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A Man for All Seasons: A Play in Two Acts Paperback – April 14, 1990
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play about Sir Thomas More, the Lord chancellor who refused to compromise and was executed by Henry VIII.
About the Author
Robert Bolt (1924–1995) was distinguished as one of the most successful British writers of his generation. Bolt was an English playwright who earned a degree in history from Manchester University in 1949 and intended to be a school teacher after serving in the Royal Air Force. The incredible success of his first play, Flowering Cherry (staged in 1957/1958), drove Bolt into becoming a full-time playwright. Robert Bolt is best known for his most successful play, A Man for All Seasons (staged in 1960), which won five Tony Awards, starring Paul Scofield on Broadway. Bolt himself wrote the film version, adapted in 1966 for director Fred Zinnemann. The motion picture received six Oscars, including an award for Best Screenplay.
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The fascinating part for me is More's approach to the law. There are some very memorable quotes in this play that anyone wanting to understand the law would do well to study. More's character lays out some deep questions about the nature of proof. His situation (and the eventual resolution of his case) illustrate the continuing tension between law as a pure exercise in reason and law as an instrument of state power. Enjoyable as the play is, it is a cautionary tale.
Wonderful as the story is, Bolt's use of the Common Man and the frequent stage directions were a distraction to me - especially with all the hats. I understand the mood that Bolt was trying to set but whenever those parts of the play came around, they actually jolted me out of that mood.
If you're not into ethics, it's also a character study. Robert Bolt isn't/wasn't Catholic, so this isn't him gushing about a saint, but he did make Thomas Moore entirely admirable and yet human. He was primarily a man of the law, and when he defends himself in the play he always goes by the law, not religious sentiment, so you see the other courtly figures conspiring against him by rewriting the rules in their favor.
I could not put this down. Keep the cast of characters list handy so you can follow along in the beginning, but I promise you'll find something to be drawn to. This is a classic.
critical look. But, as a play (and movie), A Man for All Seasons is solidly in the canon.