T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedraluses a chorus of women of Canterbury in a similar fashion to many of the plays of ancient Greece. Here the Chorus opens the play with a reflection on the life of the common people of Canterbury, who have been without...
T. S. Eliot's play Murder in the Cathedral uses a chorus of women of Canterbury in a similar fashion to many of the plays of ancient Greece. Here the Chorus opens the play with a reflection on the life of the common people of Canterbury, who have been without their archbishop of seven years. They are in a waiting pattern now, simply living the best they can. This first recitation from the Chorus helps set the scene for what is to follow.
The Chorus speaks again after the Messenger has announced that the archbishop is returning to Canterbury. This time, the Chorus focuses on the quiet but partial life the people have been living, and they prophesy that such is now over. The archbishop will be in danger if he returns, and they plead with him (although he has not yet arrived) to go back to France. Their words foreshadow events to come and raise the tension of the play.
After Archbishop Thomas is tempted by the Four Tempters, the Chorus again chimes in. Their words comment on the Tempters and the restlessness that they bring. They recognize them as coming from hell. A short while later, they share a piece of alternating questions and comments with the Priests and the Tempters that reflects on the suddenness of death. Then the Chorus comments further on the rising tension and fear. Some terror is lurking just out of sight. They try to warn the archbishop that if he dies, in a way, his people will too.
The Chorus opens the play's second act with a reflection on death and how it often cleanses the world. Their comments echo elements of the archbishop's Christmas homily that the audience has just heard. The Chorus is still waiting for events to unfold, but the archbishop has helped them discover a new perspective.
After the arrival of the Four Knights, the Chorus recites a haunting piece that guides the audience through the layers and depths of creation and into the reality that the death-bringers have come for Archbishop Thomas. The Chorus accepts part of the blame for what is about to happen, at least partly on account of their sins, and they ask forgiveness. Their words link the archbishop to Christ, who took the burden of human sin upon himself when he went to the cross.
The Chorus speaks again as the Priests drag the archbishop into the cathedral. Their reflection this time is on horror and hell, which they perceive as a void, and they beg the Savior to help them. Death is near, they proclaim. After the archbishop's death, the Chorus grieves and begs for cleansing from the defilement brought by this horrible event.
The play ends with prayer from the Chorus, a prayer that praises God and proclaims his work in creation and throughout history. The prayer also humbly confesses that people often fear men more than God and asks for mercy for sins, weaknesses, and faults. The final line acknowledges Archbishop Thomas as “blessed” and asks for his prayers.