, Research Paper
In the play A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt the audience learns about the extraordinary life of Sir Thomas More. Sir Thomas is faced with a moral dilemma that will determine the outcome of his life. More, chancellor of England , and a strong Christian believer is forced to choose between his close friend, King Henry VIII, and the supreme lord his God. More is a man of moral integrity because he refuses to submit to external pressures to sign the oath condoning the Act of Supremacy. He follows his heart and soul in doing what he believes to be right no matter what the consequence.
More is told by King Henry VIII to sign the Act of Supremacy. The Act gives Henry VIII full authority over the Catholic Church and thus further distancing England from Rome, since the Pope would no longer be the head of the Church.
More has many objections to and reasons for not signing the oath. More believes that if he does what he is called to do rather than what he believes to be morally right then he will have made the wrong decision and in the end will have no positive effect. This is evident when More says ” I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”(Bolt, p 22).
Despite what many may think, More would rather not get involved or influence the life of the king concerning the divorce. To most people signing the oath is a minor thing. It is something that should be done to appease the King , despite personal beliefs. However, for More his decision to sign the oath must be based on his beliefs. If he were to sign the oath he would lose all self respect. The audience learns this when he says ” I neither could nor would rule my King. But there’s a little…little, area…where I must rule myself. It’s very little-less to him than a tennis court.”(Bolt, p 59).
More is a man of principles and he will not compromise these principles. According to Sir Thomas if a man is prepared to take an oath then he must stand by that oath. However, in this case the signing of the oath would compromise these principles and therefore he can not sign. He displays this view when he says, ” When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water…” (Bolt, p 140) More goes on to explain that he can not doubt his soul. If he were to go against his moral conscience, in a sense he would be killing his soul, and without the soul there is nothing.
More’s conscience is extremely important to him. He could not live with himself if he were to go against his conscience. To sign the Act of Supremacy More must go against his conscience and that is something he can not do. This is easily understood when he says, ” It is not so, Master Cromwell- very and pure necessity for respect of my own soul.” (Bolt, p 153)
At one point, a long time friend of More, the Duke of Norfolk, tries to convince More to sign the oath. More responds to Norfolk by saying, ” And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?” (Bolt, p 132). What More means by this is that he must do what he thinks is right because in the end God is his judge and he will face the ultimate consequences.
More never gives in to pressures. He does not sign the oath, and right up to his execution he believes he is doing the right thing. His final words perfectly sum up his reasons for not signing. He says to his executioner ” friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God.” (Bolt, p 162) Ultimately this means that he has made the right decision and is now going to a better place.
If someone feels so strongly about something and sincerely believes in their heart that it is right, such as More did, then the right decision is an easy one. Sir Thomas More thought about it and knew what he had to do. He would make no mistake about it. If his morals and principles are so strong then he made the right decision. Hopefully there will be more people like Sir Thomas More, people who will not compromise their values to appease someone else, people who will do what they believe to be right for the good of themselves and society.