Pragmatism Vs Idealism A Man For All

Pragmatism Vs. Idealism (A Man For All Seasons) Essay, Research Paper

Morality is often overpowered by materialistic pursuits. In A Man for All Seasons ,Robert Bolt shows the corruption of those who put self interest above all other values. His use of such characters as Thomas Cromwell, Richard Rich, Chapuys and Wolsey help convey this

corruption. There is yet another character who is a pragmatist that Bolt successfully represents. Thomas More is an idealist as well as a pragmatist, for he is prepared to give up everything for his beliefs and takes all precautions possible to make his case watertight . It is through this pragmatism and idealism that Robert Bolt shows the corruption of the times.

Thomas More believed in his ideals to such an extent that he was prepared to sacrifice his life for them, if the need arrived. He was a firm believer in the separation of Church and State. When the King tried to start the reformation of England and the Church by a simple Act of Parliament called the Act of Supremacy, Thomas refused to sign it. He believed that the indictment of the King was grounded in an Act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to law

of God. The King in Parliament cannot bestow he Supremacy of the Church because it is a Spiritual Supremacy! And more to this the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and the Kings own Coronation Oath! (Bolt, p. 92) The marriage was yet another reason why More refused to sign the Act. He knew that if he signed it then he would accept the King as the Supreme Head of Church and thus give the King the power to dispense with the dispensation which to him was against his morals and religion. Of course the marriage was associated with other things -attack on the abbeys, the whole Reformation policy-to which More was violently opposed. When told by Norfolk that his parish attire is a disrespect to the King

and his office. More replies that the service of God is not a dishonor to any office (Bolt, p.26) Even though he loves the King to death as proved by Mores loyalty towards him, he values his

morality and religion more. For his conscience is a little area where I must rule myself (Bolt,p.34). His position is perfectly described in his belief that when statesmen forsake their own

private conscience for the sake of their public duties… they lead their country by a short route to chaos. His idealism is clearly shown in his refusal to take the oath for the oath to him was an

invitation to God to act as a witness as well as a judge and the consequence of a perjury was damnation. He is a man who is anchored to his principles (Bolt, p.36). The issue is not about what other people see his beliefs as but not that I believe it, but that I believe it… (Bolt, p.53). He needs to be true to his conscience and cannot let other people interfere with these decisions, for when he faces his creator it is he alone who will answer Him. In matters of conscience, the loyal subject is more bounded to be loyal to his conscience than to any other thing (Bolt, p.89) Even towards his tragic end he is so sure of his righteousness that he advises the headsman to be not afraid of your office. You send me to God. He will not refuse one who is to blithe to go to him (Bolt, p.94) Thus, it becomes clear that Thomas alone possess the moral squint that no other character possesses in the play.

Thomas More is a pragmatist with a lawyers mind and a loyal heart. He was able to foresee the future and knew exactly what could be used against him later on. When Thomas More realized that the silver goblet that he received from the woman was a bribe he immediately got rid of it. He gave it to Rich, for he knew the type of person Rich was, and gave the woman an impeccably correct judgment. Not surprisingly, the goblet was later used against him but due to More s actions, it held little substance. More s trust in the law was his trust in society; his desperate sheltering beneath the forms of the law was his determination to remain in the shelter

of society. To him the law was a forest in which he could hide and never be found; it was a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely (Bolt, p. 89) Thus, with this belief More took every action to not to trap himself but rather be protected by the law. He avoided all events that may be misinterpreted as treason. When Signor Chapuys came to More to inform him that the people in Yorkshire were ready for resistance by force of arms,

More deliberately misinterpreted it as Metaphorical arms. The breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation. (Bolt, p. 51) He is able to see right through people and he knows he has

spies in the house such as the steward looking for some evidence against him and thus he protects himself quit cleverly. Also, as soon as Norfolk arrives, More warns him of the rising in

Yorkshire, thus proving his loyalty to the King and protecting himself. On Chapuys second arrival, he offers More a letter from the King of Spain, he doesn t lay a finger on it, for then he

will be allying with the enemy. He further goes on to show it to Alice and everyone else that the seal has not been broken, thus showing that he has not read the letter. Even in the case of the

Maid of Kent, More writes to her advising her to abstain from meddling with the affairs of Princes and the State (Bolt, p. 67). As a precaution, More gets it notarized and thus it is evidence in favor of him, not against him. Other then refusing every possible way of being disloyal, More uses silence as his main strategy. He was a man with a firm sense of his own self. He knew where he began and left off, what area of himself he could reveal to the encroachments of his enemies, and what to the encroachments of those he loved. He refuses to talk to anyone or declare his position on the Kings divorce. He knows that anything he says canbe used against him as treason and thus repeatedly says that he will answer to the King alone. The corruption of the times is evident when, after failing to find anything on More, Cromwell decides to put something in the cupboard (Bolt, p. 69). The laws that More hid behind are

now twisted in such a way that he is charged with ingratitude and sentenced to death and it is

this single event that Thomas More fails to foresee.

