Discuss T S Eliot's Murder In The Cathedral as a conflict between the individual and the state.

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I would argue that Murder in the Cathedral doesn't so much concern the conflict between the individual and the state as that between an individual representing a higher social and moral principle and a particular kind of state. Individualism as we understand it today didn't really exist in the Middle...

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I would argue that Murder in the Cathedral doesn't so much concern the conflict between the individual and the state as that between an individual representing a higher social and moral principle and a particular kind of state. Individualism as we understand it today didn't really exist in the Middle Ages, when the play is set. People saw themselves as part of a large community in which they fulfilled important social roles. Even when select individuals retreated from the world to become nuns, monks, and friars, they did so in furtherance of a higher principle; in withdrawing from society, they were serving the Almighty.

Thomas Becket sees himself in just such a light. As a man of his time he has no problem with the state as such; it's the nature of that state that arouses his opposition to the king. On his understanding, the state is not purely secular; it has a spiritual dimension too. Becket's view is entirely consistent with Eliot's own belief in the centrality of the Church of England in the nation's public life. For both Becket and Eliot, just as the state isn't entirely secular, nor is the Church wholly clerical in its role and functions.

There is nothing remotely unusual about Becket's worldview here. In defying the king, the errant Archbishop is standing up for a venerable tradition of which he believes the English Church to be a part. That tradition insists on the Church authorities enjoying certain ancient privileges which it is simply unacceptable for the secular authorities to encroach upon. The right of the Church to try certain cases through its ecclesiastical courts is jealously guarded by Becket, and he won't back down from defending that right, even if it means incurring the wrath of his former close friend King Henry II. Becket's defiance of the king may be an incredible act of individual bravery, but as with every other noble act in medieval times, it is expressly designed to serve the common interest, in this case that of Christendom as a whole.

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