Conflict in A Man for All Seasons
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In England, during the Renaissance, Henry XIII wants to divorce his wife, Catharine of Arigon. To look good in-front of his people, Henry asks Sir Thomas More, a well respected lawyer and citizen, to support the divorce. This presents Sir Thomas More with an inner conflict. In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More resists pressures exerted by Henry XIII through Thomas Cromwell, The Duke of Norfolk, and Alice More. These pressures involve Thomas More in a battle of will, in which he faces a moral dilemma. Thomas Cromwell, More’s clever enemy, pressures Thomas More to succumb to King Henry’s demands. More’s lost friend, The Duke of Norfolk, “for friendships sake” also wants More to succumb to the king’s demands. Lastly, Thomas’s own wife, Alice More, wants him to give in to the king’s demands, so that they may return to their normal lives, and not have to worry every day for eachothers’ safety and well-being. These three people, though for different reasons, exert pressure on Thomas More to succumb to King Henry’s demands.
Though More resists these pressures, and keeps his moral integrity, he is executed. Throughout the play, Cromwell pressures Thomas More to go against his morals, and succumb to King Henry’s demands. When More is called to Cromwell’s office, to hear the “charges” that have been brought against him, More is told that siding with the King would be beneficial to him. “Yet do you 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,” (p. 114). Cromwell attempts to get More to agree with the king by saying, as long as More agrees with Henry, he will grant More many favors. However, More explains to Cromwell that he simply can not do this and, by turning down Cromwell, he sticks to his conscience and morals. Cromwell pressures More with death when he, Cranmer, and Norfolk are in the jail, trying to encourage More to sign the Act of Succession.
More does not believe that they can do anything more than jail him; however, Cromwell replies “Yet the state has harsher punishments,” (p.133). Until this point, More feels that if he keeps silent he will be safe, even though he’s in prison. However, Cromwell’s threat emphasizes to More the willingness of the King to have him killed, if he does not fulfill his wishes. Finally, Cromwell also tries to pressure More at the end of the trial. After More realizes that the trial has been rigged, and that he is at the mercy of the King, Cromwell says the following. “Now I must ask the Court’s indulgence! I have a message for the prisoner from the King. Sir Thomas, I am empowered to tell you that even now-,” (p. 158). Cromwell is reminding More, that even though he has been convicted, he can still sign the Act and be exonerated of all the charges. However, More replies “No no, it cannot be,” proving that More has strong morals. Even though he knows that he is going to be killed for it, he would rather stick to his morals and die, than be a ‘live rat.’ Though Cromwell would rather see More dead, he gives More many chances to live, when he pressures More to go against his morals and side with the king.
Likewise, the Duke of Norfolk pressures Thomas More to go against his morals, and succumb to King Henry’s demands. When Thomas More is trying to get a boat and Norfolk joins him, the two men get into an argument over their friendship. Norfolk simply says to More, “give in,” (p. 121). Norfolk’s attempt of getting More to give in fails because More argues, “I can’t give in, Howard- You may as well advise a man to change the color of his eyes. I can’t. Our friendship is more mutable than that.” When More says this, he wants Norfolk to realize the position he is in; being the friend that he is, Norfolk should realize what he is asking of More, and that it will not happen. Norfolk also pressures More when Cromwell, Cranmer, and he are in the jail trying to get More to sign the Act of Succession. Norfolk says, “Oh, confound all this…I’m not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names…You know those men!
Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?,” (p. 132). Norfolk is trying to tell More that many other respectable men signed the Act, and that it really does not matter whether it was lawful or not, but that he should sign it anyway for ‘fellowship.’ More replies to this 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 friendship?” Here, More cleverly throws Norfolk’s own reasoning right back at him saying that he can’t go against his morals and simply will not sign. Finally, Norfolk pressures More to ignore his morals, when Cromwell has just finished describing the scene in the court. “Sir Thomas More, you are called before us here at the Hall of Westminster to answer charge of High Treason. Nevertheless, and though you have heinously offended the King’s Majesty, we hope if you will even now forthink and repent of your obstinate pardons, you may still taste his gracious pardon,” (p. 149).
