The Falcon and the Dove Analysis
by Alfred Duggan

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The Falcon and the Dove Analysis

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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Although The Falcon and the Dove was written as a straightforward biography, Duggan was also attempting to make the medieval world, particularly twelfth century England, both interesting and comprehensible to modern young people. He accomplishes this task by balancing action and historical exposition.

The life of Becket is presented as a personal drama. He is drawn as a hero, one who is hardworking, brilliant, and loyal. He has the courage, temperament, and talents of a great warrior. These qualities enable Becket to rise above a humble background to the pinnacle of power and success, yet they also drive him to battle against what he sees as injustice. Ultimately, he accepts death courageously, unarmed against the treacherous knights who attack him, rather than compromise his principles. Duggan has even paced the book dramatically, detailing Becket’s rise and his conflict with his king and former friend in a series of separate incidents that lead, inexorably, toward the climactic murder.

The archbishop even resembles the heroes of classical Greek tragedy because he has a great flaw: his inordinate pride. The son of a middle-class businessman, Becket revels in his success, showing off the wealth that his positions have brought him by spending lavishly. Although the reader is often led to sympathize with the archbishop, Duggan also reveals that Becket had a lifelong inability to understand the effects of his actions upon others; he had no skill in public relations, and he was so stubborn in his views that he could not compromise even a little. Thus, he alienated many who might have helped to resolve his conflict with the king peacefully.

Though Henry II is Becket’s main antagonist, he is not presented as a villain. Some fourteen years younger than Becket, Henry was headstrong and had a horrible temper, but he was, like Becket, courageous and dedicated to what he believed was right. Both Becket and Henry are shown as great individuals, and their fight was a historical conflict over a great issue. Yet both Becket and Henry are presented as real, and often likable, people. Duggan’s portrait of their friendship, while Becket was Henry’s chancellor, is filled with humorous anecdotes. Together, they resemble mischievous teenagers, sneaking into London after curfew and tussling on the ground over which one would give his cloak to a pauper. The book describes how, at one point, Becket is hard at work over a pile of papers, but a bored Henry cannot resist having fun with his chancellor: He rides a great stallion into Becket’s office and onto the worktable in order to collect his friend for a day of hunting. The charming portrayal of these two companions makes their break and ensuing struggle all the more dramatic.

The personal and dramatic aspects of this battle would be meaningless, however, if the issues and stakes involved were unclear. Fundamentally, the archbishop and the king were fighting over the right of the Church to remain independent of the Crown, but this conflict involved many specific questions. Clarifying them requires background information, but Duggan avoids transforming his drama into a textbook by inserting short informative passages whenever a natural break in the action occurs. Just enough material is given to allow the reader to understand the elements of the actions that follow without slowing the book’s pace.

For example, one element of the controversy was the question of jurisdiction in the case of crimes committed by members of the clergy. The previous custom was that they should be tried by an ecclesiastical court, but Henry demanded that the trial occur in one of the king’s courts. Henry raised this question as one of several proposals announced at a great council of his nobles held in 1164. Duggan recognizes that the issue may be incomprehensible to modern readers unfamiliar with the powers of the medieval Church. Thus, he interrupts the narrative at the point of Henry’s announcement to offer a concise explanation of medieval courts (both ecclesiastical and royal), their powers, and how they worked. This passage makes it possible for the reader to understand why Henry’s new policy was an important innovation, as well as why Becket reacted to it with such hostility. By balancing dramatic action and events with these explanatory sections, Duggan enables the reader to both comprehend and participate vicariously in the tale of two powerful personalities locked in a historic struggle for power and principles.