs. state, the quest for power, the pursuit of pleasure, the heroism or vanity of martyrs, and the search for life's meaning in the face of death and the "void".

The performances of the actors in this audiobook are superb, especially that of Robert Donat. Hearing his deep resonating voice, you truly feel the charismatic power of the archbishop and former chancellor to the king.

The performance alternates between straight dialogue, poetry, and the Gregorian style chanting of monks. While the poetry and chanting is tedious in parts, it at least breaks up the dialogue into digestable chunks and moves the plot along.

Readers shouldn't be put off by the medieval theme of this piece. The substance of the play is as modern and relevant as any play you'll find. The plot contains a novel twist as well.

With its many poetic and philosophical flourishes, there's more than a trace of Shakespeare in this work. And here's a little known fact: another T.S. Eliot work, "The Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats", was the inspiration for Cats, the longest running Broadway musical.

So push the rewind for me. Time to visit that bloody cathedral again.
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Format: Paperback
The play is about Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury and is not worth reading if you like a literal story, where what you read is what you get and reading between the lines is unnecessary. That is what I liked about this play. It allows you to interpret the dialogue so that you develop your own understanding behind the plot.
Thomas Becket lived in the 12th century and rose to power because of his friend King Henry. Becket at first had been a Chancellor in Henry’s court and had then been given the title of Archbishop. Henry wanted him to have both the titles whereas Becket refused because he felt he could not perform both jobs to the same expectations. This was because Henry had radical views about the separation of the church and the state and Becket did not agree with these views because he did not believe he could serve two very opposite masters. The result was an argument between the two.
Literally, Henry and Becket are in a skirmish during the play, but the actual conflict is between Becket and his conscience. The play goes deep into Christianity and the Catholic faith, which I found to be enjoyable. Just as Christ had tempters, so does Becket. They offer him power and material wealth, when all they want in return is for Becket to alter and transform his principles.
I liked how you saw main characters in this play, such as the Chorus, progress from fearing the unknown to joyfully accepting God. While the play has Christian connotations within, it stresses primarily on universal human values such as humility and devotion.
The entire play is written in verse and Eliot managed to capture such complex themes and dialogue in such concise yet poetic words.
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Format: Paperback
T. S. Eliot's short play, Murder in the Cathedral, was originally written for the Canterbury festival and tells the story of the murder of Archbishop Thomas Beckett (1118-70) by Henry II's henchmen. It is essentially an extended lyrical consideration of the proper residence of temporal and spiritual power, of the obligations of religious believers to the commands of the State, and of the possibility that piety can be selfish unto sin.
Beckett is one of the more interesting characters from history. Rising from a lowly birth in the Cheapside section of London, largely thanks to the patronage of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1154 he became both archdeacon of Canterbury and Henry's chancellor. Theobald expected him to defend the prerogatives of the Church, but instead he became fast friends with Henry, partook of a sybaritic lifestyle, and extended the power of the State at the expense of the Church. So when Theobald was succeeded by Beckett, Henry expected to have a compliant ally running the Church, but instead Beckett adopted an ascetic lifestyle and became a fearsome defender of the rights of the Church. After dividing on many minor issues, matters came to a head when Henry tried exerting the authority of Crown courts to punish clerics who had been convicted by ecclesiastical courts. Henry determined to reign him in, put Beckett on trial for misappropriating funds while serving as Chancellor, and Beckett was forced to flee to France.
The play opens as Beckett returns to Canterbury in December of 1170, after seven years in exile. Four Tempters approach him, separately, and offer him reasons why he should cease to resist Henry.
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Format: Paperback
Despite the strange situations which appear in some other works written by T. S. Eliot- Such as Old Posum's Book of Practical Cats, this play is quite factual. Based on the murder of Thomas Beckett, the archbishop of Canterbury Cathedral, this text breathes life to the events which occurred. The book does not have many stage instructions, descriptions of the location, or costume description. Those who read this book must imagine the entire setting, as well the events which unfold. I would recommend that you know a little about the Canterbury murders before reading this book. There are many resources online about the murders, so this can easily be acomplished.
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