What is the significance of Murder in the Cathedral as a play?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral represented a significant transition in the history of dramaturgy. Before Eliot wrote Murder in the Cathedral, it had been assumed that verse was somewhat obsolete as a medium for drama in the English language. Realistic plays in prose were dominating the field. Also, many had considered religion antithetical to literary modernism. By writing such a striking religious drama in verse, Eliot revived interest in verse as a medium for serious modern drama and also showed possible ways the literary techniques of modernism could contribute to reviving intellectually important religious drama.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Author T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote Murder in the Cathedral with the specific intent of it premiering at the 1935 Canterbury Festival in the cathedral's Chapter House--less than 200 feet from where the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Thomas Becket, was actually murdered. By selecting this performance location--in a non-theatre setting--Eliot's play better served the audience in showing the contemporary relevance found in the story as well as presenting constrasts between the past and the present. Eliot's decision to write the play in verse was also unique, since few dramas had been written in non-prose over the previous three centuries. Likewise, religious dramas had also long been out of fashion; yet Murder in the Cathedral has come to be recognized as a masterpiece of spiritual vs. human conflict.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial