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development of the plot. ‘Murder’ centres on the conflict of values and the affirmation that spiritual values are superior to worldly values. The play thus seeks to explore the significance of martyrdom leaving little scope for effective characterisation. The characters in ‘Murder’, though not very realistic, are relevant to t he play in the sense that they are created as the embodiments of values and idea ls. Eliot has been able to express his viewpoints to the audience by using his c haracters as a mouthpiece. His treatment of the relationship between the charact ers in the play is also crucial to the unity of the play. It is through these re lationships that Eliot is able to convey the meaning of Becket’s martyrdom. 1. Thomas Becket- He is the central character in the play and is the chief object of the audience’s interest. Other characters remain minor figures, commen ting on, reacting to and witnessing the action. • The action of the play is confined to the last days of Becket’s life. We only come to know the bare facts of his early life from the words of the first three Tempters. As Chancellor, he had reached the pinnacle of worldly power and the temptation of such kind of power is easy for him to overcome. • After the king appointed him as the Archbishop, Becket, contrary to the king’s expectations, became a champion of the rights of the Church against the k ing. Eliot does not dwell on the motives for this change of heart in Becket. As we see him in the play, he approaches martyrdom with the certainty that his caus e is just and his course is right. • This awareness of his own righteousness plunges Becket into the sin of p ride. The fourth Tempter therefore approaches him with an unexpected and present temptation- “to do the right deed for the wrong reason”. The desire for martyrd om in Becket is still a desire for personal glory and it is from this point that Becket’s character is developed through his struggles with his own inner self. • With the realisation of his impure motives, Becket is able to see his ow n weakness and overcome his pride. The fourth Tempter throws his own words back at him, “You know and do not know, what it is to act or suffer”. It is then that he realises that true martyrdom springs only from submission of one’s will to t hat of God’s. he assents to losing his will to the will of God and achieves “the reconciliation of all irreconciliables”. In this way, Becket fulfils his part i n the eternal design. • The development in Becket’s character is evident from the time he realis es the pitfalls of his own pride. Undergoing further purification, he is able to free himself from the urgings of his own will. He submits himself entirely to t he will of God, ready to accept martyrdom if it must come to pass. Be the end of Part I, Becket has already achieved a state of sainthood and his murder becomes only a working out of this fact. 2. The Chorus- In the total design of the play, the Chorus is second in imp ortance only to Becket. It comprises the women of Canterbury who introduce thems elves as the “poor women of Canterbury”. • The Chorus also refer to themselves as “the small folk who live among sm all things”. They are the representatives of the common people and they embody t he attitude of ordinary people living a routine life and also the great mass of humanity who Christ came to save. • The Chorus serves to initiate, analyse and comment on the action of the play. It also acts as a foreteller for future action. The Women of the Chorus al so grow and evolve in the course of the play and their evolution has an importan t bearing on the plot. In fact, the meaning that Becket’s martyrdom finally take s on for the Chorus is crucial to the evaluation of Becket’s destiny. • The initial impulse of the members of the Chorus is the wish to be left alone- not because they are happy as they are but because they fear change and w hat they do not know. As they evolve, the Chorus members move from fear to the s hame of having complacently stood by as Becket’s murder approaches. They finally come to an acceptance of God’s Will in the martyrdom of Becket.
• By the end of the play, the Chorus has experienced the moment of “painfu l joy” that Thomas prophesied and admit that his sacrifice was made on their beh alf. They represent individual Christians whose strength lies in the acceptance of what they cannot fully understand. They have accepted their share in the burd en of sin and the glory of reception. With this change in their attitude, disord er in nature also gives way to order once again. 3. The Four Tempters- Eliot has borrowed the practice of personifying vices and virtues from medieval drama in the characters of the tempters. In a sense, the t empters represent potentialities in the personality of Becket. His dialogues wit h the Tempters dramatise the inner struggle, doubts and uncertainties in Becket. The tempters also help in the development of the plot and it is from them that we come to know about the Archbishop’s early life. • First Tempter- The first Tempter may be regarded as representing the voi ce of the past and Thomas’ younger days. He reminds Becket of the days when he w as “gay Tom”, friends with the king and his courtiers. His is the temptation of sensuous pleasures. Thomas has no difficulty in overcoming this temptation becau se earthly pleasures no longer appeal to him. The first Tempter presents the kin d of temptation that would most strongly appeal to someone younger than Becket. • Second Tempter- The struggle with the second Tempter is that he appeals at once to Becket’s desire for power, to his pride and his genuine desire to ser ve others. The central idea of this temptation is the use of power for good. But Becket is able to resist the lure of power saying, “…shall I, who keep the keys / of Heaven and Hell…Descend to desire a punier power?” Becket is able to deal w ith this temptation, probably because it has occurred to him before. The first a nd second Tempters represent the past that Becket has already transcended. • Third Tempter- In addition to his role in tempting Becket, the third Tem pter represents the barons, who, like the church, sought to check the absolute p ower of the king. He claims that the barons fight “for liberty”. But Thomas is a ware that such a liberty is not based on submission to the will of God and is no t therefore true liberty. The Third Tempter speaks of what lies in the future th at is a far more serious temptation than the first two. But Becket is able to re sist this temptation as well. The third tempter leaves, taunting him about the r eward he would get from the king for his loyalty. • Fourth Tempter- The fourth Tempter is the only one who presents a truly serious challenge. This temptation comes quite unexpectedly for Becket. This tem pter offers Thomas not the past but the eternal glory in the future. He represen ts Thomas’ own unacknowledged desire for martyrdom for the wrong reasons of self -glorification. This becomes Becket’s greatest temptation- “To do the right deed for the wrong reason”. On realising his spiritual pride from the words of the f ourth tempter, Thomas despairs and cries, “Who are you, tempting me with my own desires?” Ultimately, however, Becket is able to overcome this temptation too. H is encounter with the fourth tempter forces him to see that to achieve true sain thood, Becket must not will it, but must submit himself to the will of God. He i s then able to yield to God’s Will and give up his life in the true spirit of ma rtyrdom. • The four Tempters thus represent Becket’s own inner struggles but this s truggle has been dramatised by personifying the temptations. By personifying and objectifying the temptations, Eliot characterises them and presents them as ind ividual characters in the play. 4. Three Priests- The three Priests are members of the Church as Becket is, and they represent the reactions of churchmen, who are not saints, to the realisatio n that there is a saint in their midst. The three priests are simply numbered- 1 ,2, 3 and though it is easy to ignore this numbering, it is clear that each one is sharply individualised. Each of their speeches bring out their particular att itudes. • First Priest- the first Priest is an elderly man who is dominated by fea r throughout the play. His emphasis is always on what the Church should avoid. T he positive notions of the good of the Church seem alien to him. • Second Priest- The second Priest is a younger man who is aggressively lo
yal and takes a consistently optimistic view of events. He seems like a reasonab le and efficient person who is practical in his outlook. However, the second Pri est’s optimism may essentially be a matter of appearances, related to a consiste nt refusal to see things as they are. • Third Priest- The third Priest comes closer to true wisdom than the othe r two. Though he seems sceptical and pessimistic in the beginning, he is able to see the end of things, in fact, in Part I, he approaches the insights of Becket himself. They even employ the same metaphor, that of the wheel, in speaking of the mysterious relationship between the will of God and the will of man. It is b efitting therefore, that it is he who pronounces the epitaph of the Knights- “Go , weak, sad men, lest, erring souls, homeless in earth or heaven.” The major dis tinction between the third Priest and Becket is that the third Priest remains an observer. Though he understands what happens better than the others, he remains outside of it to the end. 5. Four Knights- The four Knights are at once agents of the king, and although t hey do not know it, agents of the will of God. In the defence of their action, t hey act as spokesmen for what may be called modern secularism. Though theya re n ot individualised personalities, they differ from each other in the different as pects of secularism they represent. • First Knight- The first Knight has been named as Reginald Fitz Urse. He represents the kind of authority that always seeks to smooth over the disturbanc es in men that lead to turmoil in the state. • Second Knight- The second Knight is Sir Hugh de Morville. He is the leas t eloquent of the four. He seems almost embarrassed at having to speak at all. • Third Knight- The third Knight Baron William de Traci speaks very well b ut his very skill makes him a suspect. He argues that the modern subordination o f church to state is the result of such actions as the killing of Thomas Becket. If we accept the modern way, we must accept our share of guilt for his death. T here is a certain truth in this statement which might also be considered as one of eliot’s purposes in waking his audience up to the modern state of affairs. • Fourth Knight- Richard Brite, the fourth Knight offers the most ingeniou s defence. He absolves himself of guilt and finds that Becket is himself respons ible for his death. In his apologia, we may recognise a reflection of the modern tendency to deny the very notion of moral responsibility. There is a strange k ind of logic and an unmistakable reference back to the fourth Tempter in his spe ech. • The four knights have been used by Eliot to emphasise the significance o f Becket’s martyrdom for the modern times. They have been made to step out of th eir 12th century setting to address the audience directly. They are presented on stage to justify their action to the audience and to posterity. They can be see n as counterparts of the four Tempters who seek to make us admit the reasonablen ess of their action and acknowledge our involvement, by using the techniques of modern political oratory.
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