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Analysis, Themes, and Summary of Murder in the Cathedral



Analysis, Themes, and Summary of Murder in the Cathedral
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Murder in the Cathedral: In this blog post, we shall take you on a journey through the analysis of Murder in the Cathedral by T.S Eliot, the themes, summary, forms, and in-depth scene explanation.


Thomas Stearns Eliot lived between 1888 and 1965. In the 20th Century (i.e. 1900-1999), T.S. Eliot was a major dramatist and poet of English Literature. In the year 1948, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. T.S. Eliot was specially talented at writing his plays and poems in the lyrical style. Hence, he was known in the literary world as the restorer of poetic drama.

Mainly, T.S. Eliot’s literary works from the year 1932, were written to celebrate the “fundamentals (i.e. laws or commandments) of the Christianity faith”. So, most of his plays written from 1932 upward (including Murder in the Cathedral written in 1935) were historical explorations of how much the early Christian leaders and believers subjected themselves to acts of “purgation”, “ritual” and “renewal”; to make Christianity withstand all obstacles to its survival.

In the Christianity faith, the law of “purgation” implies the act of being made pure and free from evil. The law of “ritual” implies an act of determination to sacrifice one’s life on earth, for the survival of Christianity, to gain everlasting life, in God’s Paradise. The law of “renewal” implies the act of total dedication to God, after an event of salvation. Therefore, T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is an exploration of the themes of “purgation”, “ritual” and “renewal”.


The storyline of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is the account of the tragic killing of Archbishop Thomas Becket. Archbishop Thomas Becket was the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church of England between 1162-1170 A.D.

Archbishop Thomas Becket was killed inside his Cathedral by four knights (high-rank horseback soldiers who always bore the title of “Sir”).

The Knights were Sir Reginald Fritze Urse, Sir Hugh de Morville, Sir William de Traci, and Sir Richard de Brito. The four knights killed Archbishop Thomas Becket on a false accusation of disobedience to King Henry l.

T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is a heroic drama in form. Remember that the wicked murder of an innocent soul usually dramatized in heroic drama is always linked to the ruling king, at that time of the murder



T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral was set in the 12th century (i.e. 1100 – 1199 A.D) England. We can all see that the wicked killing of Archbishop Thomas Becket (the play’s protagonist hero) dramatised in the play, took place on 29th December 1170. At the time, only the Roman Catholic Church (founded in 33 A.D after Jesus Christ’s Ascension to heaven) was in existence throughout the whole world. We can all see that Archbishop Thomas Becket was described as the pope’s appointee, overseeing the Roman Catholic See of England (i.e all Catholic Churches in England).

The two parts of the play were mainly set within the premises of the Cathedral
Church in the town of Canterbury. Just occasional references were made to York, London, and Salisbury (i.e. the Churches whose Bishops were ex-communicated, for illegally performing a prescribed duty of the Archbishop of Canterbury). occasional references were made by the four Knights to France and Rome. Archbishop Thomas Becket arrived in Canterbury from France, at the beginning of the play. We can see that the four Knights came to falsely accuse Archbishop Thomas Becket inside the Cathedral Church and they finally killed him inside the Cathedral Church.



  • Socially, T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral was set, when the society of England was organised on a class basis.
  • Then, the society was divided into the classes of the Lords, Knights, noblemen-landowners, and commoners or serfs.
  • At that time too, the King of England used to rule his subjects on the principle of Royal Absolutism.
  • As a Royal Absolutist, everything in England belonged to the king.
  • All the land belonged to the king.

The entire England was divided into manors (i.e. farm settlements).


Psychologically, T.S Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is set in the background of human behaviour which supports the effective perpetuation of the requirement of “purgation”, “ritual” and “renewal”, in the Christianity faith.

To perpetuate “purgation”, a Christian must be disciplined, faithful, obedient, and truthful.

Archbishop Becket was disciplined, faithful, obedient and truthful. Hence, his action in the play illustrated the theme of “purgation”.

