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T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral

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Presentation on theme: "T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral"— Presentation transcript:

1 T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral

2 “Division” Part I: The Historical Thomas a Becket Part II: T. S. Eliot Part III: Modernism Part IV: Reflections on Murder in the Cathedral

3 The Historical Thomas a Becket
Part I: The Historical Thomas a Becket

4 Early years. Born in 1118 or 1120. Worked his way up.
Studied canon law, but was not a priest… In 1154 (in mid-30’s) was named Archdeacon of Canterbury by Bishop Theobold.

5 1155: Chancellorship of England
A position of great power. Very close to the king of England. Helped collect revenues – land taxes. King Henry II sent his son to live with Thomas, and the son saw Thomas as a king of foster-father.  King Henry II

6 1162: Archbishop of Canterbury
(in his early 40’s) Was ordained a priest on June 2, and an archbishop on June 3. After his ordination, Thomas did an about-face. He took his religious life seriously, and quit the post of Chancellorship.

7 The Trouble Starts…

8 Early 1164: The Constitutions of Clarendon
The King wanted all the clergy to sign off a document giving the State more power, the Church less. In particular, it said that priests should be tried in a civil court and given over to civil punishments – including mutilation and execution. Becket refused to sign.

9 October 1164 Becket was tried at Northhampton Castle.
Was convicted of criminal charges. Stormed out of the room, and fled to the Continent. King Louis VII (France, of course) offered him protection.

10 The next 6 years: Becket spent 2 years at Pontigny, a Cistercian abbey. Henry II, meanwhile, kept shooting edicts after him; Becket parried with threat of excommunication and interdict against Henry and the English bishops. Pope Alexander III agree with Henry’s ideas about civil vs. ecclesial rule, but wanted to be diplomatic; papal legates were sent in 1167 to arbitrate a peace between Henry and Thomas. In 1170, papal delegates were sent to impose a solution: Henry offered a compromise, and Thomas was allowed to return from his exile.

11 June 1170 Henry is crowned Young King at York by three bishops.
This had always been the right of the Canterbury bishop. Becket excommunicated all three. When Henry heard about it, he is reported to have said…

12 "What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?"

13 Four Knights Take a Hint
Reginald fitzUrse Hugh de Morville William de Tracy Richard le Breton All head to Canterbury to fulfill the king’s wish, and kill Becket.

14 December 29, 1170 Becket is at prayer with the monks.
The knights come in and demand he come with them. He refuses. They go outside, retrieve weapons they had left, and come back inside. Becket begins Vespers, and the knights return…


16 As reported by Edward Grim, who was himself wounded in the attack:
“...The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, 'For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.' But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, 'Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more.[14]”

17 The aftermath: The monks prepared Becket for burial; he was found to be wearing a hair-shirt, etc.. In two years he was canonized by Alexander III. The four knights were excommunicated, and served for 14 years each in the Holy Land in reparation. In 1173 – 1174 Henry II did public reparation at Canterbury. Canterbury became a site for pilgrims to travel throughout the Middle Ages.


19 Part II: T. S. Eliot

20 Young Life & Education 1888: Born 26 September in New England. Grew up in St. Louis, a sickly literary child from a wealthy family. High school: Smith Academy (St. Louis) and Milton Academy (MA). College: Studied philosophy at Harvard, graduating in 3 years at the age of 21 / 22. 1910: Moved to Paris and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne. : studied Indian philosophy and Sanskrit back at Harvard. : studied at Oxford (but spent a LOT of time in London) … got married in 1915 (!) ABD Ph.D. at Oxford (although he wrote the paper).

21 Eliot’s Marriage "I came to persuade myself that I was in love with Vivienne simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land.“ – Eliot, privately, in in his 60s

22 Ages Lectured at colleges, taught at high schools (all in England) and eventually got into the publishing industry. He went back to teach at Harvard for a year. Around the age of 39 (1927) he converted from being a Unitarian to being an “Anglo-Catholic” and became a British citizen.

23 Ages In 1938, Vivienne was committed to a mental institution. (She died in 1947.) : Eliot’s companion was Mary Trevelyan, who wanted to marry him. 1957 (age 68): He married Esme Valerie Fletcher. He was 68, she was 30. Died 4 January 1965 (77 years old).

24 T. S. Eliot earned the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.

25 Vivienne Haigh-Wood (Wife 1)

26 Mary Trevelyan (the companion)

27 Esme Valerie Fletcher (Wife 2)

28 Some of Eliot’s Key Works
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915) The Waste Land (1922) The Hollow Men (1925) Ash Wednesday (1930) Murder in the Cathedral (1935) Four Quartets (1945)

29 Part III: Modernism

30 The Rise of Modernism Started in 1890’s, but “High Modernism” came into its own after WWI ( ). War shook faith in the moral basis, coherence, and durability of Western civilization. Reality: harsh, dissonant, “the panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history” People questioned if traditional literary modes could represent the new postwar world.

31 Modernist Movement in Literature
Involves a direct and radical break with traditions of Western art and culture. Experimentation with new forms and new style. New = fragmentation, disorder Old = ordered and integrated, thanks to myths and religions Violations of traditions – traditional forms, traditional syntax, traditional coherences of narrative language.

32 Some new things: Stream of consciousness
“Automatic writing” (writing freed from control of conscious, purposive mind) Parallels / echoes: expressionism surrealism Cubism Futurism Abstract expressionism atonal music (Youtube Stravinsky, Schoenberg)

33 Expressionism Munch, The Scream

34 Surrealism:

35 Cubism: Picasso, Weeping Woman

36 Umberto Buccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space
Futurism Umberto Buccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space

37 Abstract Impressionism:
Jackson Pollack, #5, 1948

38 Atonal Music Schönberg, Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1932)
Stravinsky, The Flood (1962)

39 1922: Irish: James Joyce’s Ulysses English: Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room American expatriot: T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

40 Avant-Garde French military metaphor – “advance guard” A small, self-conscious group of authors and artists who deliberately undertake to, as Pound put it, “make things new.” Violate accepted conventions and proprieties. Explore hitherto neglected or forbidden subjects. Assert autonomy. Shock sensibilities by challenging norms and pieties of the bourgeois.

41 From Modernism…. After WWII (1939-45), post-modernism developed.
…. And we won’t get into that, but if you read Samuel Beckett over the summer – he’s post-modernist.

42 Reflections on Murder in the cathedral
Part IV: Reflections on Murder in the cathedral

43 Modern Parallels for: The Chorus The Tempters Thomas The Priests
The 4 Knights

44 Themes Justice Law Natural Order / Civil Order / Supernatural Order
Society, Government, Church, Self Good and Evil, Virtue and Sin, Guilt and Salvation

45 Questions: How does Eliot echo Aeschylus? Why did Eliot choose this ancient form of drama? How does Eliot experiment with the ancient form? How does Eliot use ancient forms and medieval stories to comment on life in post-WWI society?

46 End.

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