A Man For All Seasons,By Robert Bolt (St. Thomas More) Essay, Research Paper
In Robert Bolt’s Play, A Man For All Seasons, we are presented with a historical character of inexorable integrity, Sir Thomas More. More is drawn unwillingly into a situation where he must choose between expediency or his principles. More’s decision is consistant through out the entirety of the play as he remains intensely loyal to his conscience and is unable to abandon his religious beliefs, even if it ultimately means his own tragic demise. The entreaties of many are to no avail as More proves to be steadfast.
In the second scene of the play we see More meeting with Cardinal Wolsey. More’s character is exemplified as Wolsey ask’s More’s opinion about a certain letter that is to be sent to the Pope regarding the validity of the King’s marriage to Catherine. More compliments Wolsey on his phrasing and avoids the content of the dispatch directly, except to say that he feels the council should be informed before it goes to Italy, this response sparks Wolsey
Would you tell the council? Yes, I believe you would. You’re
a constant regret to me, Thomas. If you could just see facts
flat on, without that moral squint; with just a little common
sense, you could have been a statesman. (Bolt 10)
More’s non-committal response to Wolsey’s question is also characteristic of
his desire to be silent for the remainder of the play and, despite Wolsey’s
continuing plea that he should ignore his “own, private, conscience” (Bolt 12)
for state reasons, More is unable to approve of the King’s divorce.
As More and King Henry talk during the King’s visit to Chelsea in scene
six, More is once again pressured on the matter of the Henry’s divorce, now by
Henry himself. More states to Henry that he sees his own opinion so cleary
that he would choose “not to think of it at all” (Bolt 31). Henry is obviously
disturbed by this and upset with More when he responds: “Great God, Thomas, why do you hold out against me in the desire of my heart – the very wick of my heart?” (Bolt 31). More expresses to Henry that he wishes he could, in good conscience, agree with him and reminds Henry of the promise to not pressure for his support: “When I took the Great Seal your Majesty promised not to pursue me on this matter.” (Bolt 31). This conversation with Henry clearly illustrates More’s views on the subject and his disagreement with Henry’s argument. It is apparent More wishes to be uninvolved in the issue.
As we come to the second act More has decided to give up his Lord Chancellorship, which was due solely to the submission of the bishops in Convocation. More defends his decision to Norfolk by saying that the
submission “isn’t ‘Reformation’; [but] is war against the Church!…Our
King…has declared war on the Pope – because the Pope will not declare that
our Queen is not his wife.” (Bolt 52). He again remains constant in not
conveying his own opinion on this matter. More also states his belief that the
Pope is “the Vicar of God,…our only link with Christ.” (Bolt 53). More’s
resignation proves his willingness to risk everything for what he believes in.
Towards the end of this first scene in act two “More appears convinced that he
will not be molested, provided that they refrain from discussing the question of
the King’s Supremacy, and the matter of his divorce.” (Coles 28). More believes he will have safety in his silence.
As Cromwell questions More on “some ambiguities of behavior” (Bolt
67) he, in his own words, reiterates the King’s own offer from scene six, “If
you could come with me, you are the man I would soonest raise – yes, with my
own hand.” (Bolt 34), that if More “could bring [himself] to agree with the
Universities, the Bishops and the Parliament of this realm, there is no honour
which the King would be likely to deny you” (Bolt 67). More again shows his to sacrifice his religious beliefs, even for the greatest of personal gain.
In the remaining action of the play, More’s chastity remains untarnished
as his likely end nears. After sacrificing his friendship with Norfolk and
becoming a prisoner, More is then brought before the Seventh Commission and does not waiver on his refusal to swear to the Act of Succession. His reasoning is clear in scene seven as, in his discussion with Lady Margaret, he affirms his belief that an oath is a sacred promise to God and then states:
When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in
his own hands. Like water…and if he opens his fingers then – he
needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable
of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them. (Bolt 83)
Even after the pleading of his loving wife and daughter, More continued to remain strong up to the very moment of his execution.
Thomas More felt his loyalty to his religious beliefs and his conscience
defined his own sense of self. He believed “that without a certain something life was valueless. That certain something was a belief in ‘a power above ourselves’ – a belief in the scruples of conscience.” (Coles 10). More’s refusal
to deny his virtue is, in essence, what causes his inability to swear to the oath.
More was a very orthadox Catholic and for him an oath was
something perfectly specific. It was an invitation to God, an
invitation God would not refuse, to act as a witness, and to
judge; the consequence of perjury was damnation, for More
another perfectly specific concept. So for More the issue was
simple (though remembering the outcome it can hardly have
been easy). (Bolt xiii)
More did not choose martyrdom, but simply to remain true to his religious
beliefs, at any cost.
Bolt, Robert. A Man For All Seasons. Toronto: Irwin, 1963.
Coles Editorial Board, ed. A Man For All Seasons: Notes. Toronto: Coles, 1994.
Hodges, John C., et al. Harbrace College Handbook For Canadian Writers.
4th ed. Toronto: Harcourt, 1994.
Houghton Mifflin Co. The American Heritage Dictionary & Roget’s II: The New
Thesaurus. electronic ed. China: Seiko, 1993.