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After the chorus, the three priests appear on the stage. The first priest is emotional when he says that seven long years have passed since Becket left for France. The people of Canterbury have suffered silently in his absence. The second priest recollects how during these years, the king was busy in political conspiracies and games. The third priest affirms this statement and says that the king and the barons have enjoyed great power and luxury at the cost of the poor, simple folk of England. He adds that no government has ever helped the people. It seems as if the exploitation of the common people is endless, the powerful have forgotten God, and there is no hope at all.
A messenger breaks the news that the Archbishop has arrived in England and will soon be in Canterbury Cathedral. The priests are happy, but they wonder whether Becket has made peace with the king or whether there will be war. They ask how could there be friendship between the hammer and the anvil or between two proud men. They wonder if Becket is coming home with full assurance of safety from the king.
The priests feel worried about Becket's safety. Yet they hope that since Becket is returning amongst them to dispel their doubt, there will be new hope and guidance. They trust he will stand by the people like a solid rock against the tides of political danger. If Becket gets the support of the King of France and of the Pope, he will give strength and courage to the common people. The priests are eager to see their Archbishop now. The third priest observes that they have waited for him patiently as if the wheel of time had stopped. Now, he says, let the wheel turn and their waiting come to an end, for good or for evil. The women of the chorus repeat their idea that they are sensing evil, this time more clearly. They wish that Becket would return to France for his own safety.
Becket enters and lets the women stay where they are. He believes that in their simplicity and innocence, they have sensed the design of God, foreshadowing his own death. The priests apologize to Becket for their simple welcome. Becket replies that he may not have adequate time to enjoy whatever comforts they try to give him. His enemies have been awaiting him like hungry hawks ready to pounce, and soon they would come to meet him. He seems to accept that his end is near.
As Becket speaks, the first tempter, uninvited, suddenly appears on stage. He reminds Becket of their old friendship. He tempts Becket by suggesting that Becket can continue to be with the King, with "wit and wine and wisdom." Becket replies that going back to such a life of luxury is not possible. The tempter argues that rejecting the King's favors would be a very proud act. He says that Becket must visit the King and have the best dinners once again. Becket again turns down the offer, and the tempter leaves.