Mai Yamani

Shameless pimping

Quite possibly my very favorite single piece of literature is a play by a French playwright named Jean Anouilh, first produced in 1959, called Becket, or the Honor of God. It was made into a movie in 1964 starring Richard Burton as Thomas Becket and Peter O'Toole as King Henry II. The play, incidentally, is rather readily acquired used. The film, much to my frustration, has not yet been released on DVD, although a certain outfit called MPI Home Video (no connection with everyone's favorite pureblood P.I.) strings me along with probably-empty promises about it. The VHS can be rented from fine institutions such as my home public library, if you have one of those quaint VCRs that used to be all the rage.

In either media, I can scarcely recommend it enough. Actually, if you do read or watch it, you will have learnt with such astonishing precision what sounds my reader's pleasure centers that we frequently call "kinks" that we will be oddly intimate. (Erm, don't let that scare you off, though, please.)

It is, of course, the story of Thomas à Becket and King Henry II. Like Anouilh's earlier play, Antigone, which was what introduced me to his work when I was a sophomore in high school, it deals thematically with the problem of collaboration and resistance Anouilh experienced in the context of Vichy France, although Becket is a more complex and mature work. I do feel obligated, as Anouilh does in his introduction, to point out that this thematic material is predicated upon historical inaccuracy, and furthermore that I do not care in the slightest:
Altogether shamefaced at the idea of having written a historical play, I gave it to a historian friend of mine to read and he roared with laughter, saying: "Are you unaware that history, like everything else on earth, makes progress? In Augustin Thierry's time one could believe that Becket was of Saxon origin; but for over fifty years we have had proof that he was a good Norman. He was from the vicinity of Rouen and was in fact called Bequet."

A large part of the subject of my play was based on the fact that Becket was of the vanquished race. A serious man at this point would have torn out his hair; then he would have rewritten his play on a more exact historical basis.

I decided that if history in the next fifty years should go on making progress it will perhaps rediscover that Becket was indubitably of Saxon origin; in any case, for this drama of friendship between two men, between the king and his friend, his companion in pleasure and in work (and this is what had gripped me about the story), this friend whom he could not cease to love though he because his worst enemy the night he was named archbishop--for this drama it was a thousand times better that Becket remained a Saxon.

I changed nothing; I had the play performed three months later in Paris. It had a great success and I noticed that no one except my historian friend was aware of the progress of history.

Anouilh's work appeals to me because it embodies the tentative peace made between great idealism and profound skepticism, both of which are my constant companions. I love the wit and the charm and the seriousness all bound together.

It doesn't actually hurt that this play is the slashiest slashy thing that ever slashed, either.

Seriously, in retrospect, my whole childhood makes sense now. When I was fourteen I didn't know the word "homoeroticism", but I knew that Henry and Thomas were hot.

I have, incidentally, written fic, although really it's a bit redundant, considering how completely their relationship is treated in the play. A wee bunny came to me when I reread the play just now, and I think I'll look it over a bit and post it. You could also read it as straight-up historical slash, but the characterization and themes are straight out of Anouilh.

So, to summarize this long boring post--read Becket.

EDIT: Posted.
  • Current Mood: contemplative contemplative
I read Anouilh's "Antigone" many years ago when I was still in school. As I enjoyed this play a lot, I also read "Becket" - and, yup, you're perfectly right about the homoeroticism.

But, you know, I've realized that many books I read when I was young had homoerotic themes. I wouldn't have called them that, at this point, of course. But I always saw hot men in passionate relationships together. :-))) Somewhere, in my DNA there lurks the "slasher's gene".