Henry II, the high-strung Norman king of England, who defines his power in terms of his relationship with his friend, adviser, and eventual adversary Thomas Becket. Henry’s demeanor, as well as his age, changes as he goes from young optimistic monarch to disillusioned sovereign. Initially, he believes that all he has to do to accomplish something is to give the order and have it obeyed. This simplistic attitude changes as he discovers that vested interests are for-midable bulwarks. Furthermore, people develop different priorities as circumstances change; their attitudes in life alter as their roles in life differ. Henry becomes more withdrawn and isolated; he feels deserted by everybody and realizes that he must learn to be alone. In his desperation, he cries out for others to save him, thus preparing the way for the play’s ultimate tragedy.
Thomas à Becket
Thomas à Becket, a Saxon of common birth whose love of luxury and desire to elevate himself from his despised origins lead him into a friendship with King Henry, with whom he helps pass the time drinking and wenching. Henry appoints him chancellor of England and then Archbishop of Canterbury. In doing so, he precipitates Becket’s transformation from a servant of the crown to a servant of God, putting him on a collision course with the authority of the monarch. Becket regains his honor and atones for having cheated his way into the ranks of the conquerors of his people through his martyrdom.
Gilbert Folliot, the bishop of London, “a thin-lipped, venomous man” who is led more by his antipathies than by his principles. Loyalty to the church proves less durable than his hatred of Becket. He is not without courage, although predisposed to believing that the interests of church and state are one, making it easy for him to become an agent for the condemnation of Becket.
Gwendolen, Becket’s young Welsh mistress. He acquires her as a spoil of war, but she...
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