Richard Rich, Thomas Cromwell, Chapuys, and Wolsey are other pragmatist who use

their foresight of the future for personal power and advancement. Richard Rich is a very sneaky

and ambitious man. He wants to be popular for when he is offered the teachers job he comments

who would know it? (Bolt, p.6) It is evident that Richard is capable of bribery when he says

But every man has his price (Bolt, p. 4) Later on during the play, due to his hunger for fame

and money, he sells out to Cromwell and lies about More under oath. Richard climbs on other

people to get to where he wants to be. Every step that Richard goes up, Thomas goes a step

down. At the end, Richard gets what he wants. He wanted a gown like Thomas and now he has

it, symbolically meaning his status and position. Cromwell is another scavenger who is a

pragmatist. He knows exactly how to get what he wants. He is like the Kings ears, very cruel

and dangerous. He is a man for whom the ends justify the means and thus he feels no regret in

having More destroyed. He knows that in dark corners can lie ears waiting to hear, thus he is

very careful in planning his conspiracy. In the trial, Cromwell rewards Rich for lying about the

More and sends away the only two people that would be able to save the More. Chapuys is a

mirror image of Cromwell. Just like Cromwell is King Henry s ears, Chapuys is those of the

King of Spain. He hunts around for information by paying the steward and tries his best to get

More on his side, so later he himself may be rewarded. Last but not least, Wolsey is another

pragmatist who is a self serving man. Even though he is a churchman he has no moral

conscience. He wants to be the pope only for the materialistic rather than spiritual reasons. He

is supposed to be a holy man yet he speaks vulgarity. When talking about Queen Catherine he

calls her as barren as a brick and when addressing Anne he refers to her as a fertile thing

(Bolt, p. 12) He even sacrifices his conscience for the sake of loyalty to the King and says that

good statesmen shouldn t possess that horrible moral squint (Bolt, p. 11) and thus, through this

it is evident that Wolsey is morally corrupt. Thus, Richard Rich, Thomas Cromwell, Chapuys,

and Wolsey are like jackals who follow the King because he is their lion, and so they could

pick up the left over pieces from him.

The Common Man is the supreme pragmatist throughout the play. He functions as a one

man Greek chorus who is an outside observer as well as a commentator. As the steward, the

common man spies on his master for the sake of money. He is a pragmatist for he only tells

them things that are common knowledge! But now they ve given money for it and everyone

wants value for his money . When he realizes that his position may be in trouble he will go

deaf,, blind, and dumb . This shows his realism for he knows exactly what he wants, as well as,

his limitations and parameters. He will not leak any information that may get him into trouble.

The steward can also see through people. When introducing characters he comments on them.

Lady Margaret, my master s daughter; lovely, really lovely (Bolt, p. 7) He also comments that

Richard Rich is not a righteous person. Thus, he is able to see through people into their deeper

characters and can foreshadow later events. When Thomas More says that he will miss the

steward, Matthew is able to look through More and realize that it is a lie for he says what s in

me for him to miss (Bolt, p.56) and thus looks out for himself when he refuses a salary cut. Yet

another example of the common mans realism is his refusal to serve the More anymore. Before,

the boatsman used to give More rides on his boat, but as soon as the King ordered that More not

be served, the boatsman stopped answering to Thomas calls. Even as a jailer, the common man

is able to look into the future and thus save himself from destruction. When he is told that if he

reports any statements made by More, he will be given 50 guineas he is tempted. But later, he

realizes that Fifty guineas isn t tempting; fifty guineas is alarming. If he d left it as swearing…

but fifty- that s serious money. If its worth that much now its worth my neck presently. I want

no part of it. They can sort it out between them. I feel my deafness coming on. (Bolt, pp.

78-79) Here the common man s pragmatism is clearly shown because as soon as he realizes that

he may be putting himself in danger he becomes deaf, blind and dumb , for he says I am a

plain and simple man who just wants to keep out of trouble. (Bolt, p.85) Even as a steward he

sees the future, My master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. Some say that s good

and some say that s bad, but I say he can t help it-and that s bad…because someday someone s

going to ask him for something that he wants to keep; and he ll be out of practice . (Bolt, p.10)

Here he sees how More will be asked to sacrifice his conscience for loyalty to the King and he

wont able to do that and as a result, be terminated. When the common man transforms into the

publican, he only emphasizes his pragmatism. He realizes that anything he says may be used

against him, so he only answers to Cromwell by saying I don t understand, sir. (Bolt, p.40)

The common man would rather be a live rat, than a dead lion. (Bolt, p.73) He is a

representative of us, the people. If we should bump into one another, recognize me. (Bolt,


In conclusion, with the exception of Thomas More, moral corruption is evident

throughout the play. Robert Bolt uses the characters of Richard Rich, Thomas Cromwell,

Chapuys, and Wolsey to portray how corruption comes to those who put self interest above all

values. He uses pragmatism and idealism to show how each character achieves his goals, and

how even though More took all precautions possible, he wasn t able to escape the corruption of

society. He presents Thomas More s idealism as the only admirable quality in that class of

society, for at that time the upper class were extremely corrupt. It is through this idealism that

Thomas more becomes hero and a saint.


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