A Man for All Seasons: Presentation of Religious Faith and Its Consequences
A discussion of Bolt’s presentation of religious faith and its consequences in A Man for All Seasons
Religious faith is, in the play, an important factor to both the plot and the presentation of characters and their beliefs. Moreover, Bolt’s almost comical, ironic approach adds to contrasting characters and bringing out the themes of morality and hypocrisy while highlighting that which the play revolves around. More’s being torn between his faith and his allegiance.
Firstly, toward the beginning of the play, the audience is introduced to Wolsey, a man of God, whom Bolt uses to create a first impression of the Church. Wolsey is immediately a contrast to More, seen to be frantic in language and action. It is ironic, as one would not particularly expect this of a churchman. To follow the initial shock, Wolsey is seen to reprimand morality, as he finds More’s strong moral standing, an inconvenient “quint”. Bolt uses more irony in Wolsey putting out the candles, signifying the destroying of hope. Faith, which should be a source of hope, instead offers nine and this foreshadows More’s death at the end of the play, as that which should have been trustworthy, is not.
In opposition to Wolsey, and a lack of Faith and morality in the church, stands More. This is seen in his faith in prayer, as he claims they will have his “prayers to fall back on” even if chaos were to envelop England. He is willing to risk anarchy and put the fate of England in the hands of a potential “miracle”. This speaks largely of his faith. Bolt uses the mention of stakes and Wolsey’s frantic approach to it, to make waiting for a miracle, seem highly impractical, therein also portraying how religion is irrelevant, and cannot fully be leaned on.
In support, is the lack of a religious stand on Common Man’s part. He is portrayed not necessarily as corrupt like Rich or Cromwell, but as having a deep rooted survival instinct, as seen with the boatman having a family ans the steward not staying with More, once he has given up his material luxuries. The Common Man, who is, arguably, the Man for All Seasons lacks a convicted faith in God. Bolt portrays the man whose are “all the…centuries” this way presents the irrelevance and inadequacy of religion as being, in fact, timeless.
Although more is shown to keep to his faith in God, Bolt also suggests that it is more a matter of conscience than religion. More “anchors” himself in the law, as he believes in its necessity and authority. Moreover, he says to Norfolk that it is not that he believes it but that “I believe it”, speaking of his being true to his conscience because it is his. Similarly, it could be argued that ore’s silence serves as evidence that he keeps hope in law and morality as opposed to acknowledging the inevitability that comes with God. It would seem that his faith in a “watertight case” outweighs his faith in God. This again portrays the futility of religion, further emphasized as it is the case he dies for.
Another way in which Bolt significantly portrays religious faith is using Chapuys. As he is introduced as the representative of the Church, in the plot, his manner should reflect the faith. Bolt depicts him as a parody. Ironically, Chapuys lacks most of the positive Christian attributes, is corrupt and discreet, thereby making a mockery of the Catholic Church. Bolt uses humor to portray the blatant spying, as their “legs protrude clearly”, making them deceitful, but clumsily so. In addition, Chapuys follows in Cromwell’s steps, in trying to squeeze information from the steward showing that he is no better, morally. However, unlike Cromwell, who challenges the worth of what he is hearing, Chapuys is more easily played, even appreciating a false proclamation of the cross being steward’s “master”, depicting the Faith as being not only hypocritical, but also silly and ineffectual.
Similarly, this portrayal of the Church works to intensify the plot, as it was what stood between the king and his heir, and More keeping his head. To bring it into context, Bolt uses Chapuys to remind the audience of the stakes and the consequences in that a sign form More, indicating which side he was on would be understood by “half your fellow countrymen”. If the church had More, it would influence the King and in them being nothing but pretentious and ineffectual, the consequences and the suspense leading to it is heightened.
Finally, the theme of religious faith and Bolt’s presentation of it comes from knowing the risks but also being influenced by the comic ironic qualities attributed to the church. A mess of feelings as to faith is created using Roper, the heretic. More warns him about voicing his beliefs as they could be interpreted as treason, this bringing in the element of tension, again the crux of the plot. This is contrasted with Roper being incautious, naively passionate and a comic relief. This leaves the audience acknowledging the seriousness that is at the coe of the plot, but also that it comes with a comical, light aftertaste.
In conclusion, Bolt portray faith and religiosity perhaps cynically, using irony and humor to highlight characters’ attitudes, intensify the plot and develop relevant atmosphere. Moreover, he explores themes including corruption, politics and religion versus morality subtly, while still keeping the main ideas carried through the play.
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