A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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What is the significance of Sir Thomas More's statement about oaths in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons?

"When a man takes an oath, Meg, he is holding his own self in his own hands. Like Water. And, if he opens his fingers then - he needn't hope to find himself again."

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At one point in Robert Bolt’s drama A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More says to his daughter,

 “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he is holding his own self in his own hands. Like Water. And, if he opens his fingers then -- he needn't hope to find himself again.”

This is a significant statement for a number of reasons, including the following:

  • It shows that More feels a need to explain himself to his family in general and to his daughter in particular.
  • It shows that More, unlike many fathers of his day, takes his daughter seriously enough to try to explain himself to her. He treats her as a reasonable, intelligent being who is capable of understanding and appreciating an explanation.
  • It shows that More is determined to follow the course he has set for himself, even in the face of the pressure, concern, and anxiety of his family.
  • It shows that More is especially concerned with his own spirit – “his own self” – and that his conscience is highly important to him.
  • It shows that More is operating not only as a Christian but as a kind of existentialist. Existentialism, which was a much-discussed philosophy during the time when this play was written, holds that each person holds his own destiny in his own hands. Each person decides his own fate.
  • It implies that the soul or self, like a handful of water, is precious and needs to be protected, not wasted.
  • It shows that More regards this moment of decision as a major turning-point in his life.
  • It shows More’s ability to use metaphorical phrasing to explain himself as memorably and forcefully as possible.

For all these reasons, then, this is a highly significant moment in Bolt’s play and in More’s existence.

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