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The conflict exists between the King and the Pope; that is between temporal power and spiritual power. Although the King of England and the Pope never appear on the stage, their forces clash throughout the play.
The protagonist is Thomas Becket, who represents the church and who resists Temptation.
The antagonist is the state (or King Henry II) whose casual remark that the priest should be taken out of his way brings about the death and ultimate martyrdom of Thomas Becket.
In the course of the play, the climax of the action occurs with the temptation by the four tempters who offer Becket various items ranging from money to unlimited power. Becket resists them all.
The play really opens at the true point of climax when the whole city of Canterbury is rejoicing, but the peasant women of the Chorus have a strange intuition of death. The tension is accompanied by a feeling that death is unavoidable, and it is almost accepted by the Chorus and the priests. What is left is only the ritual of killing and the prayer thereafter.
The play ends in tragedy with the murder of Thomas Becket; thus, the protagonist (Becket) is overcome by the antagonist (the state).
Murder in the Cathedral was written for a ritualistic presentation. Hence, the reader does not find elaborate treatment of these components of the plot. The whole play has an economy of scenes and action. It has the effect of unity of action on a single theme of how martyrdom takes place.