A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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What are the themes in A Man for All Seasons?

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A Man for All Seasons is the story of the integrity of Thomas More, who stood up for his beliefs against a King, at the cost of his life.  This theme can be broken down into sub-themes, including individualism, ethics, and law, which are described in detail at the link below.

King Henry VIII wants More to support his efforts to secure an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.  More believes that this would be a defilement of the Holy Sacrament of Marriage.  Standing firm by his individual beliefs, More refuses to submit to the King's demands.

A staunch Catholic, More derives his ethics from the doctrine that God has supremacy over earthly powers, and that the Pope is His emissary on earth.  When the King marries Anne Boleyn even though the Pope has denied his request for an annulment of his previous marriage, More, who holds the high government position of Lord Chancellor, follows his ethical conscience and will not give public approval to the King's actions.

Thomas More is, among other things, a brilliant lawyer, and the essence of his confrontation with Henry is whether papal law or English law takes precedence.  More's insistence on recognizing papal law, which represents God's law, as the highest authority leads to his beheading at the hands of the governement.

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What is "A Man for All Seasons" about?

"A Man for All Seasons" is a play by Robert Bolt. It depicts the relationship between King Henry VIII of England and his Chancellor, Sir Thomas More. When Henry decided to divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, he broke all ties with the pope and the Roman Catholic Church.

To secure Anne's place as his new queen, Henry ordered all members of his court and other nobility to take an oath on an Act of Succession, an order passed by Parliament that declared any children of Henry and Anne could succeed to the throne, but made it illegal for the child of Henry and Katherine to become queen. Being a devout Catholic, More refused to accept Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn as legitimate, and he refused to take the oath. He was charged with treason and sent to the Tower to await execution.

This is a brief summary of what the play is about. For more information, visit the links below.

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What are the themes presented in the book A Man For All Seasons?

There are multiple themes present in A Man for All Seasons including corruption, law and ethics. Corruption is observed by Richard Rich who  sells out his moral doctrine and his friend Thomas More for wealth and power. At first he is hesitant about offering his innocence for exchange with a position but at the end becomes dull and unconscious of his moral wrongdoings. Thomas More faces a dilemma between the King and the higher power of God. Despite Henry VIII's efforts to convert the entire country to Protestant, individuals like Thomas More decided that their religious belief trumped the order from the King and suffered the consequences of doing so.

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What is the thematic focus of A Man for All Seasons?

The thematic focus...

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of Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons is the nobility of what may seem to be a very ordinary, mundane virtue: obedience to the law. In A Man for All Seasons, abiding to the law is shown to be akin to self-sacrifice, courage, and even wisdom. There is nothing "ordinary" about it. Why? Because in the face of temptation, Thomas More is tempted to let the law slide to save his own skin. It would gain him his own life (and royal favor besides) and cost him only his own conscience, wherein lies his fidelity to God. More, as Bolt's protagonist, chooses to respect the rule of law at the cost of his own life. Movingly, he attests to the centrality of holding onto law even in the face of manifest evil. Perhaps the most memorable exchange on this topic (between More and his son-in-law, Roper) is as follows:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!More: Oh? 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 think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

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