Robert Oxton Bolt was an intelligent craftsman and a traditional playwright whose greatest literary achievements depict strong, well-developed characters facing moral dilemmas within a tumultuous historical setting. His fame rests as much on his highly successful screenplays as on his stage plays. He was born in Sale, Manchester, the son of a shopkeeper. He was educated there, and in 1940 he began a career as an insurance agent. While still in his teens, he joined the Communist Party, an affiliation he later rejected, deciding that it had “nothing to do with democracy or freedom.” In 1943, he began his studies in economics at Manchester University. From 1943 to 1946, he served in the Royal Air Force, stationed in South Africa and the Gold Coast. After World War II, he returned to Manchester University, receiving a degree in history in 1949. After earning a teaching certificate at University College, Exeter, he taught in Devon and Millfield. During his teaching career, he began writing plays for children and also a variety of radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The Critic and the Heart followed the plot and structure of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1921 play The Circle. Flowering Cherry, a domestic comedy, was Bolt’s first success. His protagonist, a dissatisfied insurance salesman, is, according to Bolt, a “man who substitutes violent words for action.” The play, which is reminiscent of the work of Anton Chekhov, is conventionally naturalistic. The Tiger and the Horse has as its protagonist a university don who is committed to a philosophy of withdrawal. His neglect drives his wife mad, and only when he can involve himself in her care can he engage himself in opposing the hydrogen bomb, a cause that Bolt supported during the 1950’s. Bolt later summarized these plays as “fourth wall drama with puzzling, uncomfortable, and pretentious overtones.”
A Man for All Seasons is Bolt’s most popular and best-known play. Bolt depicts Sir Thomas More as a thoroughly engaging and moral man who is thrust into an untenable situation as the moral arbiter of a power struggle between three amoral political forces—Henry VIII,...
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