Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, was an interesting play regarding the life and times of St. Thomas More, specifically the events that led to his death. More objected to the Kings decision to appoint himself head of the Church of England. More had the opportunity to exonerate himself of any charges by swearing an oath of loyalty to the king, but he chose not to. Through the various reactions to More’s silence, the true personalities of other characters are shown.
Throughout the play, silence plays an important role in allowing the reader to better understand More and his beliefs. In Act Two, More makes it clear that he is going to be silent in regards to his opinions about the King and his lifestyle. This is evidenced when Bolt writes:
More: I will insult no one. I will not take the oath. I will not tell you why I will not.Order now
Norfolk: Then your reasons must be treasonable!
More: Not “must be”; may be.
Through this passage, one can see that More is aware that if he remains silent, there will be no evidence against him and he will continue to live. Also, More makes an effective use of silence based on his moral opinions. This is prevalent when More states, “What is an oath then buy words we say to God?” 81. In this passage, More makes it known that he values the oath as a sacred bond and will not even sign it to pay lip service to the king. More is deeply rooted in his morals and will not compromise them because he believes that God is all knowing and will find out. Thirdly, More’s loyalty to God is shown when he implies that the Act is blasphemous so he will not sign it. This is shown in the play when, Bolt writes,
Norfolk: Thomas, we must know plainly whether you’ll recognize the offspring of Queen Anne as heirs to His Majesty.
More: The King in Parliament tells me that they are. Of course I recognize them.
Norfolk: Will you swear that you do?
Norfolk: Then why won’t you swear to the Act?
More: Because there is more than that in the Act.
In this passage, the reader learns that More has no objections to the legitimacy of the King’s offspring, but More’s objections solely lied in the part of the Act that makes the statement that the Pope has no jurisdiction to sanction the marriage between the King and Queen Anne. This demonstrates to the reader that More is very loyal to God, and only wants God’s will to be carried out. In conclusion, through More’s reasons for being silent, his deep rooted morals and his refusal to sign the blasphemous Act, one can see that silence helps to develop More’s Character.
Through More’s refusal to sign the Act and his refusal to state the exact parts of the Act that he disagrees with, More brings out personality traits of the other characters. Through More’s silence, Cromwell turns to corruption in order to try More for treason. This is apparent when Cromwell states to the jailer, “Have you ever heard the prisoner speak of the King’s divorceâ€¦If he does, you will of course report itâ€¦You will swear an oath to that effectâ€¦And there’s fifty guineas in it if you do” 78. In this passage, Cromwell is trying to bribe the jailer into lying about his conversations with More. This shows that Cromwell is ruthless and will do anything in his power to make the King happy and eliminate More. More’s silence also brings out the cowardice of the Common Man. This is evident when the Common Man states, “Better a live rat than a dead lion” 73.
Through this quote one can see how little value the Common Man places in God and in his faith. Because of this, the reader can see that the Common Man would take the oath, in order to save his life, even if he did not believe in the oath. But More, on the other hand would rather be a dead lion, and stand up for his beliefs rather than just sign the oath to keep his livelihood. Also, the true personality of Richard Rich is shown through his testimony to the court. He perjured himself when he said, “ said ‘Parliament has not the competence.’ Or words to that effect” 90. In this scene the reader learns that Rich has betrayed More, and that he has done so for a position in office. By this action the reader sees that Rich is disloyal since he betrays his friend in order to advance his career. Also, it is obvious that Rich has allegiance only to himself and he will gladly kill a friend for his personal gain. In conclusion, Cromwell, the Common Man and Rich all show traits of corruption, cowardice and disloyalty when dealing with More and his silence.
In Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, Thomas More resorts to silence in order to no be tried and convicted of treason. He keeps all his opinions silent so that his thoughts cannot be used against him. Meg shows her undying love for her father when she says, “‘God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth.’ Or so you’ve always told meâ€¦Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise” 81. Through this quotation one can see that Meg values her father above all else, and would even have him take a false oath just so he could be with her. More’s wife Alice, also feels this way about More and his decision. This is prevalent when Bolt writes,
More: Alice, if you can tell me that you understand, I think I can make a good death, if I have to.
Alice: Your death’s no ‘good’ to me!
Through this excerpt of the play, the reader can see that Alice also shows her love for her husband. She also puts light on the fact that she feels he should not be going to these great lengths to prove a point. Alice would rather have Thomas living and falsely sign the oath than dead because of his beliefs. But, at the end of her time talking with More, she realizes why More must follow his judgment and she understands the situation. This is evident when she says,
S-s-shâ€¦ As for understand, I understand you’re the best man that I ever met or am likely to; and if you go-well, God knows why I suppose-though as God’s my witness God’s kept deadly quiet about it! And if anyone wants my opinion of the King and his Council they’ve only to ask for it!
Through this quote, Alice shows the reader and Thomas that she understands his faith and that she will be there for him. She also states that she will openly give her thoughts on the King and his Council. This can be interpreted as saying that she wants to be with Thomas and will do anything no matter what the outcome is to be with her husband. Through More’s silence, the true character traits and personalities of his immediate family members are revealed through his daughter’s steadfast tries to get More out of jail and his wife’s unconditional love for him.
Thomas More was found guilty of high treason and beheaded. Through the reactions of the characters in the play to More’s silence a lot about their personality traits was revealed. More has shown himself to be extremely loyal to God, and has placed total faith in God. Cromwell showed his loyalty to the King before his loyalty to God, the Common Man stated that he’d rather be living, then take a stance over such a trivial issue and Rich valued his own goals and career ambitions over his friendships. Through Margaret’s attempts to get More out of jail by having him sign the oath, but not mean it, it shows that she is dedicated and loyal to her father before all else, and through Alice’s speech of understanding the reader can see that she has an unconditional love for More. Through all of these actions, one can see that silence plays a major role in character development in Robert Bolt’s, A Man for all seasons.