- Paperback: 88 pages
- Publisher: Harcourt (March 18, 1964)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156632772
- ISBN-13: 978-0156632775
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.2 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 88 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,135 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Murder in the Cathedral
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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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I think this is one of those books - even at less than 90 pages - where a helping handing is required, so I relied on the great material at novelguide dot com to help me with understanding some of the imagery, symbolism, cultural references, etc., and it was a great aid. I also had notes written in my used copy from its original owner, a coed - Class of 1964 - at the College of New Rochelle. Rather than detracting from the enjoyment of reading it, the charming marginalia added to it.
There's some lovely turns of phrase here - right from the first page: "Since golden October declined into sombre November..." - and while I'm sure I should know my Bible better, and missed some of the references, I could still catch the Chorus's cadence and words that were reminiscent of Ecclesiastes.
And the famous "The last temptation is the greatest treason:To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
My favorite part was Becket's homily; and while the last speeches by the knights are sometimes seen as a bit of comic relief and a play on British manners, I found their justifications ("he had it coming to him," basically) and bureaucratic detachment (they basically say: "you're welcome, England") from their murder to be chilling - and that points to some very strong writing on Eliot's part to give me that feeling.
If there's a reason why I'm giving only 4 stars instead of 5, it's that the play is still narrow in focus - without Henry II bellowing "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest," something seems lacking
But for drama, introspection on temptation and rewards here on earth, and in Heaven, and lovely poetry - it's highly recommended
This isn't to say that "Murder in the Cathedral" is not worth reading. T.S. Eliot here really shows his poetic verve and has some lines that make you ponder their meaning. It's a beautiful verse play, similar to Shakespeare but much shorter (and without humor). And different from other adaptations of the Becket story, the Four Knights who kill the archbishop are given an opportunity to defend themselves. Their actions (and Becket's, too) are left for the reader to judge.
A lot of lines are given to the Chorus of women who operate somewhere between traditional Catholicism and folk beliefs--they seemed to me to be sort of "wise women," that is, both magical and spiritual in their prophecies and statements. Usually a Chorus is used to fill-in details for the play-readers and watchers: Eliot uses them here not only for that function, but also to dominate the storytelling. I appreciated what the Chorus had to offer, but I would have rather read more of the thoughts of the principal characters than of these "side" characters.
The scene where Becket is challenged with the Four Temptations (parallel to the temptations of Christ) is very powerful and moving: here we see Eliot at his best.
I would recommend this play for anyone who is familiar enough with the Henry II / Becket tradition (if you don't know the history, or don't do a quick brush-up on Wikipedia before reading it, you'll be totally lost). It's a very powerful, moving play, and I hope to see it performed on stage sometime.
Possibly the sole exception is this play, the utterly exquisite, devastatingly resonant poetry of which knows no equal in my experience of the English language. Eliot's Nobel Prize for literature was scarcely adequate recognition. No hyperbole, here: I mean it.
As an aside, the Kindle version has clearly been scanned from the original paper version, there are several places where the words are obviously misspelled owing to such scanning processes.