November 11, 2005

A Man for All Seasons - Part 2

As Aristotelian Poetics dictates, it is imperative to examine plot, character, thought, diction, action, and spectacle prior to formulating a subjective judgment on a work, (“I liked it, I didn’t like it, etc”). To do this, one must consult the textual evidence, see the play, or for lack of time: read the Sparknotes (
Robert Bolt’s 1960 work A Man for All Seasons incorporates a well-known historical setting, meshed with character treatments in a playwright proclaimed semi-Brechtian manner. The play is set during an exciting time world history: it is the Age of Exploration, the Age of Discovery, coupled with the Renaissance of classical thought in all Europe. Churchly law dictated a concern for the future – or the afterlife. Two hundred years prior to the play’s action, Pope Boniface the 8th issued the papal bull the Unum Sanctum which declared that to gain salvation, every human is subject to the pontiff. In this period, people were subject to laws of the Church, in direct juxtaposition with states’ laws. Human desire/interest, on the rekindle, vested concern in life for the living. In 1509 with the death of Henry Tudor, Henry the 8th ascends the throne of England with Katharine as his queen. The couple produces numerous children; however, the only one to survive is a daughter, Mary (b. 1516). The marriage lasts 15 years because Henry the 8th is a philanderer who wants to produce a male son, however, Katharine is seemingly barren.
It is ironic the Henry the 8th’s lustful lifestyle, not churchly dogma nor faith, is what sparks the Reformation in England. From 1509 until 1547, the King responds to Luther’s 95 Theses in defense of the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church – for this the Vicar of Christ on Earth names him ‘the defender of the faith.’ It is around this same time that Henry the 8th falls into lust with Ann Boleyn, a handmaiden to the Queen. Henry sends Wolvsey to Rome to ask Pope Clemet the 7th for an annulment, however, Rome is occupied by the army of Katherine’s nephew, and pope Clemet the 7th, not wanting to further anger the troops says no to the request for an annulment. In 1529, Wolvsey comes back to Rome with no papal approval and is executed shortly after he delivers this message. In 1531, Henry the 8th named himself head of the English Church, the Anglican Catholic Church, and his English archbishop said yes to the divorce.
A Man for All Season’s Sir Thomas More emphasizes values in accordance with that of the Church. He is more concerned with the Boniface notion of salvation for his soul in direct correlation to his actions, words, and deeds –subject to the rule of the Roman Catholic pontiff, Vicar of Christ on Earth. His character foil, Wolvsey, is not as interested in that “horrible moral squint [of More’s]” and thinks that with a little “common sense you [More] could have been a statesmen” (19). The parallels between these characters build an important platform for a question that was on the rise at the time and continues to be ever popular in our society. Outlining these characters differences in bases of values, and what is and what is not important in their lives, sets up the framework for the questions: what is more important, religion or nationalism? How does religion fit into nationalism?
The work suggests the new face of England: a face ripe with the youth of nationalism. This new face is most evident in the characters: Rich, whose philosophies are in accordance with Machiavellianism, “...make him suffer sufficiently” (5), (it is better to be feared than loved); Alice, who wants her husband to comply and sees the value of the stratified English society – instead of all people being equal, “Great men get colds in the head just the same as commoners” (39); Henry, who wants for a new wife irregardless of the Church’s teaching on divorce and who denies his present marriage by quoting Scripture; Cromwell, who seeks to debase More’s position (76) in order to advance his own social standing, etc.

This is another play in which one must question, to whom does one owe his loyalty: church or nation?

Posted by KatieAikins at November 11, 2005 12:20 AM