To perpetuate “ritual”, a Christian must be fearless in his mind, steadfast in his belief, totally apostolic in his guts, calculating and intelligent to differentiate all forms of temptation, resolute to resist temptation, truthful in his speeches, selfless in his thoughts or actions for others.


Literary devices in Murder in the Cathedral
TS Eliot develops this play’s themes, traces out its setting, and illustrates the traits of the characters in the play With the devices of: analogy, aphorism, biblical allusion, euphemism, high burlesque, irony, oxymoron and symbolism.


The device of analogy is used twice. The first occurrence is how the Fourth Tempter describes the difference between a dead king and a murdered servant of God (i.e. Saint).

The Fourth Tempter had put it to Archbishop Becket to continue his struggle to the point of death in the Lord. The Fourth Tempter says “a dead king is forgotten when another one is enthroned, but a saint is always remembered for ever and ever”. It will be observed that Archbishop Becket’s mind is working in the direction of this analogy of the Fourth Tempter. Yet, the analogy is called a temptation. It is regarded as temptation because the Fourth Tempter thinks Archbishop Becket wants a martyrdom of inciting commoners through a protest against King Henry I and dying in the process. Yet, the Archbishop does not confront the king. The king’s Knights confront and kill him in his Cathedral.

The second case of analogy is Archbishop Becket’s decision not to do a right thing for a wrong reason. In this case, the Archbishop is saying he is not ready to stay alive and see the Holy Order of God to face sacrilege; in the way Adam and Eve listened to Satan to lose eternal life.


First Tempter makes use of two proverbs. One is his purported remark that “an easy man lives to eat the best dinners”. The second proverb is his warning that “Archbishop Becket as a goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone”. The unity of the two aphorisms is that Archbishop Becket would be killed if he does not come down for King Henry l. So, the aphorism effectively points out that a plot has been hatched to kill the Archbishop.

Biblical Allusion

The device of biblical allusion is first used by the Second Priest. This is when he states that the daughters of music (meaning strong human beings opposed to the good work of God according to the book of Ecclesiastes 12:3-4) shall be brought low. In other words, the Second Priest is putting hope in himself that the forces after the life of Archbishop Becket shall be put to shame. Archbishop Becket himself refers to the downfall of Samson: Samson falls by disobeying God, not to marry Delilah. Delilah his wife fooled him into his enemies’ hands. But when Samson begs God for forgiveness and last minute’s support, he killed himself and thousands of Philistines in Gaza. With this allusion, Archbishop Becket determines strongly not to bow to temptation.



The device of euphemism is illustrated by the claim of Archbishop Becket’s messenger that the Archbishop has described the subject of his death to King Henry I as a mere leave. For instance, Archbishop Becket describes unpleasant matter in a pleasant manner. The euphemism enables us to know that Archbishop Becket is a fire-brand apostolic who is not afraid of death.

High burlesque

The device is illustrated in the way Archbishop Becket is described as “This man” by the Four Tempters together. The statement is deliberately uttered to ridicule the Archbishop who is a highly placed anointed man of God. Therefore, the oxymoron shows that the English noblemen hated Archbishop Becket.


Irony is illustrated in the statement of the Third Tempter’s remark that King Henry 1 will soon bestow some regards on Archbishop Becket for loyalty. This statement is an irony because the Tempter is saying the opposite of his mind. Really, the Third Tempter is saying that Archbishop Becket will soon be killed under a plot not strange to King Henry l.


The device of oxymoron is illustrated by Archbishop Thomas Becket’s remark to the Chorus of Canterbury Women that God will soon pierce them with painful joy. Consequently, they shall forget toiling. The commoners that God will soon liberate them from their oppressors in a surprising way, they least expect. The oxymoron shows that Archbishop Becket is a selfless character who always thinks of comfort for his fellow men


This device of pathos is used throughout the play. The pathos is illustrated by the ways T.S. Eliot continuously makes the Chorus of Canterbury Women to be expressing sense of loss and sorrow for the impending death of Archbishop Becket, until the Four Knights finally killed him. The pathos illustrates Archbishop Becket as both an anointed man of God and a friend of the common people.


