A Man for All Seasons: Motifs in the Character Development

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Motif is a recurring image throughout a literary piece. The author Robert Bolt used motif in his well adored play describing the historical events leading to Sir Thomas More’s death called A Man For All Seasons. In this play, water and land motif reveals Sir Thomas More’s character. The protagonist, More, fears life without the stability of laws. He believes that one should be safe from the law as long as they do not break any laws. He uses his conscience to make every decision.

Thomas More is scared of having no laws. This can be seen when the common man says “Sir Thomas… is easily seasick,… and afraid of drowning” (Bolt 42). The literal sense of this quote shows the reader that Sir Thomas dislikes water. In this play water represents corruption of law, so More is afraid of the metaphorical sense of drowning. Since he is a lawyer, he prefers the stability of the law, which is metaphorically represented by solid land. Drowning can only occur in the water, not on solid land, so Thomas More is afraid of dying in the sea of corruption.

As a result of More fear of drowning, he prefers solid law, in which he views as “ a causeway upon which so long as he keeps to it a citizen may walk safely.” (Bolt, 96). More believes that society that has laws is much safer than a society without. He states that as long as one does not break any laws, they will be safe. Even though he was aware that characters in the play were out to get him, he thought he would be safe as he kept quiet. This his naivete led to his death. Another example of More’s attitude towards law is when he says “This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast -man’s laws, not God’s- and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of the law, for my own safety’s sake” (Bolt 66). More makes it clear that the law is solid, and should not be broken. He believes that if no laws were broken, one should be safe from the law.. He states that if he were to attack someone by bending the law- even for the devil, the invalid testimony would backfire on him, leaving him defenseless. This demonstrates his naivete as others did that to him.

In addition to Mores naive belief about law, water imagery develops More’s character by showing the reader that he stays true to his conscience, at all time.. More says “We speak of being anchored to our principles. But if the weather turns nasty you up with an anchor and let it down where there’s less wind and the fishing’s better” (Bolt 69). This demonstrates his value of always following his conscience. Others will swim in the current and only drop their anchor when it is safe to do so. However, More stays true to his conscience no matter the circumstance. This quote also strengthens the readers view of More’s fear of drowning in the sea of corruption. He combats this fear by implementing himself deeply in the law, however this line gets broken when Rich commits perjury. Sea and Land motif were used throughout the play to establish More’s character. It was revealed to the reader that more was afraid of corruption. The reader understand his naivete towards the law, and his ability to follow his conscience in all circumstances.


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