What does More sacrifice in A Man for All Seasons? What values is he trying to stay true to?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bolt depicts More as a man who recognizes permanence in the face of contingency.  Bolt constructs More as one who possesses "an adamantine sense of self."  This aspect of his characterization enables him to surrender increasingly weightier goods as he remains loyal to his conscience, something inextricably linked to his notion of self.  This can be seen at different points in the drama.  When Norfolk seeks to pressure More to embrace political expediency and conformity, More speaks of a strong identity that is willing to forego acceptance from others as well as political title:  "And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?"  For More, "doing according to your conscience" is what defines his very essence.  It is in this notion that More is shown to be "A Man For All Seasons," as the validity of his conscience is what drives his actions.

More's sense of conscience is what allows him to reject external reality that might seek to tempt him into abdicating his identity.  Even when going against his conscience would benefit him, as seen in the case of Richard Rich, More remains true to what he sees as right.  Part of the reason that More is able to surrender increasingly weightier notions of the good is because he sees that acting in accordance to his conscience carries its own intrinsic value:

What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ... 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 is 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 – do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

More is shown to value his conscience so much that he would embrace it even when it does not directly benefit him.  More sees the value in intrinsic terms. More gives up increasingly weightier goods because his conscience is its own good.  In a world where More sees values shifting and senses that there is a lack of moral center or order, he sees his "upright conscience" as an intrinsic good.  He sees it as more important than "life itself."  It is for this reason that More's conscience is shown to be one that gives up increasingly weightier goods.