Study Guide

A Man for All Seasons Power

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WOLSEY: I think we might influence the decision of His Holiness.

MORE: By argument?

WOLSEY: Argument certainly, and pressure.

MORE: Pressure, applied to Church houses, Church property?

WOLSEY: Pressure.

MORE: No, Your Grace, I'm not going to help you.

For More, even if the Pope is a worldly leader and there are various corruptions in the Church, the Vatican's power is still supreme. To his mind, applying "pressure" to the Church is a violation of the terms of the game—it's secular power overstepping its bounds. Wolsey doesn't want a civil war over who will succeed the king, so he has no real problem with attacking the Church.

KING: Those like Norfolk follow me because I wear the crown. Or those like Master Cromwell follow because they're jackals with sharp teeth... and I'm their tiger. A mass follows me... because it follows anything that moves. And then there's you.

More follows the king because he's a principled subject who believes in the rule of law. This makes him different from the others, like Thomas Cromwell. But when that law conflicts with divine law, he goes against the king in a way the others wouldn't.

MORE: Hear me out. You and your class have given in, as you rightly call it... because this country's religion means nothing to you at all.

DUKE: Well, that's a foolish saying for a start! The nobility of England—

MORE: The nobility of England would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount, but you'll labour like scholars over a bulldog's pedigree.

More is attacking Norfolk in order to prevent him from being tarred by the same brush as More. But there's probably truth in what he's saying. Norfolk isn't concerned whether the Catholic Church continues to dominate England and he isn't worried that he'll go to hell or whatever if he follows the king's new church instead. But More is concerned about those things, because he thinks that it matters which institution holds spiritual power.

DUKE: But he's silent, Master Secretary. Why not leave him silent?

CROMWELL: Your Grace, not being a man of letters... you perhaps don't realize the extent of his reputation. This silence of his is bellowing up and down Europe! In Europe he is claimed as the King's enemy.

DUKE: Rubbish! Crank he may be, traitor he is not.

CROMWELL: Exactly. And with a little pressure... with a little pressure he can be got to say so. That's all we need: a brief declaration of his loyalty to the present administration.

Ironically, More's silence has power. Cromwell, being a practical man, thinks that "pressure" (i.e., the threat of death) will be enough to force More to relent. He doesn't realize that worldly power won't threaten More because fidelity to his own soul is more important to him than dying.

BISHOP: But that you owe obedience to the King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty and sign.

MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat. It is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.

More thinks his fidelity to the facts shouldn't be treason—and for him, the facts include the Church's right to be the main spiritual authority on earth. At the same time, while objecting to the king's oath for this reason, he won't actually state his reasons for opposing the oath. He's trying to oppose the unreasonable use of power, while simultaneously digging for a loophole to save his skin.

JUDGE: Sir Richard is appointed Attorney General for Wales.

MORE: For Wales. Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. But for Wales?

More devastatingly critiques Rich: Richard is betraying More—a sin that could easily damn Rich—in order to become Attorney General of Wales. But More points out how totally hollow Rich is, while possibly getting in a little dig at Wales. It's not worth it, because it's worldly power, but More only really trusts in God's power.

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