Arts and Culture

‘Man For All Seasons’ Is First-Rate Theatre

I have had some more thoughts on the drama now playing at the Acorn Theatre in Manhattan. Except for famous soliloquies from Shakespeare’s masterpieces, I cannot think of another play that has more quotable lines than ‘A Man for All Seasons.”

People who have seen the play only once are able to quote lines that they love from the play. Often when the play comes up in conversations with my friends, they will quote lines of dialogue that they find both memorable and interesting, some lines even inspiring.

Splendor Amid Complexity

In one scene, in trying to explain to his daughter, Meg, and the man she loves, Will Roper, why he won’t sign the oath affirming the bill that would make King Henry, rather than the pope, the supreme ruler over the Church in England, Thomas More says the following:

“God made the angels to show him splendor – as he made the animals for innocence and the plants for their simplicity. But Man he made to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind! If he suffers to fall to such a state that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and yes, Will, then we may clamor like champions … if we have the spittle for it. And no doubt it delights God to find splendor where he only looked for complexity. But it’s God’s part, not our own, to bring ourselves to that extremity! Our natural business lies in escaping – so let’s get home and study this Bill.”

Later in the play, Norfolk, More’s friend, tries to persuade Thomas to sign the oath for fellowship with all those who have signed it. More replies:

“And when we stand before God and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me for fellowship?”

Later in the play Meg once again tries to persuade her father to take the oath so that he will be released from the tower of London. More replies:

“When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.”

I love the image of taking an oath, or for that matter, making a vow, as holding your own self in your hands and making a gift of your own self. When a person does that, he or she takes a great risk.

To offer yourself because of love in a life commitment, I think is the greatest risk but it also holds out the greatest possibility for personal growth and holiness. In a life commitment, a person imitates God’s commitment to us.

But For Wales?

The words from the play that my friends quote most often are said by More after the ambitious Richard Rich has perjured himself by lying. He said More told him that More did not believe that Parliament had the right to make King Henry the head of the church in England.

After Rich has perjured himself and is leaving the witness stand, More asks what the new medallion that Rich is wearing represents. He is told that Rich has been appointed attorney general for Wales. Looking into Richard’s face with both pain and amusement, More says the following:

“For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world. … But for Wales!”

The last line I will refer to is spoken by More to the executioner just before he is beheaded: “Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God.”

Seeing the revival of “A Man for All Seasons” and writing two columns about the play has really been a very enjoyable experience for me, indeed a beautiful experience for me. I am grateful to the Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA) for reviving the play and creating such a powerful and inspiring production.

Seven of my friends and I, who went to see FPA’s production, had seen the Broadway revival a few years ago. All of us agreed that FPA’s production was more moving.  Among the many qualities present in an FPA production is creative skill.

I have seen all the plays FPA has produced. Each has been excellent. I do not need to be convinced that FPA’s mission – to present theatre that conveys a Christian worldview – is very important. Nor do I need to be convinced that an FPA production will be first-rate theatre.


Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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