Bolt\'s "A Man For All Seasons": Reasons for A Person\'s Actions


Reading about individuals whose ways of life are dramatically different
from our own provides readers with fresh insights into their own experiences and
ideas. A reader of A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt, may not be accustomed
to the actions of the play\'s characters. Though, it is important to figure out
and understand why the character reacts or acts as he/she does. This enables
the reader to have a new or modified outlook on his/her own actions. If one
turns the kaleidoscope of his/her life just a little, the world becomes a
different place.
Sir Thomas More lived the type of life that is foreign to many readers.
More\'s actions were all based upon two things, his conscience and God. When
More is being pressured into signing the oath by Norfolk in the name of
fellowship, he replies by saying, " 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?"(77). He adheres
to his philosophy and conscience, knowing that he will inevitably be executed.
One who is reading this may reply by thinking More\'s decision was asinine. The
reader may believe that life is the greatest value to man, and to place anything
above it would be asinine. More\'s behavior was bizarre even to his own time
period. His daughter, Margaret, pleaded for him to sign the oath, "Then say
the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise"(81). Her father could
not morally be satisfied by this. More believed that when an oath is taken, one
is placing his pledging his self and soul. " When a man takes an oath, Meg,
he\'s holding his own self in his own hands. And if he opens his fingers then-
he needn\'t hope to find himself again"(81).
On the other hand, Richard Rich\'s actions were not based upon conscience
or morality. He would sacrifice his friend\'s life in order to receive a job
offer. After Rich testifies, and More learns that Rich was appointed Attorney-
General for Wales, he is full of disgust and disbelief when he says, " For
Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the
world.....But for Wales!"(92). Rich can be portrayed as the lowest of life
forms. More implies that Rich abandoned his conscience to have a title, which
in the whole scheme of things is really insignificant. On that day of judgment,
his office will have been long forgotten. It is a man\'s actions during life
which determines his direction after life. Rich, among the other corrupt men of
the state and church, did not look beyond this world, but only viewed what his
present status was. His greed led him to turn down the opportunity to have a
decent and honest job as a teacher, because he wanted to be exposed to the
bribery of a judicial position, the same bribery More wanted to leave. As
Norfolk exclaimed of More, "When was there last a Chancellor whose possessions
after three years in office totaled only one hundred pounds and a gold
chain"(58). If Rich was given the chance, the total of bribes he would receive
would greatly exceed that number.
Thomas More and Richard Rich represent the two extreme boundaries on the
spectrum of behavior. More is the ultimate ideal man, and Rich is the example
of extreme immorality. While many readers will not fit into either of these
categories, it is important to know where one stands. One must envision the
range which these two characters set, and scale oneself somewhere between the
two. The reader may then try to make inferences into his/her own actions, and
attempt to determine why he/she acts. The reader now has some premise from
which to view his own actions. These characters provide a convention which sets
fixed positions, or denominators, which can be used to measure one\'s morality in
his/her actions. In life, insights into one\'s actions can only be gained by
seeing and understanding the actions of others through a different point of view.
By understanding someone else, one is enabled to compare himself/herself to
that person. Literature facilitates this by giving the reader an omniscient
view of the characters\' actions. These characters may often be archetypes of
extreme behavior, as in A Man for All Seasons. These characters allow the
reader to turn the kaleidoscope on his/her life.

Work Cited

Bolt, Robert. A Man for