Murder in the Cathedral Characters
by T. S. Eliot

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

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Thomas Becket

Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury. Having just returned from France, where he has gained the support of the pope in his attempt to achieve both temporal and spiritual power in England, he finds a mixed reaction among the people. Although some support him, others would gladly see him dead. He is faced with a dilemma that leaves him no alternative but to sin against his faith. After his murder, he achieves martyrdom and sainthood, which his accusers say he was seeking all along.

Three priests of the cathedral

Three priests of the cathedral, who fear the outcome of Becket’s return. They express the pessimism felt by everyone.

The first tempter

The first tempter, who offers worldly pleasure and success.

The second tempter

The second tempter, who offers temporal power through negation of spiritual authority.

The third tempter

The third tempter, who offers the support of a faction wishing to overthrow the throne.

The fourth tempter

The fourth tempter, who offers martyrdom and eternal glory. Becket denies all the tempters.

Reginald Fitz Urse

Reginald Fitz Urse,

William de Traci

William de Traci,

Hugh de Morville

Hugh de Morville, and

Richard Brito

Richard Brito, the knights who murder Becket. They defend their action on the grounds that they will not benefit from their deed, that Becket had refused to acknowledge the king’s supremacy, and that he was egotistical to the point of insanity.

The women of Canterbury

The women of Canterbury, who act as the chorus of classical drama.


(Drama for Students)

Thomas Becket
Thomas Becket is the Archbishop of Canterbury and hero of the play. When the play opens, the viewer learns that he has not been in England for the last seven years because of a power struggle with King Henry, who wants the church to serve the state. His return from France provokes a variety of reactions from the Chorus, the Priests, and the four Knights who serve the King; as the play progresses, Thomas responds to a number of these reactions with the calm, measured voice of one who believes "there is higher than I or the King."

Although he is repeatedly tempted away from his desire to lead his people and threatened with death by the four Knights, Thomas becomes convinced that only "The fool, fixed in his folly, may think / He can turn the wheel on which he turns" and places the question of whether or not he will be martyred into the hands of God He accepts his martyrdom as part of a larger pattern that he, with his human limitations, cannot fully understand.

Richard Brito (Fourth Knight)
See The Four Knights

Similar to those found in ancient Greek drama, the Chorus in Murder in the Cathedral serves as a mediator between the play and the audience. Composed of women of Canterbury, this group originally fears the unknown act that their "eyes are compelled to witness" and begs Thomas to return to France; they have accepted their common and often miserable lives (where"King rules or barons rule'') and do not wish to "stand on the doom" of then-church. At the play's conclusion, however, they have been enlightened to the fact that there is a higher power at work in the world other than that found in politics and they sing praises to the wisdom of God: "We thank thee for Thy mercies of blood, for Thy redemption by blood," they proclaim, for "the blood of Thy martyrs and saints shall enrich the earth, shall create holy places."

Sir Hugh de Morville (Second Knight)
See The Four Knights

Baron William de Trad (Third Knight)
See The Four Knights

The Four Knights
Sent by King Henry to kill Thomas, the Four Knights parallel the Four Tempters of Part One. While the Tempters offer intellectual and spiritual trickery, the Knights threaten Thomas with physical violence, ultimately following through on their threat when they kill him near the end of the play. When they arrive at the cathedral and demand that Thomas acquiesce to the King's demands, he refuses. They murder him and then "present their case'' to the audience in the form of a mock inquest in which they...

(The entire section is 1,253 words.)