Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Martyrdom of Thomas a' Becket

Dear Misfits,

We had another delightful omnium-gatherum wherein we discussed Murder in the Cathedral, a compelling, highly readable play by T. S. Eliot based on the martyrdom of Thomas Becket.  The play is a dramatic demonstration that faith is especially alive when the faithful are ready to die for it.

The play is written as a dramatic poem with vivid imagery and striking dialogue.  The dramatization is in two parts with Part I describing the return of Becket to England from France where he had been in self-imposed exile.  Part II dramatizes the tragic murder of Becket by four of Henry’s knights in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29th, 1170  

The dramatic dialogue of priests, knights, Archbishop Becket is set against and enhanced by the Chorus of the Women of Canterbury.  Eliot uses the Chorus to explain and enlarge upon the events taking place.  Misfit Loome noted that it is likely that Eliot chose the form of a Chorus as similar to that used by Greek tragedians to develop and comment on the action of a play.  This seems to be the case with the Chorus in Eliot’s play.   The Chorus’ initial speech defines their role in the drama taking place: "We are forced to bear witness."

Why exactly did the four knights decide to kill Becket?  We may never know.  Henry is said to have roared his frustration with his formerly cooperative Chancellor but now recalcitrant Archbishop. The King's exact words are in doubt and several versions have been reported. The most commonly quoted is "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"  Another account by the contemporary biographer Edward Grim, relates that Henry words were, "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?"  Four of his knights decided to rid Henry of his “turbulent priest”.  In so doing, they gave England and the Church one of its most revered martyrs.

The Drama ends with the Chorus chanting:

            That the sin of the world is upon our head; that the
                        blood of the martyrs and the agony of the saints
            Is upon our heads.
            Lord, have mercy upon us.
            Christ, have mercy upon us.
            Lord, have mercy upon us.
            Blessed Thomas, pray for us.

Now to the future:

May, 2010: As reported last month, we're looking for a "change of pace" and believe that it will be provided by reading The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien's wonderful fantasy novel.  The novel is set in a time "Between the Dawn of Færie and the Dominion of Men"; The Hobbit follows the quest of home-loving Bilbo Baggins to win a share of the treasure guarded by the dragon, Smaug. It was published on September 21, 1937 to wide critical acclaim, being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and awarded a prize from the New York Herald Tribune for best juvenile fiction. The book remains hugely popular and is recognized as a classic.  Misfit Druffner provided a set of maps for Middle-earth and other data on the land of the Hobbits.  I’ve read through this commentary.  It is definitely helpful if you are to fully understand the fantasy land and its inhabitants.  There is also an excellent Dummies web site for the Hobbit at:

June, 2010:  For our June meeting, we are going to read and discuss The Death of Ivan Ilych, a short story from The Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy (Harper Perennial Modern Classics).  The book is available from Amazon for $12.47. 

July, 2010:  We will continue our summer exploration of great short story collections by reading Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground which is in Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky (Perennial Classics).  The book is available from Amazon for $12.47.  

August, 2010:  We will read and discuss another selection from The Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy.  (This selection will be decided at our next meeting.)

September, 2010:  We will read and discuss another short work by Dostoevsky from Great Short Works of Fyodor Dostoevsky.  (This selection will also be decided at our next meeting.)

Warmest regards,

Misfit Buzz

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