Act V

Scene III

Alfred Tennyson

North Transept of Canterbury Cathedral. On the right hand a flight of steps leading to the Choir, another flight on the left, leading to the North Aisle. Winter afternoon slowly darkening. Low thunder now and then of an approaching storm. MONKS heard chanting the service. ROSAMUND kneeling.

O blessed saint, O glorious Benedict,—
These arm’d men in the city, these fierce faces—
Thy holy follower founded Canterbury—
Save that dear head which now is Canterbury,
Save him, he saved my life, he saved my child,
Save him, his blood would darken Henry’s name;
Save him till all as saintly as thyself
He miss the searching flame of purgatory,
And pass at once perfect to Paradise.

[Noise of steps and voices in the cloisters.
Hark! Is it they? Coming! He is not here—
Not yet, thank heaven. O save him!
[Goes up steps leading to choir.

    BECKET (entering, forced along by JOHN OF SALISBURY and GRIM).
                                                No, I tell you!
I cannot bear a hand upon my person,
Why do you force me thus against my will?

My lord, we force you from your enemies.

As you would force a king from being crown’d.

We must not force the crown of martyrdom.

[Service stops. MONKS come down from the
stairs that lead to the choir

Here is the great Archbishop! He lives! he lives!
Die with him, and be glorified together.

Together? . . . get you back! go on with the office.

Come, then, with us to vespers.

                                                How can I come
When you so block the entry? Back, I say!
Go on with the office. Shall not Heaven be served
Tho’ earth’s last earthquake clash’d the minster-bells,
And the great deeps were broken up again,
And hiss’d against the sun?

[Noise in the cloisters.

                                          The murderers, hark!
Let us hide! let us hide!

                                    What do these people fear?

Those arm’d men in the cloister.

                                                Be not such cravens!
I will go out and meet them.

    GRIM and others.
                                          Shut the doors!
We will not have him slain before our face.

[They close the doors of the transept. Knocking.
Fly, fly, my lord, before they burst the doors!

Why, these are our own monks who follow’d us!
And will you bolt them out, and have them slain?
Undo the doors: the church is not a castle:
Knock, and it shall be open’d. Are you deaf?
What, have I lost authority among you?
Stand by, make way!

[Opens the doors. Enter MONKS from cloister.
                              Come in, my friends, come in!
Nay, faster, faster!

                              Oh, my lord Archbishop,
A score of knights all arm’d with swords and axes—
To the choir, to the choir!

[Monks divide, part flying by the stairs on the right, part by those on the left. The rush of these last bears BECKET along with them some way up the steps, where he is left standing alone.

                                          Shall I too pass to the choir,
And die upon the Patriarchal throne
Of all my predecessors?

                                    No, to the crypt!
Twenty steps down. Stumble not in the darkness,
Lest they should seize thee.

                                          To the crypt? no—no,
To the chapel of St. Blaise beneath the roof!

JOHN OF SALISBURY (pointing upward and downward).
That way, or this! Save thyself either way.

Oh, no, not either way, nor any way
Save by that way which leads thro’ night to light.
Not twenty steps, but one.
And fear not I should stumble in the darkness,
Not tho’ it be their hour, the power of darkness,
But my hour too, the power of light in darkness!
I am not in the darkness but the light,
Seen by the Church in Heaven, the Church on earth—
The power of life in death to make her free!

[Enter the four KNIGHTS. JOHN OF SALISBURY flies to the altar of St. Benedict.

Here, here, King’s men!

[Catches hold of the last flying MONK.
                                    Where is the traitor Becket?

I am not he! I am not he, my lord.
I am not he indeed!

                              Hence to the fiend!

[Pushes him away.
Where is this treble traitor to the King?

Where is the Archbishop, Thomas Becket?

No traitor to the King, but Priest of God,
Primate of England.

[Descending into the transept.
                              I am he ye seek.
What would ye have of me?

                                    Your life.

                                                      Your life.

Save that you will absolve the bishops.

Except they make submission to the Church.
You had my answer to that cry before.

Why, then you are a dead man; flee!

                                                      I will not.
I am readier to be slain, than thou to slay.
Hugh, I know well thou hast but half a heart
To bathe this sacred pavement with my blood.
God pardon thee and these, but God’s full curse
Shatter you all to pieces if ye harm
One of my flock!

                        Was not the great gate shut?
They are thronging in to vespers—half the town.
We shall be overwhelm’d. Seize him and carry him!
Come with us—nay—thou art our prisoner—come!

Ay, make him prisoner, do not harm the man.

[FITZURSE lays hold of the ARCHBISHOP’S pall.

Touch me not!

                  How the good priest gods himself!
He is not yet ascended to the Father.

I will not only touch, but drag thee hence.

Thou art my man, thou art my vassal. Away!

[Flings him off till he reels, almost to falling.

    DE TRACY (lays hold of the pall).
Come; as he said, thou art our prisoner.


[Throws him headlong.

    FITZURSE (advances with drawn sword).
I told thee that I should remember thee!

Profligate pander!

                        Do you hear that? strike, strike.

[Strikes off the ARCHBISHOP’S mitre, and wounds him in the forehead.

    BECKET (covers his eyes with his hand).
I do commend my cause to God, the Virgin,
St. Denis of France and St. Alphege of England,
And all the tutelar Saints of Canterbury.

[GRIM wraps his arms about the ARCHBISHOP.
Spare this defence, dear brother.

[TRACY has arisen, and approaches, hesitatingly, ;with his sword raised.

                                                Strike him, Tracy!

    ROSAMUND (rushing down steps from the choir).
No, No, No, No!

                        This wanton here. De Morville,
Hold her away.

                  I hold her.

    ROSAMUND (held back by DE MORVILLE, and stretching out her arms).
                                    Mercy, mercy,
As you would hope for mercy.

                                          Strike, I say.

O God, O noble knights, O sacrilege!
Strike our Archbishop in his own cathedral!
The Pope, the King, will curse you—the whole world
Abhor you; ye will die the death of dogs!
Nay, nay, good Tracy.          [Lifts his arm.

                              Answer not, but strike.

There is my answer then.

[Sword falls on GRIM’S arm, and glances from it, wounding BECKET.

                                    Mine arm is sever’d.
I can no more—fight out the good fight—die

[Staggers into the chapel of St. Benedict.

    BECKET (falling on his knees).
            At the right hand of Power—
Power and great glory—for thy Church, O Lord—
Into Thy hands, O Lord—into Thy hands!——

[Sinks prone.

This last to rid thee of a world of brawls!        (Kills him.)
The traitor’s dead, and will arise no more.

Nay, have we still’d him? What! the great Archbishop!
Does he breathe? No?

                              No, Reginald, he is dead.

(Storm bursts.)1

Will the earth gape and swallow us?

                                                      The deed’s done—

[DE BRITO, DE TRACY, FITZURSE. rush out, crying ‘King’s men!’ DE MORVILLE follows slowly. Flashes of lightning thro’ the Cathedral. ROSAMUND seen kneeling by the body of BECKET.

1.    A tremendous thunderstorm actually broke over the Cathedral as the murderers were leaving it.    [back]

Becket - Contents

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