Integrity is the major theme of A Man for All Seasons. Sir Thomas More is tested to the extreme as he remains true to his conscience. In the end, he is beheaded because he remains true to his conscience.
A man cannot serve two masters
At some point, he will likely need to decide between the two. After that time, he will only serve one master. Sir Thomas tried to serve two masters, his King and his God. Sir Thomas truly loved his King. In earlier years they had been good friends. More had helped Henry to write in support of the Catholic Church. In those days Henry still considered himself a Catholic. Sir Thomas never felt like a traitor. He loved England and declined an invitation to a better life in Spain because of his love for his King and his Country. Sir Thomas also loved his God, and his Church. And, he deeply valued his own conscience.
Every man has his price
Thomas Cromwell operates on that assumption. As he figures it, a man's price is sometimes only avoiding unpleasantness and pain. Whatever that price is, Cromwell can find it and pay it to get what he needs or his King needs.
The integrity of oneself should be one's major goal. Without it, life is really not worth living. Death is unpleasant, but losing that part of oneself that guides our actions on the path that we deem to be correct would be unbearable.
1) “You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that.” - More, pg. 9
Sir Thomas was listing for Richard Rich those who would admire him if he chose to be a good teacher. More was trying to show Rich that there are other valuable things to strive to obtain besides riches and high position.
2) “My master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. Some say that's good and some say that's bad, but I say he can't help itand that's bad...because some day someone's going to ask him for something that he wants to keep; and he'll be out of practice.” Steward, pg. 17
This foreshadows Sir Thomas losing his head. The steward does not understand that More would rather lose his head than his sense of self, his conscience.
3) “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.” More, pg. 22
The message is that statesmen, like the rest of us, should be guided by their own private consciences, not by political expediency.
4) “I am a fool....What else but a fool to live in a Court, in a licentious mob-when I have friends with gardens.” Henry, pg. 51
Henry seems to truly believe that life in the country is better than his life as a king. The simple pleasures are the best.
5) “There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown, and there are those who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I am their lion, and there is a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves-and there is you.” Henry - This was spoken to Sir Thomas More, pg. 55
This is a short, to the point, succinct description of the people over whom Henry reigned.
6) “I neither could nor would rule my King. But, there's a little...little, area...where I must rule myself. It's very little-less to him than a tennis court.” More, pg. 59
This is Sir Thomas More's description of his conscience, which he was unwilling to give up under penalty of death. It is the one area that he will not surrender to his King.
7) “The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I cannot navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thicket of the law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God...” More, pg. 66
8) “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.” More, also, pg. 66.
These two quotes (7 & 8) were spoken to Roper. These quotes eloquently describe how civilization benefits from a legal system.
9) “The Apostolic Succession of the Pope is-...Why, it's a theory, yes; you can't see it; can't touch it; it's a theory. But what matters to me is not whether it's true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it...” More, pg. 91
More explains that his conscience is important to him because it is his conscience, more than because of what it contains.
10) “And what would you do with a water spaniel that was afraid of water? You'd hang it! Well, as a spaniel is to water, so is a man to his own self.” More, pg. 123
By saying this, More describes how useless a man is without that little part of him that is his alone.
11) “But, Man he (God) made to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind! If he suffers us to fall to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and yes, Will, then we may clamor like champions...if we have the spittle for it. And no doubt it delights God to see splendor where He only looked for complexity. But it's God's part, not our own, to bring ourselves to that extremity! Our natural business lies in escaping...” More, pg. 126
With this explanation we understand that Sir Thomas is not looking forward to becoming a martyr. Man's natural way is to save himself, he believes.
12) “I'd let him out if I could but I can't. Not without taking up residence in there myself. And he's in there already, so what'd be the point? You know the old adage? 'Better a live rat than a dead lion,' and that's about it.” The Common Man, pg. 127
The Common Man is talking about Sir Thomas, who is in jail. True to form, the Common Man says that he is not going to help someone else if it endangers himself.
13) “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But, if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And, if it is round, will the King's command flatten it?” More, pg. 133
Sir Thomas gives an example of the limits to Henry's power.
14) “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's 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.” More , pg. 140
More explains to Meg the seriousness of an oath.
15) “...As for understanding, I understand that you are the best man that I ever met, or am likely to; and, if you go-well, God knows why I suppose-though as God's my witness God's kept deadly quiet about it!” Alice, pg. 145
Alice voices her inability to understand why More is doing what he is doing, along with her admiration and love for him.
16) “The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely.” More, pg. 153
Again, More speaks admiringly of the law and its importance in the lives of men.
17) “What you have hunted me for is not my actions, but the thoughts of my heart. It is a long road you have opened. For first men will disclaim their hearts and presently they will have no hearts. God help the people whose Statesmen walk your road.” More, pg. 157
More might have said that when men disclaim their consciences they quickly have no consciences.
Water and Dry Land
In this play, water symbolizes instability and natural forces and dry land symbolizes stability and society.
The Gilded Cup
The gilded cup is a symbol of (hate, evil) corruption (of money and material goods). The incorruptible More does not want the cup and the very corruptible Rich does want it.
Satire and Wit
Satire and wit surfaced throughout much of the play. Sir Thomas was a naturally jovial and friendly person. He only strayed from this when necessary. Separately some of the exchanges between the various characters were funny. An example is the exchange between Cromwell and the publican.
Cite this page:
Johnson, Jane. "TheBestNotes on A Man For All Seasons".
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