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,
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