There are at least four instances of symbolisms illustrated in T.S. Eliot’s Murderin the Cathedral. The first instance is how the Chorus of Canterbury Women liken the event of Archbishop Becket’s death to the “deadly weathers of winter and spring”.

In short, they are lamenting that the death will bring unhappiness and discomfort to them. The symbolism shows that Archbishop Becket is a priceless anointed man of God to the commoners.

The second instance is the Third Priest’s description of the relationship between Archbishop Becket and King Henry I as “bitterness”, in the way there is always “an unfriendliness” between “the Hammer and the Anvil”. The symbolism shows the Church’s unreadiness to compromise the Holy Order of. God, to earthly matters.

The third instance is the way the Three Priests plead with Archbishop Becket that his pursuit of Holy Order of God against King Henry I’s earthly order portends a danger. If the symbolism is considered under the decree that a servant of God should not be afraid of anything, even death, the Priests tempt Archbishop Becket with the plea. The effect of the symbolism is that Archbishop Becket is also tempted by his fellow servants of God.

DO NOT MISS!   Character Analysis in Murder in the Cathedral

The fourth instance of the illustration of symbolism is the second Knight’s remark that Archbishop Becket is a trickster (i.e. old fox). The Archbishop’s “virtue of cleverness” is what his enemies are describing as “trickishness” or “dishonesty” The symbolism shows that a man of God is always given a bad name to crucify him.

Subject matter and themes

Subject matter

The subject matter of T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral is Christian morals.

Themes in T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral.

Themes in T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral are in the following order:

Christian leaders must not rebel against their Holy Orders

“The theme is illustrated by the rebellious acts of the Bishops of York, Salisbury and London. In the Holy Orders of the Catholic Church in England, only the Archbishop of Canterbury must crown a new King for England. Meanwhile, the above noted bishops rebelled against the Holy Order by collaborating with King Henry I to crown his first son as King Henry Il, when he Henry I was still alive. Consequently, Archbishop Thomas Becket had to recommend them to the Pope for ex-communication.”

Unrepentant sinners cannot be good Christians

“The theme is illustrated by the stubborn acts of the Bishops of York, Salisbury and London. The stubborness is marked off by their refusal to accept that they sinned by collaborating with King Henry l, against Archbishop Becket. Had they repented according to the Holy Order of the Church by pleading with the Pope for forgiveness, they would have been accepted back into the Church.”

Christians must avoid acts of insubordination to constituted authority

“The theme is illustrated by the pious act of Archbishop Becket. The four Knights acting as King Henry I’s agents wanted to push the Archbishop into insubordination to the Pope. They had asked him to accept the Bishops of York, Salisbury and London who were ex-communicated by the Pope, back into the Church. But Archbishop Becket just counselled the Knights that only the Pope could accept the rebellious Bishops back into the Church. And he would not disobey the Pope, even if he would die in the process.”

Temptation is best overcome by steadfastness

“The theme is illustrated by Archbishop Beckets steadfast nature. The Four

Knights that killed him had previously tempted him. They advised him to put the Church under King Henry l. Having done that,the King would make him rich, famous and second-most powerful person in England. The Archbishop overcame the temptation by refusing the promises. He chose to continue to work for God and the Church’s Holy Orders.”

A leader must not abandon his subjects

The theme is illustrated by Archbishop Becket’s decision io return to England from his place of exile in France at an unsafe period.

As a man of good conscience, he believed his stay in exile had robbed his congregation of good opportunities of gospel-sharing. On his pavis the decision is an that a priest of God must not abandon his congregation. in other words, a leader must not abandon his subject.

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Character Analysis in Murder in the Cathedral

In T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Archbishop Thomas Becket is the only direct physical character. Others such as King Henry l, the four Tempters/ Knights, The Three Priests and the Chorus of Canterbury Women are indirect characters.



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Character Analysis of Murder in the Cathedral: In this blog post, we shall be discussing extensively on the characters of Murder in the Cathedral by T.S Eliot

In T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Archbishop Thomas Becket is the only direct physical character. Others such as King Henry l, the four Tempters/ Knights, The Three Priests and the Chorus of Canterbury Women are indirect characters.


