Theatre: A Man for All Seasons
A Man for All Seasons
is an award-winning play and film by Robert Bolt. After successful runs in London (1960) and New York (1962), it was adapted to film in 1966. The play and film made a star of Paul Scofield, who won both a Tony Award and an Oscar for his performance. The movie picked up five additional Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director (Fred Zinneman). Inspired By
actual historic events.
Once upon a time, Sir Thomas More
was a barrister who became the most trusted adviser of Henry VIII
. More was a Catholic with a keen moral focus, and his advice was good.
Then Henry wanted to divorce wife Catherine of Aragon, who'd failed to produce a living son, so he could marry the fertile Anne Boleyn. More refused to support this plan; he considered it immoral, and against his religion. The fact that the original marriage had been arranged to help foster peace with another Catholic country (Spain) didn't help.
Henry VIII decided to Take a Third Option
; leave the Catholic Church and found a new one, the Church of England, with himself as the head. More hated
this idea and refused to support it — although he'd made a bit of a stink about corruption and abuse of power in the Church, his Catholicism forbade him from supporting an outright schism. But everyone else who was anyone in the government did support the king. More, rather than kick up a protest, resigned and kept his mouth tightly shut, but the fact that he would not publicly endorse the idea made it pretty obvious to everybody that he was against it.
King Henry VIII was now good and angry at Thomas More, and the persecution started in earnest...
In addition to the film, the play has been produced for television at least three times, including a 1988 version starring Charlton Heston. The 1988 version stuck closely to the stage version, including retaining the Fourth Wall
In 2006, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a radio version for their Saturday Play, using music composed by Henry VIII himself and featuring Charles Dance as Sir Thomas More.
Tropes associated with the play A Man for All Seasons include:
- Affably Evil: Archbishop Cranmer, in contrast to the bully Cromwell. He's actually envious of More's certainty that he's going to Heaven at the end.
- Almighty Janitor: Cromwell's official title is Secretary of the Council, or "Master Secretary". But he's pratically Henry's right hand man by the end of the play.
- Ambition Is Evil:
- Richard Rich, whose climb up the political ladder requires him to deliver More to the executioner.
- Cromwell. His rise in Court greatly alarms More, his family, and Norfolk.
- As the Good Book Says: More, paraphrasing Matthew 16:26 (and Mark 8:36 and Luke 9:25):
: Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world...But for Wales
- Author Tract: The play makes it very clear that More is the fella we're supposed to be cheering for.
- Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: Cromwell is Henry's agent, and does most of the "diagreeable tasks" in the play. Notably the King himself doesn't order Norfolk to join the conspiracy against More, he has Cromwell do it for him instead.
- Being Good Sucks: It's a major theme; Thomas More remarks that vice often brings greater rewards than virtue, so we must expend extra effort to be good.
- Break His Heart to Save Him: Norfolk has been ordered by the King through his proxy Cromwell to join the conspiracy against More. Norfolk, not wanting to do it, tells More all about it, in friendship. More goads Norfolk into ending their friendship with a heated argument in order to spare him the conflict of having to choose between their friendship and his duty to the King. Even then he only half-suceeds, Norfolk implores More to take the Oath like him for fellowship.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Common Man addresses the audience directly.
- The Caligula: Henry VIII by the play's end. He will not tolerate any criticism about Anne or his seperation from Rome. Any poor fool who does speak his mind will be charged with treason and have their head caught off.
- Christianity Is Catholic: Averted here. It isn't after a certain point, but More thinks it should be.
- The Conscience: More tries to be this to Henry, but Cromwell has other plans.
- The Corruptible: Richard Rich. More is well aware of this and tries to convince him to take a post as a teacher at a new school, a place "where he won't be tempted".
- Dating What Daddy Hates: Meg's boyfriend Will Roper is a fine young man from a good family who's been called to the Bar and later offered a seat in Parliament. He just happens to be a Lutheran or in More's words a heretic. Roper eventually goes back to Catholicism, and marries Meg.
- Deadly Decadent Court: Being a government offical does not entail job security when Henry VIII is in charge. If you fail him or displease him expect a trumped up charge of treason somehwhere in your future.
- Deadpan Snarker: Cromwell and, on occasion, Sir Thomas:
Wolsey: The King wants a son- what are you going to do about it?
More: (dry) I'm very sure the King needs no advice from me on what to do about it.
- Dragon-in-Chief: Henry VIII drives the action, but Cromwell is one who does most of the work.
- Doomed Moral Victor: Sir Thomas More.
- Downer Ending: The only person to get a happy ending in this story is Rich.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Cranmer does not like the idea of Cromwell bribing the Jailer to commit prejury against More.
- Evil Is Petty:
- Wolsey plants the idea that More should be the next Chancellor after him as revenge for refusing to help him secure a divorce:
- Cromwell convinces the King to make Norfolk part of the Conspiracy against More out of pure spite.
- Evil Mentor: Cromwell to Rich.
- Face Death with Dignity: Sir Thomas knows exactly where his resistance is taking him.
