Murder in the cathedral

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Mord im Dom , English original title Murder in the Cathedral , is a verse drama by TS Eliot that premiered in 1935 . It is about the last days of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket from December 2, 1170 until his assassination by the Knight Henry II of England on December 29, 1170.

The play premiered in 1935 at the Canterbury Festival under the direction of E. Martin Browne with Robert Speaight in the role of Becket and filmed in 1951 by George Hoellering . The German-language premiere - translation by Rudolf Alexander Schröder - took place on January 20, 1939 in Basel. The first performance in Germany took place on October 18, 1947 at the Cologne Municipal Theaters under the direction of Karl Pempelfort and at the Göttingen City Theater under the direction of Hans Dietrich Keuter .


On a December day in 1170, the residents of Canterbury await the return of their Archbishop Thomas Becket from seven years of exile in France, where King Henry II had sent him. Once, when Becket was still Chancellor, the two were friends and allies against the Pope. But Becket's behavior changed with his appointment as archbishop, which the king intended as a clever move: Imbued with the seriousness and responsibility of his high office, Becket opposed the king's interference in ecclesiastical affairs and thus aroused his anger. The Choir of the Women of Canterbury, now facing the bishop's return, do not trust the peace, and Becket too knows that dangers await them. At this crucial point in his life, "four tempters" lead him into a series of temptations, the first three of which are modeled on the temptations of Christ (Mt 4: 1-11), while the fourth - most tempting to Thomas Becket - consists in this to strive for the fate of the martyr out of lust for fame . Becket says of these:

The last temptation is the greatest treason,
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.
(The last temptation is the greatest betrayal,
doing the right deed for wrong reason.)

But Becket can break free of these whisperings and preach in his cathedral on Christmas Day, the feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen . He rejects any blood witness to Christ that arises of his own will. The glory of martyrdom can only be bestowed by God, never man himself. On December 29th, four knights, emissaries of the king appear, accuse Becket of treason and conspiracy and ask him to answer before the king. But Becket only wants to bring his case to the Pope. The priests shut themselves up in fear with their archbishop in the cathedral, but Becket lets the doors open again, as the church must be accessible to everyone. The four knights now penetrate and kill the archbishop. The scene then changes to a modern tribunal with the audience as a judge, before whom the knights justify their crime with reasons of state . The drama closes with a lament for the dead and a hymn of praise to the holy martyr Thomas.


As Hortmann explains in his interpretation, the piece has the effect of a ritualistic consecration game due to its striking character. Its timeless theme transcends the historical ” and invites “ to a kind of mystery play ”.

TS Eliot, who is strongly influenced by the high church direction of Anglicanism , wrote the piece at the suggestion of Bishop George Bell to call on the people who lived in fascist- ruled countries to defend the Christian church against abuse by fascists and National Socialists .


The opera Assassinio nella cattedrale by Ildebrando Pizzetti , based on the drama, was premiered on March 1, 1958 at the Teatro alla Scala .

In 1962, Hans Lietzau shot a television adaptation for Bayerischer Rundfunk, which was broadcast on Good Friday 1962. Gerd Brüdern played the main role ; Wolfgang Kieling , Pinkas Braun , Romuald Pekny , Peter Eschberg , Alexander Golling , Edith Schultze-Westrum , Eva Bubat and Benno Sterzenbach also played in other roles .

Radio plays:


  • Wilhelm Hortmann: TS Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral. In: Hans Weber (Ed.): Dramas of the 20th Century for English Lessons in Upper Secondary School - Interpretations . Diesterweg Verlag Frankfurt aM et al. 1982, ISBN 3-425-04209-2 , pp. 25-40.
  • Heinz Kosok: “The justification scene” of the knights in TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. In: Franz H. Link (Ed.): America · Vision and Reality, contributions to German research on American literary history . Athenäum Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. et al. 1968, pp. 374-387.

Individual evidence

  1. June 19, 1935; Text edition published by Faber & Faber, London, June 13, 1935
  2. Internet Movie Database - Murder in the Cathedral (1951)
  3. ^ Suhrkamp-Verlag Berlin 1946
  4. Translation Wikipedia User: Vsop
  5. William Hortmann: TS Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral. In: Hans Weber (Hrsg.): Dramas of the 20th Century for English Lessons in Upper Secondary School - Interpretations, Diesterweg Verlag Frankfurt aM et al. 1982, p. 26