Is Pursuing Their Own Ends Essay, Research Paper
“Everyone in A Man For All Seasons is pursuing their own ends. What makes More different?”
Often, it is impossible to reach our goals without resorting to some sort of pragmatism. In A Man For All Seasons every character has their own ends to meet, and the only distinguishable feature between them is how they go about it. Some characters disregard all sense of morality as they plunge into a approach which primarily encompasses self-interest. In all, most of the characters in the play personify selfishness in one way or another. Of course there are some whose selfishness is more noticeable than others, however at some point they are all deficient in their consideration of others and live chiefly for personal profit. All, except for one. Sir Thomas More is a man who subconsciously is a slave to his conscience. He executes selfless acts in order to do what he knows is legal, and what he thinks is right. He is one of very few people who have died with their integrity intact. He is a special man, who is steadfast in upholding his principles, even when death breathes down his neck. Sir Thomas More truly is a paragon.
One character in the play particularly concerned with his goals, regardless of the path he must take to reach them is Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is the personification of pragmatism and is willing to do anything, providing the end sees him satisfied. “?our job as administrators is to make it as convenient as we can,” Cromwell states in reference to the King?s divorce and the pursuit of More?s support. He is “?the King?s ear,” and is thus responsible for all the menial tasks which the King would otherwise have to perform, including seeing to it that Sir Thomas More either agrees to give the King his support or is punished. One of these duties is to spy on others for the King?s benefit. One instance of this is on the night More goes to visit cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell ?magically? appears as More is on his way home. He asks of More, “You left him?in his laughing mood, I hope?” This was Cromwell?s method of establishing whether the divorce had been discussed between More and the Cardinal that evening. For if it was, there was no way the Cardinal could be in any sort of “?laughing mood.” One thing Cromwell fails to realise is that by doing his job for the King and arranging More?s death, he, “?plants my own.” In order to reach his goal of receiving flattery and credit for the King?s business he is scheming and brutal and boldly proclaims, “When the King wants something done, I do it.” He is completely amoral by the end of the play and is not seen to possess many human characteristics, especially that of empathy and sensitivity towards other human beings.
Another skill which Cromwell possesses is that of being able to easily sense the weaknesses of others. He can clearly see that More is facing a huge problem with the technicalities of the divorce. He knows that, “The trouble is, his innocence is tangled in the proposition that you can?t change your woman?.unless the Pope says so.” He continuously endeavours to find out how easily More can be manipulated, by manipulating Rich. Cromwell questions rich about the details of a court case More was once was involved in to confirm the allegation that More took a bribe.
In essence, the perpetrator of More?s downfall is the king himself. Not even More can understand why the king is so insistent on having More?s support with regard to his divorce from Queen Catherine. However, the King claims that it is because More is, “?known to be honest.” He is certain that More would not give his approval of the divorce and subsequent marriage unless he was sincere. The King deduces this from the fact that More stands out as the only supporter of the King with genuine reasons for doing so. Henry believes that, “There are those?who follow me because I wear the crown?and there is a mass that?follows anything that moves?- and there is you.” This statement alludes to More?s ?special? qualities which make him such a unique man.
Primarily, Henry does not possess an immoral or sadistic character, rather he is merely determined to get his way. In order to become autonomous, he will, “?brook no opposition?” and to monitor this he employs Cromwell as his spy who is responsible for gathering any information pertaining to the King. Cromwell is a loyal subject and knows exactly how and where to get all the information he needs. Cromwell is well aware that, “This ?silence? of his [More] is bellowing up and down Europe.” Cromwell can not stand the fact that there is any possibility that More is not frightened of what might become of him should he not support the marriage. Cromwell tells Rich that the King, “?wants either Sir Thomas More to bless his marriage or Sir Thomas More destroyed.” In many respects he too, like Cromwell, represents the idea of pragmatism. However his representation is on a different level to that of Cromwell. Henry clearly knows what he wants and is fully aware that he may unquestionably use any means to get there, simply because he is the King and the Supreme Head of the Church of England, an infallible combination.
Undoubtedly, the character in the play with the most defined goal is The Common Man. Although each role he assumes is different in nature, they all share common aspirations which Bolt indicates as, “?that which is common to us all.” They all share the willingness to be selfish in trying times merely to stay alive. They all put their needs before others? in an effort to remain disassociated with controversy. Unfortunately, The Common Man is a representation of exactly that, common, ordinary human beings like ourselves. Perhaps this is why we are quick to sympathise with The Common Man and feel an affinity for him. However, under all the comedy, “Old Adam” is selfish, deceiving and has a philosophy of self interest.
