Murder in the Cathedral

The Chorus Character Analysis

Made up of common women of Canterbury, the Chorus represents the ordinary, “small folk” of the town who look entirely to the Church for spiritual guidance in their lives. They begin the play by expressing regret over Becket’s return, believing that it will lead to his death—which would bring them great spiritual despair. They claim to have been “living and partly living” during his seven-year absence, and that they would be more content to go on living in such a tolerably ordinary, everyday state of dissatisfaction than risk facing the overwhelming spiritual ruin which they think Becket’s death would bring about. The Chorus therefore begins the play in direct opposition to the priests’ excitement about Becket’s return: they do not want him to come back. Ultimately, the Chorus’s fear is realized—Becket is indeed murdered. While they come to understand his death as fated by God, the Chorus nonetheless sees it as a personal tragedy—they do not see it from a spiritual, impersonal distance like the priests eventually do. Maddened by the death of their spiritual leader, the Chorus ends the play desperately crying out that the environment around them be cleaned of the dark energies which have intruded into their lives.

The Chorus Quotes in Murder in the Cathedral

The Murder in the Cathedral quotes below are all either spoken by The Chorus or refer to The Chorus. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harcourt edition of Murder in the Cathedral published in 1964.
Part 1 Quotes

We do not wish anything to happen.
Seven years we have lived quietly,
Succeeded in avoiding notice,
Living and partly living.
There have been oppression and luxury,
There have been poverty and licence,
There has been minor injustice.
Yet we have gone on living,
Living and partly living. . .
But now a great fear is upon us . . .
. . .We
Are afraid in a fear which we cannot know, which we cannot face, which none understands,
And our hearts are torn from us, our brains unskinned like the layers of an onion, our selves are lost
In a final fear which none understands. O Thomas Archbishop,
O Thomas our Lord, leave us and leave us be, in our humble and tarnished frame of existence . . .

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Thomas Becket
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

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They know and do not know,
what it is to act or suffer.
They know and do not know, that acting is suffering
And suffering is action. Neither does the agent suffer
Nor the patient act. But both are fixed
In an eternal action, an eternal patience
To which all must consent that it may be willed
And which all must suffer that they may will it,
That the pattern may subsist, for the pattern is the action
And the suffering, that the wheel may turn and still
Be forever still.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker), The Chorus
Related Symbols: The Wheel
Page Number: 21-2
Explanation and Analysis:

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Part 2 Quotes

I have smelt them, the death-bringers; now is too late
For action, too soon for contrition.
Nothing is possible but the shamed swoon
Of those consenting to the last humiliation.
I have consented, Lord Archbishop, have consented.
Am torn away, subdued, violated,
United to the spiritual flesh of nature,
Mastered by the animal powers of spirit,
Dominated by the lust of self-demolition,
By the final utter uttermost death of spirit,
By the final ecstasy of waste and shame,
O Lord Archbishop, O Thomas Archbishop, forgive us, forgive us, pray for us that we may pray for you, out of our shame.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Thomas Becket
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:

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We did not wish anything to happen.
We understood the private catastrophe,
The personal loss, the general misery,
Living and partly living;
The terror by night that ends in daily action,
The terror by day that ends in sleep;
But the talk in the market-place, the hand on the broom,
The nighttime heaping of the ashes,
The fuel laid on the fire at daybreak,
These acts marked a limit to our suffering.
Every horror had its definition,
Every sorrow had a kind of end:
In life there is not time to grieve long.
But this, this is out of life, this is out of time,
An instant eternity of evil and wrong.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Thomas Becket
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Chorus Character Timeline in Murder in the Cathedral

The timeline below shows where the character The Chorus appears in Murder in the Cathedral. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
...Archbishop’s Hall of Canterbury Cathedral; the date is December 29, 1170. The members of the Chorus—made up of common women of Canterbury—are the first to speak. They say that it’s been... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
After the Chorus’s opening monologue, three priests enter the scene and discuss a feud which occurred between Archbishop... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
After the priests’ discussion about Becket’s return to Canterbury, the Chorus weighs in. They say they want the Archbishop to go back to France, thinking his... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Becket enters the scene, and tells the second priest that the Chorus is not being foolish, but that they “speak better than they know, and beyond your... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
...second priest apologizes for the poor welcome Becket received, as Becket walked in on the Chorus saying they didn’t want him to return. The second priest regrets that he and the... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Temptation Theme Icon
The Chorus addresses their Lord, Becket, and says that they are not ignorant or idealistic; they say... (full context)
Part 2
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
...second part of the play starts in the Archbishop’s Hall, on December 29th, 1170. The Chorus begins by lamenting the fact that their suffering seems to be never-ending, and there are... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
After the knights exit, the Chorus gives a long account about how they’ve sensed death in the natural world around them,... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
The Chorus then laments that Becket’s death will bring them face to face with a spiritual reality... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Temptation Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
After the Chorus speaks, the scene changes to the Cathedral, where Becket is with the priests. The priests... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
The Chorus cries out that the air and the sky be cleaned, and say that they wanted... (full context)
Worldly Power vs. Spiritual Power Theme Icon
Loyalty and Guilt Theme Icon
After the Chorus speaks, the knights, having killed Becket, turn to address the audience. The first knight, Reginald... (full context)
Fate and Sacrifice Theme Icon
Eternity and Human Understanding Theme Icon
The Chorus ends the play by praising God, saying that He is reflected and affirmed by everything... (full context)