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After his joining the Anglo-Catholic church, T.S.Eliot was commissioned to write a play to be enacted at the Canterbury festival in 1935. Eliot chose the chronicle material of the murder of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by King Henry the Second's men in the Canterbury cathedral in 1170. Eliot transformed the historical conflict between the King and the Archbishop, between the secular head of England and her ecclesiastical head, into a Christian martyrdom play, chiefly modelled on the medieval Morality drama, a play in the verse medium that attempts to reinforce the liturgical origins of drama in England.
In the first part of his play Eliot highlights the temptations of Becket by the Four Tempters, and this episode is clearly reminiscent of the temptations of Christ himself. In the second part, Becket resigns his will to the Will of God, and calmly surrenders his head before the swords of the Four Knights as sent by King Henry for the Archbishop's assassination. The intermediate section in prose shows the preparation of the Archbishop as he delivers his sermon on martyrdom.
Eliot's play foregrounds the theme of Christian martyrdom as Becket realizes that by being killed within the premises of the Canterbury cathedral at the hands of the Knights, he is going to become the champion of God, to vindicate the preordained glory of a martyr to his faith. The murder of Becket is the sacrificial death of a martyr, a re-enactment of the martyrdom of Christ, a validation of Dante's famous note in Paradiso:"en la sua voluntate e nostra pace(in His Will is our peace)".
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