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

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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. 

nandini289 | Student

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.

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Murder in the Cathedral

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