Article Title

"Peace" and "Unbar the Door": T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and Some Stoic Forebears


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

T. S. Eliot's role in tracing and analyzing the Stoic elements in the works of ·h is predecessors has been crucial in deepening the perception of modem readers. Thus it seems only fitting to explore his own Murder in the Cathedral for points of comparison with the poetic dramas of Stoicism of Chapman, Shakespeare, and Milton, and to see how the learned literary critic in Eliot has merged with the sensitive poet and with the politically aware, fervently Christian dramatist to synthesize a twentieth.- century play fraught with Christian-Stoic meaning. While the values and point of view of Christian Stoicism are, in varying degree, the rock-bottom foundation of the worlds of Bussy, Lear, and Samson, their authors took pains to construct an artistic milieu in which the overt settings are other than "Christian": they are secular, pagan, and Jewish, respectively. In Eliot's play, written expressly for performance at the Canterbury Festival of June, 1935, there is no attempt to divorce situation from philosophy, outer form from inner meaning; rather the two are inseparably linked in firm matrimonial bond, and only by scrutinizing the process of Becket's ascent to martyrdom from the standpoint of Eliot's orthodox Anglo-Catholicism can one hope to discern the underlying purpose of the drama. In pursuing his avowedly didactic intent, especially as evinced in the Archbishop's prose sermon in the Interlude, Eliot seems to follow far more closely in the footsteps of Chapman than of Shakespeare or Milton. Indeed, the tragic impact of the play is often flawed because of .the poet's tendency to subordinate action to message, dramatic wholeness to poetic ratiocination.

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