Murder in the Cathedral


T. S. Eliot

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Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Murder in the Cathedral, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Temptation Theme Icon

The concept of temptation as something that causes people to deviate from the divine unfolding of fate—at least as Becket sees it—permeates Murder in the Cathedral. The four tempters and priests both try to “tempt” Becket away from his fate, though in two very distinct ways.

The priests also try to “tempt” Becket—though less obviously than the actual “tempters”—by trying to keep Becket alive. They refuse to unbar the doors of the church at Becket’s command, and while the knights are gathered outside, the priests reply: “You would bar the door / Against the lion, the leopard . . . Why not more / Against beasts with the souls of damned men, against men / Who would damn themselves as beasts.” Though not explicitly using the language of temptation, the priests here are playing a role which parallels that of the tempters: the priests also try to make Becket change or shift events, to shift fate rather than accept it. The priests even go a step further than the tempters in trying to get Becket to do what they think is best—they try to physically force him into safety from the knights.

In this way, the difference between the roles of the tempters and the priests is somewhat blurred by the play, making “temptation” assume a more general shape and meaning. Temptation, as the play presents it, is anything that leads one toward a personal view of action and the world, because that will naturally pull one away from a selfless acceptance of God’s plan.

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Temptation ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Temptation appears in each part of Murder in the Cathedral. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Temptation Quotes in Murder in the Cathedral

Below you will find the important quotes in Murder in the Cathedral related to the theme of Temptation.
Part 1 Quotes

We do not know very much of the future
Except that from generation to generation
The same things happen again and again.
Men learn little from others’ experience.
But in the life of one man, never
The same time returns. Sever
The cord, shed the scale. Only
The fool, fixed in his folly, may think
He can turn the wheel on which he turns.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker), First Tempter
Related Symbols: The Wheel
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

Temporal power, to build a good world
To keep order, as the world knows order.
Those who put their faith in worldly order
Not controlled by the order of God,
In confident ignorance, but arrest disorder,
Make it fast, breed fatal disease,
Degrade what they exalt. Power with the King—
I was the King, his arm, his better reason.
But what was once exaltation
Would now be only mean descent.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker), Second Tempter, King Henry II
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Is there no way, in my soul’s sickness,
Does not lead to damnation in pride?
I well know that these temptations
Mean present vanity and future torment.
Can sinful pride be driven out
Only by more sinful? Can I neither act nor suffer
Without perdition?

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:
Temptation shall not come in this kind again.
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason . . .
What yet remains to show you of my history
Will seem to most of you at best futility,
Senseless self-slaughter of a lunatic,
Arrogant passion of a fanatic.

Related Characters: Thomas Becket (speaker)
Related Symbols: Martyrdom
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis: