A Man For All Seasons
by Robert Bolt
I have not seen this play, nor even the film based on it. So my reaction here is, as is necessarily the case with a reaction to a theatre script, a reaction to a blueprint. That being said, it strikes me as something peculiar.
It’s the story of Thomas More, and More is definitely the hero of the piece. Not only is he the most moral and most intelligent character in the play, none of the other characters really seem to be able, on some profound level, to even understand him. He is a great man, and nobody else in the play demonstrates a greatness kin to his. As written, the text seems to me to be trying to make clear to the audience wherein More’s greatness lies while at the same time hiding it from the other characters.
More’s downfall, if downfall it is, comes not from any weakness in himself; Bolt’s preface to the play makes it quite clear, in fact, that he sees (or has treated) More as “a hero of selfhood”. But this is not a typical tragic hero — he lacks a flaw. He is in fact much more like John Proctor in The Crucible; a moral man in a society that is afflicted by the immoral, who eventually is thrown in prison and sentenced to death for being, in essence, incorruptible in a corrupted world. The interest comes perhaps in empathising with a (morally) superior being, who is brought down, mocked, and destroyed by the world; which means, these are passion plays.
As such, this play is quite strong, or so it seems to me (and obviously this is a work that has been quite celebrated over the years). I’m interested enough to want to see the movie (or play, if I get the chance) to see what a director can do with the material. Bolt talks in his preface about trying to use Brecht’s alienation techniques; on the page, they don’t seem particularly likely to alienate, and I wonder what the effect is in production. Certain things one can imagine; other things one can’t, and that is why one must see it for oneself.