Art and Literature

Analysis, Themes, and Summary of Murder in the Cathedral

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 summary 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.

The above gives concise summary of the event of murder in the cathedral.



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.

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.

Summary, Subject matter and themes of Murder in the Cathedral.

The summary of murder in the cathedral has been discussed above. Hence, we shall focus on the subject matter and the 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:

The team of 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.”

The theme of unrepentant sinners cannot be good Christians

“The theme is illustrated by the stubborn acts of the Bishops of York, Salisbury and London. The stubbornness 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.”

The theme of 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.”

The team of 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.”

The theme of 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.

The above is the account and summary of murder in the cathedral.

If you find this useful, kindly help us to share with friends, groups and your social media handles.

Kindly, give us Kudos by commenting below, thank you as you do so.

Show More

Davidposh of Campusvibes

I'm a dedicated and progressive individual with an exceptional work ethic and client oriented service aptitude. I write to inform and educate. Currently I'm an English language students Lagos State University.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button