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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Man for All Seasons

Some of my students are doing an end of the year project focused around the essential question "What do people value more than safety and security that causes them to rebel against the status quo?" One of the books/plays they're reading to get insight into the topic is "A Man for All Seasons" (Robert Bolt). I've been working with them, and re-reading the play myself, and had forgotten just how wonderful it is.

Short synopsis: Henry VIII wants to divorce his wife, Catharine of Aragon, to marry Anne Bolyne, his mistress, because Catharine hasn't produced any male heirs for him. Thomas More was a statesman and friend of Henry VIII. Thomas believes that Henry is wrong to divorce his wife, but keeps his thoughts to himself on this matter. When the Lord Chancellor dies, Henry elevates Thomas More to the position. When Henry convinces Parliament to break from the Catholic Church and form the Church of England, More resigns as a matter of conscience. Although More does not speak out against the break from the church or Henry's divorce, everyone assumes he is against it, and eventually More is imprisoned. In prison, he is repeatedly questioned, but he is careful never to speak treason against the king so that no charges can be brought against him. Finally, false witness is brought against him in trial to "prove" his guilt, and he is executed on July 6, 1535.

The play is brilliant in its depiction of More as a man wedded to his conscience and principles. In a society so full of examples of individuals and corporations who worship money, and are willing to throw away any moral or principle to gain money at any cost (Madoff, Enron, etc.), this book reads as a strong critique of life lived without principles as a compass to guide one's decisions. More believes so strongly that his principles, his conscience, defines who he is as a person, that he is willing to die for them, rather than betray himself.

More on this to come...

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