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CHARACTERISATION Characters are important in a play to the extent of their contri

bution a nd the relevance of their roles in the overall development of the plot.
Murder centres on the conflict of values and the affirmation that spiritual value
s are superior to worldly values. The play thus seeks to explore the significanc
e of martyrdom leaving little scope for effective characterisation. The characte
rs in Murder, though not very realistic, are relevant to t he play in the sense th
at they are created as the embodiments of values and idea ls. Eliot has been abl
e to express his viewpoints to the audience by using his c haracters as a mouthp
iece. His treatment of the relationship between the charact ers in the play is a
lso crucial to the unity of the play. It is through these re lationships that El
iot is able to convey the meaning of Beckets martyrdom. 1. Thomas Becket- He is t
he central character in the play and is the chief object of the audiences interes
t. Other characters remain minor figures, commen ting on, reacting to and witnes
sing the action. The action of the play is confined to the last days of Beckets l
ife. 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 pow
er and the temptation of such kind of power is easy for him to overcome. After t
he king appointed him as the Archbishop, Becket, contrary to the kings expectatio
ns, 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 th
e play, he approaches martyrdom with the certainty that his caus e is just and h
is 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 unexpecte
d and present temptation- to do the right deed for the wrong reason. The desire fo
r martyrd om in Becket is still a desire for personal glory and it is from this
point that Beckets character is developed through his struggles with his own inne
r 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 ones will to t hat
of Gods. he assents to losing his will to the will of God and achieves the reconci
liation of all irreconciliables. In this way, Becket fulfils his part i n the ete
rnal design. The development in Beckets character is evident from the time he rea
lis es the pitfalls of his own pride. Undergoing further purification, he is abl
e 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 e
nd of Part I, Becket has already achieved a state of sainthood and his murder be
comes 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 wome
n of Canterbury who introduce thems elves as the poor women of Canterbury. The Cho
rus 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 or
dinary people living a routine life and also the great mass of humanity who Chri
st came to save. The Chorus serves to initiate, analyse and comment on the actio
n 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 a
n importan t bearing on the plot. In fact, the meaning that Beckets martyrdom fin
ally take s on for the Chorus is crucial to the evaluation of Beckets destiny. Th
e 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 Beckets murder approaches. They finally come to a
n acceptance of Gods 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 th
ey 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 na
ture also gives way to order once again. 3. The Four Tempters- Eliot has borrowe
d the practice of personifying vices and virtues from medieval drama in the char
acters of the tempters. In a sense, the t empters represent potentialities in th
e personality of Becket. His dialogues wit h the Tempters dramatise the inner st
ruggle, doubts and uncertainties in Becket. The tempters also help in the develo
pment of the plot and it is from them that we come to know about the Archbishops
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 h
e 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 ki
n 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 onc
e to Beckets desire for power, to his pride and his genuine desire to ser ve othe
rs. 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 Heave
n and HellDescend to desire a punier power? Becket is able to deal w ith this temp
tation, probably because it has occurred to him before. The first a nd second Te
mpters represent the past that Becket has already transcended. Third Tempter- In
addition to his role in tempting Becket, the third Tem pter represents the baro
ns, who, like the church, sought to check the absolute p ower of the king. He cl
aims that the barons fight for liberty. But Thomas is a ware that such a liberty i
s 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 fro
m the king for his loyalty. Fourth Tempter- The fourth Tempter is the only one w
ho 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 th
e future. He represen ts Thomas own unacknowledged desire for martyrdom for the w
rong reasons of self -glorification. This becomes Beckets 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 m
e with my own desires? Ultimately, however, Becket is able to overcome this tempt
ation too. H is encounter with the fourth tempter forces him to see that to achi
eve true sain thood, Becket must not will it, but must submit himself to the wil
l of God. He i s then able to yield to Gods Will and give up his life in the true
spirit of ma rtyrdom. The four Tempters thus represent Beckets own inner struggl
es but this s truggle has been dramatised by personifying the temptations. By pe
rsonifying and objectifying the temptations, Eliot characterises them and presen
ts them as ind ividual characters in the play. 4. Three Priests- The three Pries
ts are members of the Church as Becket is, and they represent the reactions of c
hurchmen, 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 firs
t Priest is an elderly man who is dominated by fea r throughout the play. His em
phasis is always on what the Church should avoid. T he positive notions of the g
ood of the Church seem alien to him. Second Priest- The second Priest is a young
er 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 Pr
i ests 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 clos
er 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 a
pproaches the insights of Becket himself. They even employ the same metaphor, th
at 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 pronounce
s 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 t
hat the third Priest remains an observer. Though he understands what happens bet
ter than the others, he remains outside of it to the end. 5. Four Knights- The f
our Knights are at once agents of the king, and although t hey do not know it, a
gents 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 p
ersonalities, they differ from each other in the different as pects of secularis
m 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 secon
d Knight is Sir Hugh de Morville. He is the leas t eloquent of the four. He seem
s almost embarrassed at having to speak at all. Third Knight- The third Knight B
aron 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 suc
h 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 state
ment which might also be considered as one of eliots purposes in waking his audie
nce 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 find
s that Becket is himself respons ible for his death. In his apologia, we may rec
ognise a reflection of the modern tendency to deny the very notion of moral resp
onsibility. 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 Beckets martyrdom for the modern times. They ha
ve 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 an
d 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 involve
ment, by using the techniques of modern political oratory.