"A Man for All Seasons" by Robert Bolt: More\'s Moral Dilemma


During the English renaissance in the 1500\'s, King Henry VIII wants a
divorce from his wife for various reasons, but divorce is against the Catholic
religion. This is why he wants Sir Thomas More\'s consent, because More is a
highly respected Catholic, but he is such a good Catholic that he goes against
divorce. In the play, A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt, King Henry VIII
applies pressure on Thomas More to support the divorce in many ways. He exerts
it both directly and indirectly in forms of threats and intimidation from
various people. Henry forces Meg, More\'s "renaissance woman" daughter, to take
an oath in order to see him, so she tries to influence his decision about the
divorce by using her intellect and by begging. Wolsey, a cardinal, was told by
the king to try to persuade him to support the king\'s divorce by appointing him
to a political office, so if More does not support the king, he could be
executed for treason. Similarly, the king orders Cromwell, his assistant, to
apply pressure by finding a reason to kill More, to force him out of the way.
All of these pressures from the king lead to a moral dilemma that More has to
face, but he chooses to stick to his morals.
King Henry applies pressure on More to support the divorce through Meg.
While More is in jail for failing to take an oath supporting the divorce, Meg
tries to convince him to take the oath, and she says, "Say the words of the oath
and in your heart think otherwise," (page 81). More responded to this by saying,
"What is an oath then but words we say to god?" (page 81). Meg is applying
direct pressure on More by asking him to say the oath and not believe in it, so
he will get the benefits of believing it and stick to his morals at the same
time. However, More thinks this is against Catholic religion because he thinks
of an oath as "words we say to God," so he certainly can not use Meg\'s strategy.
Meg pressures More directly by trying to reach out to his feelings when she says
emotionally, "But in reason! Haven\'t you done as much as God can reasonably
want?" (page 81). More supports his beliefs by saying, "Well...finally...it
isn\'t a matter of reason; finally it\'s a matter of love." Meg wants More to
know that his family\'s food and money depend on him, and further more, whether
he says the oath. More still sticks to what he believes in, because he believes
that he must always do what God wants him to do, for there is no limit to what
god can "reasonably want." Meg does as much as she can to persuade More to
support the King, but it does not work, and More sticks to his morals.
Henry also orders Cromwell to pressure More to support the divorce. At
first, Cromwell informs More directly that the king is not pleased with him, and
then says, "Yet you do not know that even now, if you could bring yourself to
agree with the Universities, the Bishops and the Parliament of this realm, there
is no honor which the King would be likely to deny you?" (page 66). More
acknowledges this and says, "I am well acquainted with His Grace\'s generosity,"
(page 66). Cromwell wants More to know that the king still has great respect
for him, and if he supports the divorce there would be "no honor which the King
would be likely to deny" him. More is not greatly affected by this type of
pressure however, because he is the type of man that does not let rewards tempt
him to go against his morals. Cromwell realizes that More is stubborn on this
issue, and wants to execute him, so to More he directly reads the charges
against him, "That you did conspire traitorously and maliciously to deny and
deprive our liege lord Henry of his undoubted certain title Supreme Head of the
Church of England," (pages 86- 87). More is shocked, and said, "But I have
never denied this title!" (page 87). Cromwell is so devoted to satisfying the
king that he finds a way uses More\'s silence as evidence of opposing the king,
which means he is "traitorously" denying the king of his title. This is the
most influential pressure that More has received, because if he is found guilty
of high treason, he will be executed; but he