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In “Murder in the Cathedral,” T. S. Eliot, like all religious dramatists, invokes the two forms of past time, that of human history and divine dispensation. The divine structuring of past time for the play is the Christian scheme of Creation, Fall, Birth of Jesus, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Last Judgement. Becket’s sermon within the play on Christmas links the “present” of the play with the Christian story and the martyrdom he undergoes with the death of Christ on the cross and the martyrs of the early church. The precise back-story of the play involves a past of the gradual claims of the Bishop of Rome to determine the course of Christendom and the efforts of the kings and bishops, especially of France and England, to keep control over church temporalities and retain the older purely episcopal structuring of the church, a movement that culminated in the foundation of the Church of England.
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