What is the role of the chorus in Murder in the Cathedral?
The chorus in Murder in the Cathedral functions like a chorus in a Greek drama, commenting on the play's unfolding action. The women who comprise the chorus voice the thoughts of the average person. They provide a contrast to the moral struggles of Becket, who is concerned with issues of right and wrong. The members of the chorus simply want to get along in daily life and survive as they always have.
Eliot uses the chorus, which harkens back to Ancient Greece, to emphasize the timeless aspects of his theme. Sacrificing oneself to oppose tyranny is not simply an issue for an archbishop in the 12th century, but for all people in all times and all places. In dangerous times, people everywhere have an urge to be complacent and ignore injustice, to simply go on with their lives rather than risk action. However, Eliot shows that when the common people witness the example of a person able to transcend the ordinary, they can be influenced by that witness. At the end of the play, the chorus says of Becket:
"We thank thee for Thy mercies of blood, for Thy redemption by blood . . ."
"The blood of Thy martyrs and saints shall enrich the earth, shall create holy places."
The chorus plays several purpose in 'Murder In The Cathedral'. It is an unspecified number of Canterbury's women, is a corporate character serving the same purposes as does the chorus in Greek drama: to develop and, more importantly, to comment on the action of the play. The women's initial speech fairly defines their dramaturgic role: "We are forced to bear witness." And yet this chorus, like its ancient Greek predecessors, is no mere, dispassionate, objective "eyewitness"; rather, it is a witness bearing testimony to truth-almost as in a legal proceeding, but that analogy fails to capture the nature of the testimony the chorus offers. In commenting upon the action of Thomas Becket's murder, the women are voicing insights into, reflections on, and conclusions about time, destiny, and life and death. In the end, they emerge as representatives of ordinary people-such as those who make up the audience of the play, or its readership-people who, mired in and having settled for an existence of "living and partly living," are unable to greet transcendence when it is offered to them. As they state in the play's final moments, not everyone can bear the "loneliness. surrender. deprivation" necessary to become a saint. Not all can be saints-but all can pray for their intercession.