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Old 08-06-2017, 01:26 PM   #1
issybird
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Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot

Murder in the Cathedral is poetic drama in two parts, with a prose sermon interlude, the most successful play by American English poet T.S. Eliot. The play was performed at Canterbury Cathedral in 1935 and published the same year. Set in December 1170, it is a modern miracle play on the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury.

The play’s most striking feature is the use of a chorus in the Classical Greek manner. The poor women of Canterbury who make up the chorus nervously await Thomas’s return from his seven-year exile, fretting over his volatile relationship with King Henry II. Thomas arrives and must resist four temptations: worldly pleasures, lasting power as chancellor, recognition as a leader of the barons against the king, and eternal glory as a martyr.

After Thomas delivers his Christmas morning sermon, four knights in the service of the king accost him and order him to leave the kingdom. When he refuses, they return to slay him in the cathedral.

This is the MR Literary Club selection for August 2017. Whether you've already read it or would like to, feel free to start or join in the conversation at any time, and guests are always welcome! So, what are your thoughts on it?


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Old 08-06-2017, 01:36 PM   #2
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I'm going to note that the August main book club selection, Your Turn, Mr. Moto by J.P. Marquand, also was written in 1935. Read in conjunction, they could provide insight into the political climate of the times
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Old 08-06-2017, 02:00 PM   #3
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Thank you, issybird! I have put Murder in the Cathedral on hold at my library. The wait should be short. Your Turn, Mr. Moto looks interesting too.
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Old 08-13-2017, 12:32 PM   #4
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Great nomination, Spinnenmonat.

I find the use of the Greek chorus interesting; what other similarities will this have to a Greek tragedy?

The blank verse is wonderful in places, and some of the images are striking:
"Ruinous spring shall beat at our doors,
Root and shoot shall eat our eyes and our ears,"
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Old 08-13-2017, 12:58 PM   #5
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I have not yet started to read it, but I know the use of the ancient greek chorus is characteristic of this play.

For the fans of T. S. Eliot: Complete works
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Old 08-13-2017, 01:47 PM   #6
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A few years ago the club read Eliot's Four Quartets. The first poem was Burnt Norton. Unfortunately my recollection of it is too vague!

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnt_Norton
Quote:
The concept of Burnt Norton is connected to Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral; he worked on the poem while the play was being produced during 1935. The connection between the poem and the play is deep; many of the lines for the poem come from lines originally created for the play that were, on E. Martin Brown's advice, removed from the script. Years later, Eliot recollected:

There were lines and fragments that were discarded in the course of the production of Murder in the Cathedral. 'Can't get them over on the stage,' said the producer, and I humbly bowed to his judgment. However, these fragments stayed in my mind, and gradually I saw a poem shaping itself round them: in the end it came out as 'Burnt Norton.'
Quote:
The central discussion within the poem is on the nature of time and salvation. Eliot emphasises the need of the individual to focus on the present moment and to know that there is a universal order. By understanding the nature of time and the order of the universe, mankind is able to recognise God and seek redemption.
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Old 08-13-2017, 08:01 PM   #7
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Thanks so much for that, Bookworm_Girl. I must have a look at Burnt Norton.

I thought that there were echoes of The Waste Land in the opening chorus.
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Old 08-13-2017, 08:27 PM   #8
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I enjoyed it. Lovers of his poetry will enjoy it. I was pleasantly surprised.
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Old 08-14-2017, 05:45 PM   #9
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This is a very fine work. It is a powerful exploration of the intensity of spiritual conflict which is relevant to all who face such situations. Eliot generally follows the conventions of Greek tragedy in that the drama follows the unities of place and action--though it spreads the time over three days.

Here are some reactions I had to the opening section of the play up to the temptation section.

The outer conflict is between Henry and Becket; the inner conflict is within Becket and the universal level is between the eternal/spiritual and temporal/material.

The chorus is wonderful. They are not mere commentators but crystalise very real concerns related to everyday life. They question the relevance to martyrdom in the world. They must deal with reality:

"Now I fear disturbance of the quiet seasons:
winter shall come bringing death from the sea,
Ruinous spring shall beat at our doors,
Root and shoot shall eat our eyes and our ears,
Disastrous summer burn up the beds of our streams
And the poor shall wait for another decayin October. "

The three priests are icons of belief approaches.
The first priest is basically pessimistic.

"Shall these things not end
Until the poor at the gate
Have forgotten their friend, their Father in God, have forgotten
That they had a friend?"

The second priest is politically conscious and willing to take an optimistic line.

"The Archbishop whall be at our head, dispelling dismay and doubt.
He will tell us what we are to do, he will give us orders, instruct us.
Our Lord is at one with the Pope, and also the King of France."

The third priest is the most spiritual and the least worldly; he has a deep sense of the mystery of destiny's great wheel:

"for good or ill, let the wheel turn.
The wheel has been still, these seven years and no good.
For ill or good, let the wheel turn.
for who knows the end of good or evil?
Until the grinders cease
And the door shall be shut in the street,
And all the daughters of music shall be brought low."

The speeches by the priests are followed by an extended chorus--one which tries to find peace by simply avoiding conflict and running away from the problem:

"O Thomas, Archbishop, leave us, leave us, leave sullen Dover, and set sail for France. . . set the white sail between the grey sky and the bitter sea, leave us, leave us for France."

So even in these opening pages we get a striking dramatic rendering of the deep spiritual conflicts the play wil explore.

These conflicts continue in the Temptations of Thomas which follow and which provide a series of attempts to outline the inner strengths and weaknesses of the Archbishop.

Last edited by fantasyfan; Yesterday at 02:33 AM.
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