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Evidence for Ambivalence of Motives in M urder in the C athédral John P. Cutts Ambiguity in T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral has often been noted, and recently has been the focus of Edna G. Sharoni’s recent study, “ ‘Peace’ and ‘Unbar the Door’: T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral and Some Stoic Forebears.”! I wish to suggest further that the ambiguity of the drama is also curi­ ously underlined by Eliot’s selection and use of certain historical and liturgical materials. Indeed, close examination of these materials even tends to suggest that the playwright has either consciously or unconsciously depicted the martyr Becket as a character of ambiguous motives. Eliot’s Becket plays many people in one person from his first entry in the play under the cloak of the paradox that acting is suffering And suffering is action. Neither does the actor suffer Nor the patient act . . . for the pattern is the action And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still Be forever still.2 Thereafter, Becket continues his role playing through the ironi­ cal turning of that wheel against him by the unexpected entrance of the fourth tempter3 who echoes every word of his beginning (p. 193) as if it were also his last end, to his belief that although the world will rank him a senselessly self-slaughtering lunatic (p. 197) or an arrogant fanatic, he will nevertheless go down in history clear of the charge of doing the right deed for the wrong reason. Becket plays his role. Before he plays the double martyr in his Christmas sermon Becket has commended himself to his good Angel in a strangely diversified form of the evening prayer which is consistent with 199 200 Comparative Drama many of the patterns of rhetoric throughout the play. The liturgical element—the beginning of prayer, the dedication into God’s hands of man’s endeavors and aspirations—starts off right, but ends peculiarly as Becket feels it necessary to adapt it to his own needs, to assert himself: Now my good Angel, whom God appoints To be my guardian, hover over the swords’ points. (p. 197) What one might have expected is the evening prayer of perfection: O my good Angel, whom God by His divine mercy hath appointed to be my guardian, enlighten and protect me, direct and govern me this nighri or at least, allowing for the dramatist’s need to versify, the main tenure of the orthodox evening prayer. Becket’s prayer is some­ what tinctured with the aura of the imperfection of trying to “direct” God’s efforts through the guardian Angel instead of submitting himself into God’s hands. Likewise his sermon, a deliberate choice of joy in sorrow, sorrow in joy, marks his conscious manipulation of orthodoxy to suit his own purposes and betrays his “delight” in the para­ dox of his situation. Of course theologically he is correct in cele­ brating “at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross” (p. 198), but the joy of the Christmas season is subordinated to his own needs to emphasize death, death by martyrdom. It is almost as if he were turning the Christmas Mass into a Mass for a Martyr Bishop: Lesson from the Epistle of blessed James the Apostle. Dearly beloved: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he hath been proved, he shall receive the crown of life which God hath promised to them that love Him. Let no man, when he is tempted, say that he is tempted by God. For God is not a tempter of evils; and He tempteth no man. But every man is tempted by his own concupiscence, being drawn away and allured. Then when concupiscence hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin. But sin, when it is completed, begetteth death. Do not err, therefore, my dearest brethren. Every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration. For of His own will hath He begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 199-210
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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