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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Man for All Seasons (pt 2)

This book is just too good. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share some of my favorite quotes and ramble on about them!

More says, "I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos."

This is classic. More is trying to hold firm to his principles, his conscience, and all his friends and family are urging him to take the expedient route, which he believes is wrong. They try to sway him by telling him his "duty" is to support the king, and he argues for the supremacy of private conscience over public duty. He even goes so far as to claim that abandoning private conscience for public duty can lead the country into chaos. Interesting, because that's almost exactly what happens in England in the wake of Henry VIII.

More later says, "I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live."

It's ironic, because throughout the second act, More puts SO much effort into NOT committing treason in word or deed. His internal struggle to remain loyal to the crown and realm while so strongly disagreeing personally with the prevailing politics is very vivid. In the end, Cromwell gets someone to lie about a conversation with More, so that he can convict him of treason and kill him. When More realizes that all his efforts to not commit treason in word or deed have been for naught, and that he's going to be convicted on false testimony anyway, he has the opposite reaction to what I would have. I think I would be furious and would lash out. But More is resigned, and basically says that any State that can and does treat one of it's subjects like he's being treated, isn't something he wants to be a part of anyway. It's a powerful statement. He'd rather die, than live with the injustice of it all.

More says, "When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again."

I love this quote! It's so powerful. The image is so vivid. The strained effort to keep one's fingers tightly pressed together to form a bowl to hold the water. But he's right, it's so little gap between the fingers, one quiver of a muscle, or slight relaxation, and all the water will slip right out of his hands. Likewise, we hold our true selves in our hands, and it is SO easy to lose our true selves. There are so many temptations to "take the easy way", and to do or say something which isn't really in line with who we are as a person. 

More says, "I neither could nor would rule my King. But there’s a little . . . little, area . . . where I must rule myself. It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court."

Again, such a powerful quote: I can't control anyone else, especially not my king. But I can control myself, and I must control myself, because I am responsible for me. It kind of reminds me of a later quote when he says to Norfolk, "If I follow you out of friendship and take this oath here on Earth, when we both die, and you go to Heaven for following your conscience, and I go to hell for not following mine, will you then follow me out of friendship?" The idea of personal responsibility is so strong in this play and in More's philosophy. He never judges others or presumes to know their consciences, but he does know his own, and he defends it fiercely!

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