Essay Concerning King Henry's Paradoxical Feelings Toward Thomas Becket
In the movie Becket, King Henry's attitude toward, and relationship with, Thomas Becket is portrayed as changing drastically and rapidly from one of unadulterated love, to one of complete malice and hatred, and finally to one of regret. However, due to the complexities of their relationship, Henry often finds these feelings of love and hate overlapping in such a way that both confuses and torments him.
King Henry himself is a selfish brat in the body of a king, influenced greatly by the prejudices of the time and a spoiled, royal upbringing. He is intelligent, but doesn't bother to think about things that do not interest or concern him in any great way. In this sense, Henry is nearly a polar opposite of Becket, a constant thinker and inner philosopher who utters such wisdoms as "You always hate that which you wrong" and "Honor is a concern of the living. One cannot very well be concerned with it once one's dead."
Oddly enough, though the two are not spiritually in sync, they still manage to enjoy the same pastimes (ex. drinking, wenching, being smart-asses to the clergy). And while they enjoy these pastimes in a relatively mindless stupor of happiness and goodwill, there is very little of a deeper relationship within their friendship. Certainly Becket spends considerable time waxing philosophically (mostly for benefit of the viewing audience), but Henry often manages to blow away his comments with an offhand witticism and cry of "I am the king!" Henry's love is childish. He feels friendship toward Becket and expects that feeling to be automatically reciprocated. He has moved Becket up in status, due to the fact that he both likes and respects him as a man, but also expects Becket to be in constant agreement with him as a lapdog of royalty. Of course Becket is free to have his own opinions, so long as those opinions do not affect Henry's supremacy as King of England.
As Henry moves Becket further and further up the social and political ladder of power, he begins to pick at a dangerous metaphorical scab. For Becket finds his honor within the church, and not within his role as King Henry's best friend. Upon being made Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry himself, he begins to explore his own convictions within the religion he must now uphold constantly and his ever-tumultuous friendship with Henry.
Henry's only motive for putting Becket into that position of power was, of course, to have an influential friend within the system who would not argue with what he wanted to do. He fully did not expect Becket to take his new job so seriously and is in for a fully nasty shock when the issue of trial by clergy divides the two. Henry's childish view of love and friendship comes into play as he stomps around his palace with anger. He takes the attitude of "If you were really my friend, you would agree with me!" Also, like a lover who is jealous of his mate's suspicious acquaintances, he feels that the church has stolen Becket's friendship and attention from him. Because the two do not agree and because Becket no longer sees any reason to lick Henry's boots and call him a friend, Henry exhibits his truly jejune fury by expressing hatred and plots for revenge. And, although Henry will admit that he loathes Becket and will not hesitate to criticize or insult him, he will allow no one else to do the same because, ultimately, he still feels the love of the friendship they'd shared earlier in their lives.
Although Henry quite plainly states his hatred for Becket, it is obvious that it is not hatred he feels, but rejection. As a king he is not used to rejection and words like 'no' are fully unfamiliar. To hide his pain and embarrassment at being refused, Henry channels his emotions within a narrow tube of immature dislike and one-sided ire. He may feel hatred, but his hatred is for Becket's actions only; it is doubtful that he would take actual pleasure in seeing Becket killed or injured in any way. What would make him happiest would be to see Becket humiliated or stripped of his title, the way Henry feels about being denied Becket's friendship. Moreover, what would please Henry most is to go back in time, or to be able to put things back the way they were before he gave Becket the title of Archbishop of Canterbury. He wants his old friend Thomas, the Thomas he knew before anything went wrong. He wants his lapdog, his friend, his companion, and it has become an obsession.
After Becket's death, Henry's feelings become primarily those of profound regret. He still expresses bitter resentment over Becket's dissention from his ranks, however recognizes that the two had their share of good times. He recognizes the love the two had shared within their friendship while also recognizing that the two did not agree on many things on many levels. But his primary feelings are those of regret, regret that Becket was killed and regret that their good times did not go on forever.
In conclusion, King Henry's feelings are expressed as not being so much paradoxical, per se, but multi-layered. Beneath all else there is his all-encompassing love for Becket and his views, intelligence, friendship, and idiosyncrasies. But on top of that is the psychological quirk of egocentric rage. It is a thin layer, but it is also completely opaque and blinding, completely blocking the view of Henry's true feelings.
In the end, however, it is not difficult to see that Henry loves Thomas Becket with love that is nearly stronger than simple camaraderie. It is, therefore, a pity that Henry himself could not see it.