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T. S. Eliot's magnificent play, Murder in the Cathedral, deals with the last days of Thomas Becket following his return from exile in France in 1170. Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had spent six years abroad after a dispute with his former friend, King Henry II of England, and he returned only after a supposed reconciliation with the king. However, less than a month after his return, Becket was murdered by four knights inside Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was later canonized, and Eliot premiered his play at the 1935 Canterbury Festival--just fifty yards from the spot where Becket was slain.
Eliot explores religious and moral themes throughout, including the conflicts that arise between a man's human and spiritual entities. Becket rejected the need for earthly possessions and power, and showed no fear of death. He willingly rejected temptation, and he realized that his death--and martyrdom--was a possible scenario. Another theme is that of obedience. Becket faithfully observed that he could only be a servant of God, and that his obedience to his king would always be secondary to that. This disagreement between Becket and Henry was the core of their dispute, and it eventually led to Becket's murder and martyrdom.
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