Murder in the Cathedral as a poetic drama
In the words of John Peter, the chorus in Murder in the Cathedral rouse “us to participate wholeheartedly in the emotional crises that arise, supplying the action with a background that is, like music, all-pervasive. “This leads us to a consideration of the language and versification, through which the ‘poetry’ is palpable. Eliot, by his own admission, chose his idiom very carefully. “As a period piece and something out of the ordinary”, observes Donald Hall, “it required a special language”. While writing of a remote period Eliot could not use modern vocabulary style. The importance of Eliot’s versification in July emphasized Sean Lucy’s remark. “The language is the verse, which is the action, which is the theme, which is the atmosphere, which is the meaning.”
Murder in the Cathedral in the process essays out as a poetic drama essentially Eliot’s own. It not only integrates poetry and drama and restores lost links between religion and theatre, but is also instrumental in making poetic drama a part of contemporary tradition. Eliot gives his drama inwardness, an introspection that goes beyond the reach of outward’ naturalism and captures a ‘deeper’ reality of modern times. As Eliot argues: “A verse drama is not a play done in verse, but a different kind of play, in a way more realistic than “naturalistic drama’, instead of clothing nature in poetry, it should remove the surface of things, expose the underneath, or the inside…”
Modern poetic drama, in Eliot’s words, “is still very experimental. I do not believe that there is one poet in the theatre today who can feel assured that he had found the right form, the right idiom, the right range of human emotions and experience to manipulate” At a time when the drama was qualitatively written in prose, Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral evolved a pattern of poetic drama which employs verse to communicate the most impassioned in the realistic setting of the modern theatre, Eliot attempts to look beyond the outer world of fleeting changes and material decay, thereby arriving at a world within that is eternal and abiding.
In this blend of drama and poetry, two portions stand out as deviating apparently from the prevalent norm. Thomas’s sermon in the Cathedral contained an interlude separating thetwo clearly divided parts of the play and the knights’ speech after completion of the murder are both addressed to the audience in prose. On Christmas morning. Thomas in his sermon explains the nature and significance of Christian martyrdom while after he is murdered, the knights attempt to defend their action on several, even conflicting grounds. The insertion of prose breaks the barriers between the stage and the audience. Eliot feels that the timely intervention of prose in Murder in the Cathedral makes the situations naturally dramatic that could not have been achieved through a continuation in verse.