Define 'epiphany' and explain why it's a personal experience. Could Thomas effectively convey his epiphany to Henry in the context of perceived betrayal?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Part of the reason Becket's characterization is so appealing is that he shows the pliable and fluid nature of human identity.  Unlike Henry, Becket shows that a necessary part of human identity is change. This metamorphosis is how Becket sees his own life, and is a world view that Henry does not change.  When confronted with how Becket's notion of self has transformed his view of the world, Henry strikes with venom in his tone:

Yet I know you well enough, God knows. Ten years we spent together, little Saxon! At the hunt, at the whorehouse, at war; carousing all night long the two of us; in the same girl's bed, sometimes . . . and at work in the Council Chamber too. Absurdly. That word isn't like you.

Henry believes that Becket will always be the "little Saxon" who accompanied him during their hedonistic ways.  It is for this reason that he sees Becket as being guilty of betrayal.  He sees it as betrayal because he believes that human beings are more plastic, and less likely to change.  When Becket responds that he is a changed man, it reflects how further along the path of spiritual growth he is from Henry:

I felt for the first time that I was being entrusted with something, that's all—there in that empty cathedral, somewhere in France, that day when you ordered me to take up this burden. I was a man without honor. And suddenly I found it—one I never imagined would ever become mine—the honor of God. A frail, incomprehensible honor, vulnerable as a boy‑King fleeing from danger.

The critical element in Becket's own sense of metamorphosis lies in "suddenly I found it."  For Becket, being able to find this voice and sense of identity is what makes him divergent from Henry's view of being in the world.  It is a statement in which Becket acknowledges that Henry will never change.  Henry will not change from his world view and Becket cannot change from his.  The collision between equally desirable, but ultimately incompatible notions of the good is where both men lie.  This sense of resolve in how both men perceive the certainty within their actions is where betrayal is perceived and resolve impossible.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An epiphany is a change in understanding, a raising in perspective, especially one that alters one's relationship with one's beliefs or worldview. Thomas Beckett's epiphany involved his belief in "the honor of God" as opposed to obedience to earthly powers such as the kingship or even the laws of the Holy Roman Church.  This new perspective interferes with and complicates the personal friendship between Beckett and Henry, a sharing of hedonistic experiences, which replaced real spiritual connection and loyalty to earthly forces.  Henry, who had no such epiphany, reads Beckett's "metamorphosis" (literally "a change in physical form") as a betrayal of that friendship, to say nothing of their underlying conflict of church powers vs. state powers, made visible by the site of Beckett's death, the cathedral. No "explanation" by Beckett of his epiphany could bring Henry to his new worldview.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial