March 16, 2007

Man For All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons is a movie about Sir Thomas More & his disagreement with Henry VIII. It presents More in a very flattering light & he is to be admired for the stand he made based upon his convictions. However More also played a very active role in persecuting Protestants. He had at least 6 people executed & as many as 40 others imprisoned for their religious beliefs.

More was the first to use the concept of Utopia in a novel of the same name. In More's work private property does not exist & religious toleration is practiced (except for atheists). This concept of an ideal society was to be expanded upon by Marx & his followers except with a pro-atheist slant as opposed to acceptance of all religions.

I mention these things because it's important to remember a person for what he was, good & bad. More's belief that property rights could be negated successfully is in disagreement with my understanding of how the world does & should work, but it was his persecution of people based on their religion that is the blackest mark against an otherwise admirable man.

That being said there are several exchanges from the movie that I've always thought were beautiful in their execution. I doubt that they're historically accurate but from what I've read I think they capture the essence of some of More's positions. I'll only quote two of them & these are by no means the only ones worth watching the movie for. The first deals with the purposeful loss of a friendship for the sake of friendship, the second is about upholding the law against your enemy for your own sake. They'll be in the extended entry:

In this exchange Sir More runs into the Duke of Norfolk after More is put on notice that he displeased the King by his silence concerning the King's attempts at obtaining a divorce. The boatmen refuse to give him a ride & that's where the conversation begins.

Sir More: Howard. I canít get home. They wonít bring me a boat.
Norfolk: You blame them?
Sir More: Is it as bas as that?
Norfolk: Itís every bit as bad as that.
Sir More: Then itís good of you to be seen with me.
Norfolk: I followed you.
Sir More: Were you followed?
Norfolk: Thomas youíre dangerous to know.
Sir More: Then donít know me.
Norfolk: I do know you.
Sir More: I mean as a friend.
Norfolk: I am your friend; I wish I wasnít but I am.
Sir More: Whatís to be done then?
Norfolk: Give in.
Sir More: I canít give in Howard; our friendshipís more mutable than that.
Norfolk: Oh, the one fixed point in a world of turning friendship is that Thomas More will not give in.
Sir More: To me it has to be for thatís myself. Affection goes as deep in me as you I think. But only God is love right through, Howard, & thatís my self.
Norfolk: & who are you? A lawyer & a lawyerís son. Weíre supposed to be the proud ones, the arrogant ones. Weíve all given in! Why must you stand out? God damn it man itísÖdisproportionate. Youíll break my heart.
Sir More: No one is safe Howard, & you have a son. Weíll end our friendship now.
Norfolk: For friendshipís sake?
Sir More: Yes.
Norfolk: Daft.
Sir More: Norfolk youíre a fool.
Norfolk: You canít place a quarrel Thomas, you havenít the style.
Sir More: You & your class have given in, as you rightly call it because the religion of this country means nothing to you one way or the other.
Norfolk: Well thatís a foolish saying for a start! The nobility of EnglandÖ
Sir More: The nobility of England my lord would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount but youíll labor like scholars over a bulldogís pedigree.
Norfolk: An artificial quarrelís not a quarrel.
Sir More: Weíve had a quarrel since the day we met. Our friendship was mere sloth.
Norfolk: Ooh you can be cruel when you have a mind to be but Iíve always known that.
Sir More: What do you value in your bulldogs? Gripping is it not? A?
Norfolk: Yes.
Sir More: Itís their nature?
Norfolk: Yes.
Sir More: Itís why you breed them?
Norfolk: Yes!
Sir More: Itís so with men. I will not give in because I oppose it. Not my pride, not my spleen or any other of my appetites but I do, I. Is there in the midst of all this muscle not a single sinew that serves no appetite of Norfolkís, but is just Norfolk? There is. Give that some exercise, my lord.
Norfolk: Thomas...
Sir More: Because as you stand youíll go before your Maker ill-conditioned.
Norfolk: Now steady Thomas!
Sir More: And Heíll think that somewhere back along your pedigree a bitch got over the wall.

In this scene (which occurs earlier in the movie than the previous one) a man named Richard Rich has asked More for a position at court. More refuses & Rich accuses More's steward of being a spy for one of More's political enemies. Rich leaves hurriedly & More's family entreat him to arrest Rich.

Lady Alice: Arrest him
Sir More: For what
Lady Alice: Heís dangerous
Roper: For all I know heís a spy
Margeret: Father that manís bad
Sir More: Thereís no law against that
Roper: There is; Godís law
Sir More: Then God can arrest him
Lady Alice: While you talk heís gone
Sir More: & go he should if he were the devil himself until he broke the law
Roper: So, now youíd give the devil benefit of law
Sir More: Yes what would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the devil?
Roper: Yes. Iíd cut down every law in England to do that
Sir More: Oh? & when the last law was down & the devil turned round on you where would you hide Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast. Manís laws not Godís & if you cut them down (& youíre just the man to do it) do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?
Roper: Yes.
Sir More: Iíd give the devil benefit of law for my own safetyís sake.

Posted by Publicola at March 16, 2007 07:31 PM | TrackBack