Analysis of Archbishop Thomas Becket

  • Archbishop Thomas Becket is the play’s protagonist hero.
  • Before becoming the Archbishop, he was the Chancellor of England (i.e the Chancellor is next in rank to the King of England )
  • Before becoming the Archbishop he was the closest friend to King Henry l. King Henry I recommended him to the Pope, in Rome for the position of the Archbishop of England.
  • He finally accepted to become the Archbishop when King Henry I gave assurance that nothing would affect their friendship.
  • Truly as Thomas Becket became the Archbishop of England, he started to obey the Holy Orders of God as headed by the Pope.
  • Because King Henry I could no longer subordinately influence Archbishop Becket, he began to move a plot to kill him.
  • Archbishop Becket had to run to exile in France.
  • He returned to England from France after his dream that his crown was broken with sword and his soul was received in paradise.
  • On his arrival in England, the plot to kill him was heightened.
  • His admirers symbolised by the Chorus of Canterbury Women cried to him to return to France.
  • Thomas Becket rejected their plea.
  • He vowed never to abandon his congregation and the Church of God.
  • So, the Four Tempters / Knights falsely accused him and killed him in the process, in the name of King Henry l.

Archbishop Thomas Becket’s Character Traits

  • He is a sincere servant of the Holy Orders of God and the Church (i.e. illustrate with how he never contradicted the Pope either by privately accepting back the ex-communicated Bishops of York, Salisbury and London, or with how he advised King Henry I through the Four Knights that the Law of Christ Church in Rome was superior to any king).
  • He is a truthful character (i.e. illustrate with how he did not deny the fact that he recommended the ex-communication of the Bishops of York, Salisbury and London to the Pope in Rome).
  • He is a resolute and courageous character (illustrate with how he did not run away from the Four Knights who came to kill him).
  • He is a clever character (illustrate with how the Four Knights testified to the cleverness of Archbishop Becket when they use the symbolism of old fox to describe him).
  • He is an emulative Christian (illustrate with how he leaves himself to the protection of God, after his decision, not to turn about from working to protect God’s Holy Order at the end of the play’s Part l).
  • He is an intelligent and calculating character (illustrate with how he had insisted that the Knights must make their case against him in public, if truly they were sent by King Henry l).
  • Archbishop Becket is an analytical character (i.e. illustrate with how he thoroughly analysed the Fourth Tempter’s opinion as tricks that could make him do the right thing for a wrong reason).
  • Archbishop Becket is a steadfast character (i.e. illustrate with how at near a point of death, he was still making the common people of England to believe that God would surprisingly liberate them from their oppressive rulers).

Analysis of King Henry I

  • He was the King of England when the story of this play took place.
  • He was a close friend and admirer of Archbishop Becket.
  • He was the architect of the conflict which led to the murder of Archbishop Becket.
  • He was an oppressive ruler (illustrate with how the Chorus of Canterbury Women regarded his reign as a new terror soiling them at all angles).
  • He was a self-centred character (i.e. illustrate with how he had appointed his first son as King Henry Il when still alive).
  • King Henry I was a wicked and power-drunken character (i.e. illustrate with how the Third Tempter had revealed that King Henry I would soon kill Archbishop Thomas in his famous irony that King Henry I will bestow some regards on the Archbishop).
  • King Henry I was a contemptuous character and an anti-Christ (i.e. illustrate with the way he persecuted Archbishop Thomas to subordinate the law of Christ Church in Rome to the throne of the King of England).

