A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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In Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons, what kinds of personality traits does Sir Thomas More exhibit?

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The title of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons comes from a description of Sir Thomas More by one of his contemporaries, Robert Whittington (see link below):

"More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons."

The fact that Bolt used this passage as the source of his title suggests that he agreed with Whittington’s assessment of More. Whittington’s comments suggest that More possessed the following traits of personality and character:

* “an angel’s wit and singular learning” (in other words, great native intelligence and an impressive education).  At the very beginning of the play, More immediately intuits that Rich has been reading Machiavelli.  This intuition – which turns out to be correct – implies both his intelligent insight and his own educated familiarity with Machiavelli’s writings. Later, More encourages Richard Rich to be a teacher rather than a courtier – advice that suggests how much he values education.  As he says to Rich,

Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one.

More also encourages Rich to return to Cambridge University – another indication of More’s respect for learning.

* “gentleness.” One example of this trait appears almost as soon as More begins speaking. Thus, the stage directions note that he speaks to Richard Rich “With gentle impatience” [emphasis added] In disagreeing with Rich, More does it gently, not by openly rebuking the young man but by reasoning with him as a father might reason with his son.

* “lowliness” (that is, humility). The opening pages of the play make it clear that although More has been offered bribes and power, he has rejected such temptations because he is not motivated by pride or greed.

* “affability" (that is, friendliness and a pleasant disposition). One example of this trait appears almost as soon as the play begins, when More blesses his servant. Another example occurs a bit later when he invites Richard Rich to think of him as a friend.

* “marvelous mirth” (that is, great good humor). This trait is evident, for instance, in the following exchange between More and Cardinal Wolsey:

WOLSEY The King wants a son; what are you going to do about it?

MORE (Dry murmur) I'm very sure the King needs no advice from me on what to do about it.

* “sad gravity” (that is, great seriousness), as when, near the end of the play, he refuses on serious moral and spiritual grounds to take the oath.

In addition to displaying these traits, More displays many others, including the following:

* genuine faith in God, as when he prays for good rest with his wife and daughter.

* genuine concern for his king, as when he prays to God to “bless our Lord the King.”

* a strong commitment to his own conscience, as when he tells Cardinal Wolsey,

 I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . . they lead their country by a short route to chaos.

* devotion to ethical behavior, as when Cardinal Wolsey jokingly accuses him of having a “horrible moral squint.”

More displays many more personality traits, most of them quite admirable.  These are just a few that are emphasized almost as soon as the play begins.

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