- Faux Affably Evil: Wosley and especially Cromwell.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Rich is the only one in More's circle who actually likes Cromwell. Rich himself could qualify as well.
- Genre Blindness: More believes if he just keeps quiet about his opinions on the marriage he can live out in peace. Lady Alice is much more Genre Savvy.
Lady Alice: Poor, silly man, do you think they'll leave you here to think?
More: If we govern our tongues they will!
- The Ghost: For all that she's mentioned, Anne Boleyn never appears onstage.
- Greek Chorus: The Common Man, who also takes on multiple roles (including More's executioner).
- High Turnover Rate: Henry VIII goes through courtiers and ministers at an alarming rate.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: No mention is made of More's fondness for having heretics burned alive, or any of his other less appealing views.
- Historical Villain Upgrade:
- At More's actual trial, it is highly unlikely that Richard Rich committed perjury, as his own written account of his conversation with More would contradict him.
- Henry VIII is portrayed as an intellectual cypher, though possessed with a low cunning. In reality, he was, like all the Tudors, something of an intellectual with a real appreciation for fine culture.
- Hollywood History:
- Among other things, the play doesn't mention More had three children besides Margaret: Elizabeth, Cicely, and John, besides his various foster children. (BTW: It is historically correct that More made sure his daughters received full formal educations — a rarity at that time.)
- One odd omission is that while the Duke of Norfolk is a major character, the fact he is Anne Boleyn's uncle goes unmentioned.
- Holier Than Thou: More is a genuinely devout and honest man, but he doesn't lord his virtue over others. That said he does play this trope straight in his dislike of Lutherans (a common belief at the time) and his willingness to drive his family into poverty (along with his household staff) and possibly endanger them as well by angering the King.
- Hollywood Law: More is made to say that "When I was at law, it was the custom to ask the prisoner if he had anything to say before sentence was passed upon him." This is the garbled US version. In England, it is "Do you know of any reason why sentence should NOT be passed upon you?", in the unlikely event that there is cause for the defense to "move in arrest of judgement". (As Henry Cecil points out from his days on the bench, most criminals in the dock have no idea of this, and judges find it easier to just let them ramble when they take it as an invitation to rant about whatever is eating them than to try and shut them up.)
- Honor Before Reason: Done nobly.
- Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Sir Thomas More. He's impossible to bribe as a judge.
- Inspired By
- Insult Backfire:
Wolsey: More, you should have been a cleric!
More: Like yourself, Your Grace?
- Ironic Echo: "This isn't Spain. This is England!"
- Jerkass Has a Point: Henry VIII does have Biblical basis for wanting a divorce: lying with your brothers widow is considered to be a sin, and he genuinely believes his lack of a male heir is God's punishment, and that the King of Spain and the Pope are keeping him in a state of sin for there own reasons.
- Joker Jury: The jury of More's trial is composed of broomsticks wearing hats, expect the Common Man, who's the foreman.
- Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Henry VIII goes from a wanting a divorce from an unhappy marriage (that was forced upon him by his father and ministers) to being a paranoid tyrant who will not take any criticism of his rule.
- Kangaroo Court: More's trial. Witnesses who could help him are conveniently out of the country. The evidence against him is false, and done so for a very obvious bribe (Rich's job as Attonery General for Wales which is announced to the whole court). But the real clincher is when Cromwell intimidates the jury enough to not consider the evidence but deliver a guilty verdict right then and there.
- Karma Houdini: "Richard Rich became Chancellor of England...and died in his bed."
- Loss of Identity: Averted. Sir Thomas makes it clear, though, that if he had consented to swear a false oath, this would have been his inevitable fate. Richard Rich arguably falls victim to it, though we do not really see the effects onscreen.
- Minion with an F in Evil: Norfolk. He's one of More's closest friends, but he's forced to join the conspiracy agaist him because Henry wishes it.
- Miscarriage of Justice: The climax turns on one of these; it's the cause of the Downer Ending.
- Never Learned to Read: More's wife.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: It's implied in the play that reason for the Oath of Supremacy is because More wouldn't go to Henry and Anne's wedding.
- Nice to the Waiter: More to his household staff, even Matthew who is easily bribed to give information about his master to his enemies. When he has to let them go, he makes a point of finding new places for all of them.
- Number Two: Wolsey, More, and Cromwell all serve this postion to Henry during the play. Neither of them lasts very long though as Henry is a very fickle and impatient monarch.
- Obviously Evil: Cromwell. Even before he actually appears the More Family is greatly alarmed by the news he's become Wolsey's secretary.
- Offscreen Karma: Various villains conspire to have Thomas More unjustly executed for treason. The narrator gives us their subsequent fates:
- Off with His Head!: Sir Thomas (with the aid of a Gory Discretion Shot, of course).
- One Steve Limit: Five of the historical figures presented in the play were named Thomas; to avoid confusion, the play mentions only Thomas More's first name, while Cromwell, Wolsey, Cranmer and Norfolk are referred to only by their surnames or titles.
