Man for All Seasons (Review)

Labels: Great Works


A Man for All Seasons
Robert Bolt, 1960
163 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
September 2010
When Robert Bolt's play opened 50 years ago, critics called it "dazzling"... "luminous," ... "universal." For years thereafter, the play was performed in theaters and taught in classrooms around the country. Today, it's strangely neglected. It shouldn't be.

A Man for All Seasons is the story of Thomas More—another casualty of the Tudor-Boleyn era. Despite pleadings of friends and family, even his soverign, More will not...cannot...approve Henry's divorce and remarriage. A devout churchman, he chooses principle over expediency—at the cost of his life.

It's hard for us today—as indeed it was 500 years ago—to conceive of a man so steadfast in his beliefs and confirmed in the value of his own conscience. Thomas Cromwell, in this work a ruthless exploiter, taunts More, suggesting his concern for his ideals is self-flattery. More says he refuses the King "out of pure necessity for the respect of my soul.... My soul is my self."

This is not Hilary Mantel's Thomas More: Bolt gives us a character who is witty, warm and loving, a true and honest friend—a view that has had a long reign in the public's mind.

The differences in the portrayals of Cromwell and More, from Wolf Hall to A Man for All Seasons, could not be starker. That would be the pleasure in selecting this drama for a book club. Read it alongside Wolf Hall—either before of after.

Also, consider watching (AFTER you've read the play...right?) the 1966 film version, headed up by Paul Scofield. Your library should have a copy, as does Netflix.


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