Honor versus Friendship in Becket
Anouilh's Becket offers the story of the relationship between Thomas Becket and Henry II, King of England. The relationship begins with the two being fun-loving and teasing friends, develops into a rough-and-tumble relationship, and then ends in cold hatred. Because he will not give in to his demands Henry has Becket executed in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket had been Henry's friend and loyal supporter until he became Archbishop of Canterbury. At that point, he was determined his first loyalty was due God and not Henry even though he had supported Henry against the church previously. Becket fled to France in exile before returning to Canterbury where Henry had four barons murder him. It was a decision which Henry would regret and pay penance for the rest of his life. As Anouilh (8) notes in his introduction, this drama remains above all a tale of two friends "...for this drama of friendship between two men, between king and his friend, his companion in pleasure and work (and this is what had gripped me about the story), this friend whom he could not cease to love though he became his worst enemy the night he was named archbishop...."
The play is tragic in the sense that the inability of Becket to serve both God and King equally results in his murder at the hand of his friend. Becket is well aware that he cannot be loyal to both Henry and God on the same level, and if there comes to be an issue where the choice must be made he will choose God. This is why he literally begs Henry not to make him Archbishop, but Henry's purposes, he thinks, will be best served by such a move and he does so anyway:
King: Becket, this is an order!
Becket: If I become Archbishop, I can no longer be your friend.
Officer: The church is now empty, my Lord. The Bishop and his clergy await your Highness' good pleasure.
King: Did you hear that, Becket? Pull yourself together. You have an odd way of taking good news. Wake up! They say we can go in now.
Becket: This is madness, my Lord. Don't do it. I could not serve both God and you.
The problem with remaining friends once Becket is made Archbishop is that he takes his job too seriously. He knows that politics and the church are corrupt, and he even admits that he used to laugh at the foibles of both. However, once he becomes Archbishop he intends to pay homage to a higher force than either the earthly king or the earthly church. While...