Norfolk still wants More to disregard his conscience, and please the king, even though he has heard ‘no’ from More many times. More responds by again saying no, and that God will protect him. Ironically however, it is More’s trust in God that eventually gets him killed. Though Norfolk is More’s friend and should support how More feels and what he believes in, as most friends do of each-other, he tries to get More to go against his better judgment and morals, and approve the divorce and the Act of Succession. Finally, Alice More pressures her husband to go against his conscience and morals, and succumb to King Henry’s demands. After Henry rudely leaves the More household, Alice tries to persuade More to succumb to his demands. “Thomas, stay friends with him,” (p.59). Alice has some foresight, and she knows that if More were to cross Henry, that he would be killed. It is because of this that she wants More to remain loyal to him. However, Alice clearly does not understand the inner conflict that More is facing, and More is frustrated with this. More replies by saying “whatever can be done by smiling, you may rely on me to do.”
The “tennis court,” in which More must rule himself, will not be changed or altered for anyone, even a King. However, More is telling Alice that anything outside this “tennis court” he will change or alter to fit Henry’s desires, if need be. Also, Alice tries to get More to alter his morals when More hears from Norfolk that England has ‘severed their connections with Rome.’ It is at this point that More resigns from his position, and asks for someone to take off his necklace. Alice replies “Hell’s Fire- God’s Blood and Body, no! Sun and moon, Master More, you’re taken for a wise man! Is this wisdom- to betray your ability, abandon practice, forget your station and your duty to your kin and behave like a printed book?,” (p.90). Alice is saying to More that you are a wise person, and that you should use this wisdom to remember your ‘kin’ and not stray from the norm. Alice finally tries to get More to go against his conscience and change his morals when he, Roper, Alice, and Margaret are talking about More’s resignation. Alice points out that his life is threatened, by his willingness to succumb to Henry’s demands, when she says “Poor silly man, d’you think they’ll leave you here to learn to fish?,” (p. 95).
Alice has realized that despite More’s argument, that he will be safe as long as he is silent, is not truly the case anymore. Husbands and wives should be able to support and trust each other. However, Thomas and Alice have a hard time doing this, which results in growing tension. Thomas More resists numerous pressures exerted by Henry XIII through Thomas Cromwell, The Duke of Norfolk, and Alice More. Cromwell exerts pressure on More to succumb to King Henry’s desires. Though Cromwell would rather see More dead, he gives More many chances to live when he pressures More to go against his morals and side with the king. Norfolk also pressures More to ignore his conscience. Though Norfolk is More’s friend and should support how More feels and what he believes in, as most friends do of each-other, he tries to get More to go against his conscience and morals, and approve the divorce.
Finally, Alice pressures More to ignore his conscience and morals and succumb to King Henry. We see that Alice really wants More to go along with Henry, because she likes her nice clothes, good foods, and other delicacies. However, as the Mores are starting to lose these comforts, Alice really wants Thomas to sign the Act; not because her family will stay together, but because she wants her delicacies back. Throughout the play, A Man for All Seasons, More is pressured to go against his morals and side with the King; in the end of the play, we realize all the unexpected and ironic elements. It is ironic that Norfolk and Cromwell, who did side with the King, and were supposedly doing the right thing, were charged with high treason. Likewise, More believes that there is safety in following the law; in More’s carefulness to stick to the law, he finds himself in an unsafe and tense situation, which results in his death.
Furthermore, and yet again ironic, is More’s belief that he has security, and therefore remains true to himself, his morals, and to God; but nonetheless he is executed. More’s character can be compared with a modern day figure, Martin Luther King. Both men, though they had strong morals and were true to themselves, had a downfall. Thomas More was executed and Martin Luther King was assassinated. Today, it is rare, yet special and unique, when people actually stand up for what they believe; yet for standing up in what they believed in, they were killed. People like Thomas More and Martin Luther King are rare in today’s society. However, the more people in the world that are like them, the better a world we will all live in.