Murder in the Cathedral Summary
Eliot wrote his play for an audience expected to know the historical story of ThomasBecket and King Henry II. As such, a brief review of that story, contained in the "About Thomas Becket and King Henry II" section of the Note, will greatly aid comprehension of a summary. Murder in the Cathedral opens in the Archbishop's Hall, on December 2nd, 1170. A Chorus, comprised of women of Canterbury, has gathered at the cathedral with some premonition of a terrible event to come. In a long speech, they reflect on how their lives are defined by suffering, and then reflect on their archbishop, Thomas Becket. He has been been in exile from England for seven years, after a terrible clash with King Henry. The women worry that his return could make their lives more difficult by angering the king. Three priests enter the hall, and they lament Thomas's absence as well. They debate the ramifications of his potential return, and a Herald arrives, bringing news that Thomas has indeed returned to England and will soon arrive in Canterbury. The Herald quashes their hopes that his return indicates reconciliation with Henry, and confesses his own concern that violence is soon to follow the archbishop's return. Once the heralds leave, the priests reflect on Thomas's time as Chancellor of England, when he served as secular administrator under Henry. The Chorus, listening to the priests discuss the matter, confesses its disappointment in his return, which they believe will bring them more suffering. They admit their lives are hard but also predictable, and they would rather "perish in quiet" than live through the turmoil of new political and spiritual upheaval (180). The Second Priest insults them, and insists they pretend happiness to welcome Thomas. However, Thomas enters during this exchange, and stresses that the priest is mistaken to chide them, since they have some sense of the difficulty that awaits them. He stresses that all should submit to...
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