The selfish nature of The Common Man is best evidenced when in More?s hour of need, his steward Matthew deserts him because he is not satisfied with taking a cut in his salary, regardless of how good an employer More had been to him. For the duration of his employment, More always exhibited tolerance of Matthew?s actions, even when he sneaked a drink of More?s wine or gave out information to Cromwell and Chapuys. Therefore the final remark he makes, “You never had time for me, Sir,” is selfish, yet rather fitting considering his nature. As the jailer, The Common Man admits that, “I?d let him [More] out if I could, but I can?t.” The Common Man is not willing to take any risks to save a great man, for it may result in the endangering of his own life. Naturally this is a chance he is not about to take for he is far better as, “…a live rat than a dead lion.” Ironically, The Common Man recites these lines whilst twirling the keys to More?s cell on his wrist. This signifies that often great people?s opportunities are hindered by our selfish actions. It almost seems that we hold the key to their success or their downfall and the path which they follow is entirely dependent on our attitude towards them. In all, The Common Man is offered by Bolt for us to identify with. However accurate Bolt?s assertion may be, identifying with a character who deserts More when he falls, betrays him to informants, interrupts his farewell to his family, pronounces More guilty and finally executes him is rather uncomfortable.
The goals and means of reaching expediency of the other characters in A Man For All Seasons are all illustrated throughout, however they are not as prominent as those of Cromwell, Henry and The Common Man. There are characters like Chapuys, whose main aim is to spark a civil war which will ultimately cause the downfall of Henry VIII, and possibly England. This is because he is a Spaniard and is representing Catherine, his queen and Spain, his country. He supports More because one consequence of More?s “bellowing” silence is that, “?a signal would be seen.”
Alternatively, there are characters like Norfolk, who as More?s friend faces dilemma after dilemma in order to reach his goals. Norfolk wants More to take the King?s oath simply so they can retain their friendship. Norfolk wants More to follow the lead of others who have supported the King, “?for fellowship.” All Norfolk wants is to have the best of both worlds, which unfortunately for him is impossible. In spite of the way he is dismissive of More after he ends their friendship, Norfolk is undoubtedly loyal. He admits to More that, “?you?re dangerous to know,” yet he knows that More will, “?break his heart.” What Norfolk fails to realise is More has just saved his life for the time being by ending the friendship. Sadly, Norfolk fails to see the selflessness More has exhibited and simply continues to do his job on the investigative committee which is ultimately responsible for More?s death.
More too, is pursuing goals of his own. However, there are dramatic differences between his pursuit and the pursuit of others. More?s primary goal is to pursue good, in the true sense of the world. More wants justice and the word of God to govern England, however he still wishes to remain loyal to his King. He shamelessly admits to the King that he would be willing to lose his right arm if, “?by that means I can come with Your Grace with a clear conscience.” In order to do so as best as he can he must refrain from disclosing any information relating to state affairs to anyone. He knows that, “?silence is my safety under the law,” however this silence must be “absolute” and must not even be broken to his own flesh and blood. In doing so More acts in very selfless ways which are unfortunately misconstrued for acts of selfishness, especially by those nearest and dearest to him.
This assumed selfishness is insinuated by More without any intention of doing so. He knows that God and the law of the land must rule him, but he believes that, “?there?s a little?little, area?where I must rule myself.” This little area is no doubt, his soul. We can infer that he also means his identity, his self, the something we as humans should choose not to violate. More than any other decision More makes in A Man For All Seasons which could be interpreted badly, his resignation is most definitely the most ill received. Alice, More?s wife views his actions as sheer stupidity and selfishness. She asks More, “Is this wisdom- to betray your ability?forget your station and your duty to your kin??” She does not understand why More has stepped down, and it upsets him that under no circumstances can he tell her. She tells Roper earlier on that, “He?s not said one simple, direct word to me since this divorce came up.” More selflessly remains silent in order to protect both himself and his family, “?in the thickets of the law?” even though it pains him dearly to do so. If he does so he believes, “?no man in England is safer than myself.” Sadly, this affirmation was not enough to save him from his death.
There is no denying that More is a special man. There is no other character in the play who considers both the legal and moral ramifications of everything they say or do. More does both because he is true to his King, his religion and to his conscience. More knows that the law is his safety and he candidly tells Roper that in the “thickets” of the legal system he is “a forester.” More knows that if all the laws were to be “cut down,” even he would not be safe from the Devil himself. More can appreciate that Man?s law nor God?s law is enough to uphold society but if both coexist, then both moral and civil justice can be carried out.
Ultimately, More is a human being, just like Cromwell, Rich and The Common Man. He makes mistakes and he knows, “?I?m not God.” However what he does know is that he is not willing to compromise the one thing he is not willing to let go of- his integrity. He will not resort to Rich and Cromwell?s search for ?convenience” nor will he forgo his fundamental principles all for the sake of “fellowship.” For he tells Norfolk, “?when we stand before God?and I am damned for not doing according to mine [conscience], will you come with me, for fellowship?” For it is only a special man like More who can waive his life whilst selflessly saving the lives of others, all for the sake of his conscience.