Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
In his preface to the play, Bolt writes:More was a very orthodox 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.
When More is confronted with the prospect of taking an oath that he does not accept, the oath of obedience to the king, it becomes a matter of his being true to himself. Thus at its heart, A Man for All Seasons is a treatise on the length to which one will go to preserve one’s soul—the very core of one’s being. Bolt is apologetic for “treating Thomas More, a Christian saint, as a hero of selfhood.” After all, Bolt writes, “I am not a Catholic nor even in the meaningful sense of the word a Christian.”
One of the more compelling moments in the play occurs between More and his future son-in-law, Will Roper. Roper, during his devout “reformation” stage, responds to More’s statement of giving even the Devil benefit of law by remarking that he would “cut down every law in England to [get to the Devil].” More responds:And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really...
(The entire section is 373 words.)
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Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
A Man for All Seasons offers viewers and readers food for thought in three areas: political, moral, and psychological. The story of Thomas More’s diversions and evasions in dealing with Henry VIII and members of the king’s court over the issue of the king’s desire to divorce the queen who could not produce him a son may be read variously as an example of an individual citizen’s struggle to avoid the unreasonable demands of government; as the dilemma of a man torn between doing what he thinks is right for his country and what he believes he must do to salve his conscience and save his soul; and as the search to find and preserve a sense of self amid the conflicting demands that are placed on individuals by the roles they must play in life (father, husband, worker, friend).
On the political level, Robert Bolt has managed to infuse with timeless significance the story of a man who died four centuries before this play was written. Thomas More wants little to do with the Machiavellian scheming of the king and his ministers; he only wants to be left alone to care for his family, to read and write in peace. Especially in the opening scenes of the drama, More seems content to let the king do as he wishes as long as More is not required to give his direct endorsement. The effort fails because the king cannot settle for More’s passive acquiescence; he must have his active support. Bolt shows the impossibility of escape for the man respected by...
(The entire section is 589 words.)
The historical More acted out of religious belief as well as integrity, and he became a saint for his forbearance. For Sir Thomas More, God—not a political sovereign self-appointed to head the Church—had jurisdiction over a human's soul, and More felt compelled to honor God's rule over an earthly king's command. Robert Bolt modernizes More's beliefs however. Robert Bolt's Thomas More tells his daughter that for a man to take an oath is to hold "his own self in his own hands," a sentiment more aligned with the individualism of the modern period, when Bolt wrote the play. Bolt's More equates the soul with the self, saying "a man's soul is his self," a statement that would have been as unfamiliar to the historical More as to any of his sixteenth-century contemporaries. It is essentially a modernist concept that the soul belongs not to God but to the individual and that the individual has a right (even an obligation) to express himself as an individual. Seeds of individualism certainly existed in More's time in the form of Humanism, a philosophy that emphasized the human element of life over the divine. Renaissance Humanists (led, in fact, by More and his Dutch friend Erasmus) looked to classical Greek and Roman thought and literature for models and urged humankind to embrace greater social responsibility. More and other Renaissance philosophers fused classical culture to Christian religious belief in order to improve human life...
(The entire section is 1282 words.)