Murder in the Cathedral

by T. S. Eliot

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What is the role of chorus in Murder in the Cathedral?  

In Murder in the Cathedral, the chorus is made up of ordinary women of Canterbury. Although they initially do not want to be drawn into a political struggle, they later appreciate the spiritual aspects of the conflict. The choric function is to witness the events that unfold without intervening in them and to report on those events to the audience.

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The chorus in Murder in the Cathedral is composed of ordinary women of Canterbury who are neither saints like Thomas Becket nor sinners like the Knights. They are, like the audience, onlookers who witness the drama and comment on it without intervening. 

At first, the chorus delivers a sense of foreshadowing. As they approach the cathedral, they note that danger awaits, but not for them. They state, "There is not danger for us, and there is no safety in the cathedral." The chorus serves to warn the audience that danger is coming, and then, they provide an encapsulation of the past. They explain to the audience that the archbishop, Thomas Becket, has been away for seven years and is now returning to Canterbury. After Thomas returns, the women of the chorus fear for his safety and beg him to leave Canterbury. When it becomes apparent that he is to die, they become resigned to his fate. After he is killed, they suffer intense guilt and state that "We did not wish anything to happen." In the end, they offer praise to God. Their cycle of foreboding, fear, regret, and faith mirrors the feelings that an everyday person would have in reaction to Thomas's death, and, by reflecting the emotions of the audience, the chorus invites the audience to become one with them. 

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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."

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What is the chorus and the choric function in Murder in the Cathedral?

In his play Murder in the Cathedral, T. S. Eliot includes a chorus, which is an element that he adapted from ancient Greek drama. In his play, which takes place in Canterbury, England, the chorus is made up of ordinary women of Canterbury. The primary conflict in the play is a religious and political struggle between the king and the archbishop. At first the chorus, speaking as a single entity,...

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sees its interests as distinct from those high-level concerns and resists getting drawn into what it views as a political dispute. As the play progresses, the collective opinion shifts, and the chorus comes to understand that there are underlying spiritual issues that do matter in its daily life. It mourns for Becket after he is killed.

The choric function in Eliot’s play is to witness, report, and interpret. Neither the chorus as an entity not its individual members are characters in the sense of being involved in the plot. Instead, the chorus sees and hears what the other characters do, including actions that occur offstage or before the play’s events. The group as a whole then conveys those events to the audience and, if their meaning is not clear, interprets their significance. Among the key elements that the chorus explains is Becket’s prior absence and the danger that awaits him upon his return.

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