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MonkeyNotes-Murder In the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot
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Notes

The chorus commenced in Greek drama, originally as a group of singers or chanters. Later, a Greek playwright called Thespis introduced an actor on the stage who held a dialogue with the leader of the chorus. Playwrights like Aeschylus and Sophocles added a second and a third actor to interact with the chorus. Finally, the chorus took on the role of participants in the action and interpreters of what is happening on stage.

Eliot has based "Murder in the Cathedral" on the form of classic Greek tragedy. He uses the chorus to enhance the dramatic effect, to take part in the action of the play, and to perform the roles of observer and commentator. His chorus women represent the common people, who lead a life of hard work and struggles, no matter who rules. It is only their faith in God that gives them the strength to endure. These women are uneducated, country folk, who live close to the earth. As a result, they are in tune with the changing seasons and the moods of nature. At present, they have an intuition of death and evil. They fear that the new year, instead of bringing new hope, will bring greater suffering.

The three priests have three different reactions to Becket's arrival. The first reacts with the fear of a calamity. The second is a little bold and says that there can hardly be any peace between a king who is busy in intrigue and an archbishop who is an equally proud, self-righteous man. The third priest feels that the wheel of time always move ahead, for good or evil. He believes that a wise man, who cannot change the course of the wheel, lets it move at its own pace.


It should be noticed that the priests repeat some of the lines uttered by the chorus. For instance, "King rules or barons rule," it does not make any difference to the poor people of Canterbury. This repetition is to suggest that the priests echo the feelings and thoughts of the common people and that they too suffer at the hands of temporal power, even though they are under the protection of the church. However, they admonish the women for their pessimistic attitude and call them "croaking frogs on treetops." The priest tells the women to "put on pleasant faces," but from within, they too are nervous and anxious about Becket's fate. They know that Becket is like a "rock" of support against the eternal tide of political clashes. The imagery of the rock and the tide suggests that life is like an ocean, full of waves of suffering and a spiritual head is the needed navigator to help them sail smoothly.

The mood of the chorus also changes like the tides. One moment they are rushed and worried, saying, "O late, late, late is the time, late too late, and rotten the year." Then they are seen with quiet resolution, as they chant, "Quickly. Quietly. Leave us to perish in quiet." Their mood then changes to total doom. "A doom on the house, a doom on yourself, a doom on the world." Their repetition creates a hypnotic effect as it creates a somber mood.

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