A Man for All Seasons Questions and Answers
by Robert Bolt

Start Your Free Trial

Please explain the significance of this quotation: "For Wales? Why Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world . . . but for Wales!"

Expert Answers info

Philip Arrington eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write1,356 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Business

The brilliant play A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt tells the story of the conflict between Sir Thomas More and King Henry VIII over Henry's proposed divorce of Catherine of Aragon so that he can marry Anne Boleyn. As a matter of principle, More refuses to condone the divorce and remarriage. The play presents More as a man of the utmost sincerity and integrity who will not compromise on matters of conscience.

In contrast, the character of Richard Rich is concerned only with the acquisition of wealth and position. He has no desire to be a teacher, as More suggests, but instead is willing to do anything to increase his stature among the powerful. More attempts to convince Rich to maintain his integrity, but Rich doesn't listen. He eventually betrays More to his own advantage.

The quotation in the question is taken from chapter 16, verse 26 of the book of Matthew in the New Testament of the Bible. In it, Jesus says, "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" A similar quote is found in Mark 8:36. Since Wales, which is a small part of the British Isles, came up in discussion, More is pointing out to Rich that since a person's soul is worth more than the whole world, certainly it isn't worth it to compromise principles for something as insignificant as Wales. It is another attempt on More's part to convince Rich to maintain his honesty and integrity, but it fails.

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

wordprof eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2011

write1,654 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

In the struggle between Sir Thomas More and Henry VIII, More quotes the Bible passage (Mark 8:36)  “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” as an admonition to Henry for his abandonment of the Roman Catholic Church in order to get a divorce (which would then allow Henry to marry and thereby get Wales under his power.)  More’s quotation is to show how it is a mistake; he compares the primitive, barely worthy Wales (not worth losing his soul) to the “whole world” in an ironic chastisement to Henry (actually addressed to Richard Rich, a court lackey who is trying to get in Henry's favor by taking his side.)

check Approved by eNotes Editorial