Robert Bolt,  A Man for All Seasons (1960)

Robert Bolt’s play A Man for all Seasons (1960) is, at one level, a historical drama dealing with the political destruction and martyrdom of Sir Thomas More during the reign of Henry VIII.  However, at another level, the play presents Sir Thomas More as a role model, as a man of principle who refused to compromise his principles and his sense of self in the face of severe pressures to conform.  He therefore represents a heroic example to the theatre audience of how a man can deal with the existentialist dilemma regarding the need for individuals to subjectively define their own sense of identity and selfhood and stand by that definition. 

While exploring these identity issues, the play also asserts the value of idealism over realism in public policy, and it asserts the value of adherence to high moral principles over pragmatism and expediency.  It does so in a way that glorifies the former and disparages the latter while acknowledging that the latter would be the choice of most people. 

Meanwhile, Bolt’s play displays ambivalence about the rule of law, idealistically heralding it as a protection of liberty and as a hallmark of civilisation, while at the same time noting how it can be used by unscrupulous individuals to achieve unjust and ignoble ends.  In that sense, the play attempts to show the limits of the law as a means to protect liberty and promote the nobler dimensions of civilisation. 

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2021 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: A Man for all Seasons meaning, A Man for all Seasons themes, A Man for all Seasons analysis, A Man for all Seasons notes