Bolt's play deals with a universal dilemma, one still quite relevant in today's world: the problem of standing by one's convictions when the consequences for doing so are dire. Thomas More is asked to endorse the king's divorce of his wife, Katherine of Aragon. More finds himself under immense pressure to do this, because his approval would help guarantee popular acceptance of the move. More, after all, is known as a devout Catholic, and his word carries weight. He is also under pressure because he is a good friend of Henry VIII, and he values the friendship with this powerful and very human figure. However, his conscience tells him the divorce is wrong. The pope also has not approved the divorce, and More, in good conscience, doesn't feel he can speak out against the head of the church.
Pressures increase when More is arrested, imprisoned, and threatened with death if he does not stand by the king. Nevertheless, he refuses to do so. As the More character puts it in the play,
If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly.
As the play's title, A Man for All Seasons, suggests, More's dilemma is one common in "all seasons" or all times. The allure of power, status, and insider status is a constant temptation to people everywhere to do what they need to do to get along, even if they know, on some level, they are doing the wrong thing. Corruption occurs not because people are inherently evil, but because they are offered rewards to do things that may not seem so bad, or that can they can rationalize away as acceptable. People also say and do things they know are wrong because they are threatened with death or suffering. More becomes an example for all times because he resists both the temptation and the pressure to violate his conscience.