Murder in the Cathedral

discuss the scene of temptation in murder in the cathedral

discuss in detail the scenes of temptation in this play along with some quotes added from the text

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In Part I, a man, the First Tempter, enters. He identifies himself as Old Tom, one of Becket's former friends, and speaks nostalgically about "the good times" of the past. Mistaking Becket's return as a sign that the Archbishop and King have resolved their argument, he expresses his anticipation for the "gaiety" to come. Thomas quickly disabuses him of the notion, insisting he is no longer a carefree young man. The First Tempter then warns him that such "proud" sternness will cost him greatly and reminds him that "the easy man lives to eat the best dinners" (183-184). In effect, he is tempting Thomas to drop his sternness and responsibilities so as to enjoy an easier, more luxurious life. Thomas remains firm in his refusal of the temptation and the man leaves.

Thomas considers aloud how the man's offer was tempting even though it would have been impossible to accept.

The Second Tempter enters and identifies himself as someone Thomas met years before when the latter was still Chancellor. He tempts Thomas by suggesting Thomas "guide the state again," thereby reclaiming his former power and glory (185). When Thomas points out that he is a man of God, the Second Tempter reminds him that the Chancellor is actually more immediately powerful than the King (since he carries out the laws), and Thomas could therefore do good works like "protect the poor" with more expediency than he does as Archbishop. Thomas is angered by the man's insistence that he can have more power (186). Thomas argues that he would lose virtue as Chancellor because of compromises he would have to make with corrupt barons and bishops. He then insists his power is greater as Archbishop, since from that vantage he is placed "to condemn kings, not serve among their servants." Bested, the Second Tempter leaves and Thomas reminds himself that worldly power is inherently limited.

A Third Tempter arrives and claims he is "unexpected," a claim Thomas denies (187). The temper identifies himself as "a country-keeping lord" and "rough straightforward Englishman," more interested in his business than in politics. He tells Thomas that there is no chance of reconciliation with Henry, but that he and other barons will help him overthrow the King. Believing that Becket's connection to Rome will give them legitimacy, he wants to create a coalition with Thomas at its head. However, Thomas easily rejects him, remembering how such "wolves" used to sit at his door constantly when he was Chancellor. The man leaves and Thomas tells himself, "if I break, I must break myself alone" (190).

The Fourth Tempter arrives and is genuinely unexpected by Thomas. He is deliberately mysterious about his identity, saying, "I always precede expectation," and "I do not need a name… You know me, but have never seen my face" (190). When Thomas asks him to speak, the tempter briefly agrees with Thomas's replies to the previous tempters and then suggests that Thomas should die for his beliefs. By becoming a martyr, the Fourth Tempter suggests, Thomas will "bind/King and bishop under [his] heel." The tempter's argument is that the world of "temporal power" is transient and unfixed, whereas the prestige of martyrdom is eternal and all-powerful (191). Thomas admits he has considered this path before, and the tempter reveals that he knows the Archbishop's deepest fears: Thomas is afraid he will not only be hated until his death, but also become irrelevant in the face of history. The tempter reminds Thomas that martyrdom will make his enemies irrelevant in the face of history, and Thomas rebukes him as offering nothing but "dreams to damnation" (193). Thomas begins to despair at being faced with his deepest, most shameful fantasies. The tempter throws his philosophy about "acting" and "suffering" back into his face, repeating the speech almost verbatim.

As Thomas is silent in his pain, the Chorus considers how there is "no rest" to be had in this situation. They feel affected by the uncertainty. The Four Tempters then address the audience in verse, suggesting that "all things are unreal," and that Thomas is doomed, "lost in the wonder of [his] own greatness." The priests address Thomas directly, begging him not to fight against "the intractable/tide" (194).