The Four Tempters / Knights

  • The Four Tempters in the play’s Part I were similarly the Four Knjghts in Part ll.
  • So, the four people were Sir Reginald Fritze Urse, Sir Hugh de Morville, Sir William de Traci and Sir Richard de Bruto.
  • They were liars (illustrate with the fact that most accusations they made against Archbishop Thomas Becket were lies).
  • They were ambitious (illustrate with the fact that they murdered Archbishop Becket in the name of King Henry I to get his favour. Also, point to their confusion when Archbishop Becket warned them that the must deliver King Henry I’s message to him in public, if truly they were sent by the king).
  • They were egocentric characters (illustrate with how they had plans to draw the Pope and Archbishop Becket to themselves and other land barons to fight King Henry l, while tempting the Archbishop).
  • They were racialists (illustrate with how they had pointed out that King Henry I did not hail from the Norman William Royal Family. They had called him a descendant of Angevin Family, while tempting Archbishop Becket).
  • They were contemptuous characters (illustrate with how they had referred to the gracious Archbishop Becket as a son of a trader at Cheapside).
  • They were riotous and faithless characters (i.e. illustrate by pointing out that they mercilessly murdered Archbishop Becket who was a non-violent anointed man of God, against the Biblical law that God’s anointed must not be touched by any man).

The Three Priests

  • They were Priests working with Archbishop Becket in the Cathedral Church of Canterbury.
  • They were the Priests that took charge of the Cathedral while Archbishop Becket was in exile in France.
  • They were good loyalists of Archbishop Becket (illustrate by pointing out how they described him as the gracious Archbishop, while inviting the Four Knights to dinner, when the Knights first called to talk with Archbishop Becket, before they murdered him).
  • They were admirers of the Archbishop (illustrate with how the Priests had described Archbishop Becket as an honest and transparent character while he was the Chancellor of England).
  • However, they were Priests of little faith (illustrate with how they described Thomas Becket’s effort to protect the Laws of Christ Church as a war which the Archbishop could not win against King Henry l. Practically, this is a denial or a temptation).

Analysis of The Chorus of Canterbury Women

  • The Chorus represented the common people of England.
  • The common people were landless.
  • They worked as serfs for barons who were land owners.
  1. They had little or no rights to freedom.
  • They were oppressively ruled by King Henry I and the barons.
  • Archbishop Becket was their hero because he always fought for fights to freedom for the common English man,
  • The Chorus were faithful Christians (illustrate with how they never deserted the Cathedral, while Archbishop Becket was on exile).
  • The Chorus was sympathetic souls (illustrate with how they had wished the Archbishop could return to France to avoid King Henry I’s plot to kill him), They were prophetic souls (illustrate with how they always prophesied that the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket would not be easy to craze from the History of England).
  • They were aversed to bloodshed (illustrate with how they had pleaded with Archbishop Becket to return to France with the pledge that they would continue to recognise him as Archbishop of England there).
  • The Chorus were rational believers (i.e. illustrate with how they finally agreed with Archbishop Becket that the sacrifice of his life was necessary for the Law of Christ Church to triumph and redeem them from the oppression of earthly rulers).
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Halt a poem by Blessing Agbola
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As usual, Blessing Agbola has shown and proven her skill when it comes to poem and other related literary work.

HALT! Is a poem that inspires greatness in individual.



Like the waves stopped,
Timing stopped,
Passion deterred,

Grew tired of making plans,
Grew weary and pale,
I felt I got a call to end my START.

The vision gathered,
The purpose drive embarked,
I felt like a stop was already on.
Even at the peak of the beginning.

Inferred I choose to begin,
This time,
To begin a beginning that will never stop.

I begin to live my dreams,
I begin to draw my plans,
I begin to picture my future,
I begin my path to right,
To unravel mysteries,
My beginning will never end,
This is my very beginning.

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I will rise a peom by Blessing Agbola
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To drive my destiny,
Never to slide beneath the bed’s spell,
My roots will deeply root,
Never to be wavered by flowing water.

I’ll RISE,
To the streams of my stem,
To give the expectant seeds,
The hope they wait for.

Never make your dream deferred,
Nor let it wilt,
By a raisin in the sun,
The sun you need for growth.

Grow with a strong stem,
And the fresh leaves,
To yield the desired fruits.
Your beginning is the heart.

READ: Why do we love? by Blessing Agbola

The above is a literary work of art that focuses on the mindset of individuals in the society. It sets out to motivate everyone not to give up their dream as the sky is the starting point.

However, the writer Blessing Abgola use her choice of words consciously and efficiently in order to get her content across to the minds of her readers.


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