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Thomas' Temptations in T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral

Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral is, in part, a play about the dangers of temptations on the way to sainthood.  The following are the ways in which Thomas Becket is tempted.  Note how they structure so many of the concerns of the play:

Political

  • Becket is offered a return to political power (185-187).
  • He is tempted to operate through physical/political force (77).
  • He is threatened with political danger (183).
  • He is accused of a lack of national loyalty (204).
  • [Compare with the knights' rationalizations for their behavior (cf. 215ff.)]


Pastoral

  • He has the safety of his congregation to be concerned about (180-181, 195).
  • He has his congregation's guidance to be concerned with (208).
  • He has an ecclesiastical power/office to maintain (206, 211).

Historical

  • He is tempted with a return to his past successes (184-185).
  • He is tempted to return to a younger, "Spring" of life (184).
  • He is tempted with the fear of being forgotten (192-193).
  • [Note: The wheel motif (179-180, 193).]


Sainthood

  • He could do the right thing in the wrong way (18-189, 192-193).
  • He is tempted with despair (194).
  • He must abide by the way of suffering (182, 212-213).
  • His life must be a testimony to God's purpose for humanity and God's ultimate control (176-177, 188, 199-200, 208, 211, 220-221).
  • [Admittedly, this is less a temptation than the larger theological underpining of the play.]

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding