Murder in the Cathedral

by T. S. Eliot

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Research the historical Thomas Becket and his reasons for quarreling with King Henry II To what degree does Eliot's version of these events accord with that found in historical sources?

The British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson also composed a verse play on the life of Thomas Becket, Becket (1884). Read Tennyson's version of Becket's martyrdom and compare and contrast it with Eliot's. How, for example, does each poet present Becket's decision to remain in the cathedral when threatened by the knights?

Renaissance artists frequently painted saints in symbolic settings. Locate some paintings of Becket and explain the ways in which their artists have manipulated color, light, and form in order to present their subject Whataspects of Becket's personality do they wish to stress?

Eliot admired the morality play Everyman (1500) for its versification, i.e., for its author's use of sound and meter in creating certain effects. Compare the nature of Everyman's verse to Eliot's: are there any patterns of rhythm or sound that can be found in both works? "Why would Eliot appropriate the patterns he did"?

In Part Two of the play, several musical cues are mentioned, such as ''a Dies Irae is sung in Latin by a choir in the distance." Look in an encyclopedia of music to learn what a Dies Irae is and how it and the other types of songs mentioned by Eliot are used in the Catholic Mass. Then explain why Eliot would use them in his play: how do certain types of hymns suit certain dramatic situations?

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