What was the role of the four tempters in the play Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot? How did they tempt the archbishop of Canterbury?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The four temptations faced by Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, are variations on the three temptations Jesus faced when Satan tempted him in the desert, plus a fourth. As the play opens, Becket knows he has to follow his conscience in facing down the demands of Henry II and knows he will probably be killed for opposing the king.

It would be easy and completely ordinary for Becket to rationalize himself out of the situation.  The first tempter offers Becket a variation of "turn these stones into bread." Becket has the power simply to retreat into a materially secure situation and take care of  himself and his own needs.

The second tempter offers a variation on Satan's offer to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he will bow down and worship him. In this case, Becket is tempted to work with the king, rationalizing it as the best way to create a stable state that will help the poor and bring justice to the land. He is tempted to try to use the power of the "devil," in this case Henry II, to do good.

The third tempter offers a variation on Satan's challenge that Jesus fling himself out of a tower to prove he is God's chosen one—God's angels, Satan says, will not allow him to hit the ground below. In Becket's case, he's tempted to join with others to overthrow the king, a risky venture.

The fourth temptation is the hardest because it tempts Becket most strongly: to invite martyrdom for the wrong reasons. Becket has to wrestle with whether he is acting out of his own personal desire for glory, his wish to become a famous saint in the church, or because opposing Henry is what God is calling him to do:

The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason

It helps in understanding the play to know that the Archbishop of Chichester commissioned it in the 1930s as a response to Hitler's tyrannies in Germany, in order to encourage people to explore their consciences to offer a principled response to events in that country.

hj33 | Student

As in the other Morality plays their is the personification of Becket's internal conflict as temptations.

Becket's first temptation refers to his good times in the past. Technically the first temptation is no temptation for Becket.Its all about choosing a comfartable lifestyle on earth and forget martyrdom.

Second tempter plays upon Becket's love for the king. He states that if Becket takes his chancellorship he and the king can work together.They can help the poor, strengthen the laws of the country, dispense justice.Becket dismisses the second Tempter by saying that he will prefer to serve God over the king.

Third tempter attempts to break his and king's friendship completely and encourages Becket to form new alliances . He suggests a happy coalition of intelligent interests that to break the power of the king.Becket dismises the third tempter also by saying ,"no one shall say that I betrayed a 'King." The third tempter leaves saying that he hopes the king will acknowledge Becket's loyalty to him.

The fourth temptation is difficult to tackle but Becket overcomes this temptation also.The fourth tempter tempts Becket with the glory of eternal sainthood as compared to the tarnsient glories of teh temporal level.It is through the silence that Becket overcomes this temptation.This indicates the inner conflict realized by him.


yakta | Student

i m really thankfull to e notes for providing help ...

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Murder in the Cathedral

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