- Open Secret: Everyone knows Henry wants to divorce Catherine and marry Anne Boleyn.
- Opinion Flipflop: Roper starts the play as Lutheran, than by the end of Act I he's a Catholic. This is something of a family trait; Will's father was noted by More as "always swimming against the stream."
- The Paragon Always Rebels: Before Henry VIII split with Rome over the matter of his divorce, he was a devoted Catholic. As mentioned by More and Cromwell in Act II, he wrote a theological book called In Defence of the Seven Sacraments, for which the Pope named him "Defender of the Faith".
- Popularity Power: More is a well regarded as a philosopher, scholar, statesman, and a honest man all across Europe. It's why Henry desperately wants his approval for his divorce. However More is not popular enough to be spared the Tower.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: After More is found guilty of treason, and with nothing to lose he finally speaks his mind about Henry's separation with Rome. He angrily denounces Henry's actions as illegal, as Church Immunity from the State is promised in both Magna Carta and the Coronation Oath, and that the real reason he's on trial is not for refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy but for refusing to recogonize the marriage.
- Riches to Rags: After More resigns as Chancellor, he has to let go of his household staff because he can't afford them any longer. Lady Alice is not very happy about the arrangement.
- The Rival: Cromwell wants to replace More as Henry's favorite advisor. He eventually succeeds
- Rules Lawyer: More as a lawyer and later a judge is an expert in law, which works to his advantage. He knows if he openly states his opinions on why he won't swear to the Oath he'll be charged with treason. But if he remains silent on the subject all Henry and Cromwell can do is lock him up in the Tower. Sadly he didn't count on Rich commiting perjury to get him beheaded.
- Rule of Symbolism: A woman tries to bribe More with a silver cup to rule in her favor at court. More being an honest judge gives it to Rich, in an attempt to teach him about corruption and bribery. Eventually Rich, throws his lot in with Cromwell because he's promises Rich a postion at court, More does not.
- Sinister Minister:
- Cardinal Wolsey.
- Archbishop Cranmer.
- Smart People Know Latin: Henry tests how smart Meg is by conversing with her in Latin. Her Latin is better and Henry is a bit miffed but he doesn't make a big deal out of it.
- Social Climber:
- Wolsey is mentioned to be a "butcher's son" and Cromwell is mentioned to be a "farrier's son"; both have managed to work their way to positions of power and prestige at Court.
- Rich too, but he tries too hard, which is why he gets constantly snubbed until Cromwell takes him under his wing.
- The Starscream: Cromwell starts off as Wolsey's secretary, but he curries favor with the King when Wolsey becomes disgraced and moves up in the Royal Court until he ends up living in Hampton Court, the residence of his former master. Henry VIII at one point calls him a jackal with teeth who only follows him because he's his tiger, but by the end he doesn't seem to mind this.
- Succession Crisis: Why all this is happening in the first place — Henry VIII wants a male heir, and wife #1 (Catherine of Aragon) hasn't provided one. Wolsey fears that the Wars of the Roses (Yorkist Wars) will start up again without one.
- Take a Third Option:
- King Henry choosing to split from the Catholic Church.
- Sir Thomas' decision to side publicly neither with the Reformers nor the Catholics and to remain silent about Henry's choice.
- Take That: "Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?"
- Teeth Clenched Team Work: Norfolk and Cromwell. The two hate each other, and are only working together because the King wishes it (if Norfolk had his way he wouldn't even be part of the Conspiracy against More).
- Throw the Dog a Bone:
- During More's trial Henry is still offering him a chance to take the Oath and save himself.
- Norfolk gets charged with treason somewhere down the line, but Henry dies before he can sign the death warrant.
- Toxic Friend Influence: Cromwell to Rich and more seriously to the King himself.
- Turn Coat: Richard Rich (against More), Thomas Cromwell (against Wolsey), and, because he's being forced by Henry, the Duke of Norfolk against More.
- Un-Person: More after he resigns as Chancellor. Even the boatmen on the Thames won't give him a ride home.
- We Used to Be Friends:
- Henry and More. Eventually their friendship ends because More won't support Henry in his efforts for a divorce. Even then they both have some affection for each other: More still considers himself the King's servant, and Henry gives More chance after chance to take the Oath and save himself.
- More and Rich. Their friendship ends when Rich pathetically begs More for a postion at Court. More steadfastly refuses. Only then More becomes aware of how much influnce Cromwell has over his young friend.
- With Us or Against Us: There's no arguing with Henry VIII. Nor is it possible to just keep quiet and not say anything about the King's plans one way or the other; Henry will have an endorsement, or else.
- You Have Failed Me: When Wolsey can't secure a divorce Henry charges him with treason, but he dies before he can even stand trial, or make it to the Tower.
- You Talk Too Much: Roper is very open about his opinions (which he changes often) to point where More has to tell him to shut it before he gets accused of treason.
- Your Days Are Numbered: Wolsey is well aware that if he can't secure a divorce his days as Chancellor are over.
Tropes added by the 1966 film include: