Murder in the Cathedral

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Murder in the Cathedral is a verse play by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)[1].


The original text

The play was origonally conceived for on-site performance in Canterbury Cathedral, England, as part of the Canterbury Festival and deals with the temptation and murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket (1119 or 1120–1170)[2], in Canterbury Cathedral.

First performed in the Cathedral Chapter house at the Canterbury Festival, 15 June 1935, directed by E. Martin Browne, with Robert Speaight in the part of "Becket". The production then moved to the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate in London to run for several months.

Translations and adaptations

The play was broadcast live on British television by the BBC in 1936, at the very start of the Corporation's introduction of broadcast TV. It was subsequently filmed three times (in 1951[3]), 1962[4] and in 2020[5]).

A number of recordings of full cast performances have been made over the years[]

The opera Assassinio nella cattedrale by the Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti, is based on the play and was first performed at La Scala, Milan, in 1958.

Performance history in South Africa

1939: Presented by the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society at the Little Theatre in January, directed by Rose Ehrlich.

1943: Presented by the Natal University College Dramatic Society in 1943. With Fiennes Prestwich [6].

1945: Presented by Bishops and Herschel Schools, Cape Town, in Bishops Chapel, produced by Rose Ehrlich, 1945. With Andrew Porter, William van der Byl, Henry Newdigate,

June 22, 1947: Presented by the Rhodes Dramatic Society at Rhodes University College's Great Hall for three days preceding the staging in the Grahamstown Cathedral. Directed by Leon Gluckman, also in the lead role, with Godfrey le May as "Archbishop Thomas a Becket," Professor Kenneth White and Norman Addleson. Decor by Ronnie Phillips. The presentation was not without controversy, as a letters to Grahamstown's daily newspaper, Grocott's Mail, recorded:

"Staging a play in the House of God is sacrilege," complained one letter writer. Another writer said the play in the Cathedral should "be avoided by all who object to a Christian martyr's suffering being made a Sunday evening 'box-office-draw'." A supporter of the play wrote, "Well-informed people should rejoice that the Cathedral of Grahamstown . . . would provide an appropriate setting and decor for one of the finest and most spiritual dramas of the present century."

The Dean of Grahamstown said he was convinced the majority was not opposed to it and pointed out that Murder in the Cathedral had been presented in Canterbury Cathedral (Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury), Salisbury Cathedral, England, and Johannesburg Cathedral

1947: The play was staged at the University of the Witwatersrand when it's run in Grahamstown was completed.

1965: Presented by the University of Cape Town's Speech and Drama Department at the Little Theatre in June, directed by Rosalie van der Gucht.

1978: Presented by the Arts Theatre Club at St Saviour's Church, directed by Mary Howe.

1984: Presented by Omnitheatre, directed by Ray Tumner, with John Hussey on the National Arts Festival Fringe, 1984.

1992: Presented by the African Christian Theatre Service (ACTS) by arrangement with the Baxter Theatre , in the St George's Cathedral, Cape Town, on 29 February 1992. Direction and design by Peter Krummeck, lighting by Pip Marshall. The cast: Brenda Wood, Zoë Randall, Vanessa Reynolds, Tessa Edlmann, Land Middelkoop, Matthew Roberts, Buyani Zwane, Arnold Pegram, Pomolo Monethi, Gavin Lister, John Carson, Gordon van Rooyen, Brian Notcutt, Paul Peteren, André Jacobs.


Trek, 8(13):18, 1943; 9(22):18, 1945.

Saturday Post, June 7, 1947.

Saturday Post, June 28, 1947.

Helikon, 2(11), 1953.

Inskip, 1972. pp.124, 151.

National Arts Festival programme, 1984.

Theatre programme, 1992.

Arts Theatre Club archive held by George Mountjoy.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

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