During the English renaissance in the 1500’s, King Henry VIII wants a divorce from his wife for various reasons, but divorce is against the Catholic religion. This is why he wants Sir Thomas More’s consent, because More is a highly respected Catholic, but he is such a good Catholic that he goes against divorce. In the play, A Man for All Seasons, by Robert Bolt, King Henry VIII applies pressure on Thomas More to support the divorce in many ways. He exerts it both directly and indirectly in forms of threats and intimidation from various people. Henry forces Meg, More’s ‘renaissance woman’ daughter, to take an oath in order to see him, so she tries to influence his decision about the divorce by using her intellect and by begging. Wolsey, a cardinal, was told by the king to try to persuade him to support the king’s divorce by appointing him to a political office, so if More does not support the king, he could be executed for treason. Similarly, the king orders Cromwell, his assistant, to apply pressure by finding a reason to kill More, to force him out of the way. All of these pressures from the king lead to a moral dilemma that More has to face, but he chooses to stick to his morals.
King Henry applies pressure on More to support the divorce through Meg. While More is in jail for failing to take an oath supporting the divorce, Meg tries to convince him to take the oath, and she says, ‘Say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise,’ (page 81). More responded to this by saying, ‘What is an oath then but words we say to god?’ (page 81). Meg is applying direct pressure on More by asking him to say the oath and not believe in it, so he will get the benefits of believing it and stick to his morals at the same time. However, More thinks this is against Catholic religion because he thinks of an oath as ‘words we say to God,’ so he certainly cannot use Meg’s strategy. Meg pressures More directly by trying to reach out to his feelings when she says emotionally, ‘But in reason! Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?’ (page 81). More supports his beliefs by saying, ‘Well…finally…it isn’t a matter of reason; finally it’s a matter of love.’ Meg wants More to know that his family’s food and money depend on him, and furthermore, whether he says the oath. More still sticks to what he believes in, because he believes that he must always do what God wants him to do, for there is no limit to what god can ‘reasonably want.’ Meg does as much as she can to persuade More to support the King, but it does not work, and More sticks to his morals.
Henry also orders Cromwell to pressure More to support the divorce. At first, Cromwell informs More directly that the king is not pleased with him, and then says, ‘Yet you do not know that even now, if you could bring yourself to agree with the Universities, the Bishops and the Parliament of this realm, there is no honor which the King would be likely to deny you?’ (page 66). More acknowledges this and says, ‘I am well acquainted with His Grace’s generosity,’ (page 66). Cromwell wants More to know that the king still has great respect for him, and if he supports the divorce there would be ‘no honor which the King would be likely to deny’ him. More is not greatly affected by this type of pressure however, because he is the type of man that does not let rewards tempt him to go against his morals. Cromwell realizes that More is stubborn on this issue, and wants to execute him, so to More he directly reads the charges against him, ‘That you did conspire traitorously and maliciously to deny and deprive our liege lord Henry of his undoubted certain title Supreme Head of the Church of England,’ (pages 86- 87). More is shocked, and said, ‘But I have never denied this title!’ (page 87). Cromwell is so devoted to satisfying the king that he finds a way uses More’s silence as evidence of opposing the king, which means he is ‘traitorously’ denying the king of his title. This is the most influential pressure that More has received, because if he is found guilty of high treason, he will be executed; but he still sticks to his morals. More now has to deal with the harshest kind of pressure to face, because his life is in jeopardy.
Wolsey also plays a part for Henry in pressuring More to support the king. At first, Wolsey tries to use his power to pressure More directly into supporting the king, ‘The King needs a son; I repeat, what are you going to do about it?’ (page 12). More is smart when he says, ‘I pray for it daily,’ (page 12). Wolsey is trying to pressure More with his power by making him answer the question, by using ‘I repeat’ as a way of reminding him that he must answer the question. More, however, displays his intelligence by saying that he prays for the king’s son, instead of giving in to Wolsey’s trap and telling him that he supports the king. Wolsey then gets angry at More and indirectly pressuring him by appointing him as the lord chancellor, which More does not know until Henry informs him, ‘Did you know that Wolsey named you for chancellor?’ (page 30). More is surprised to hear this, and says, ‘He was a statesman of incomparable ability,’ (page 30). Now More has to support the king, or he could be executed for high treason, which would prove to be the harshest form of pressure for More. When More realizes why Wolsey appoints him a political position, he realizes what a smart move this is by Wolsey, and calls him ‘a statesman of incomparable ability,’ but this does not change More’s decision about the divorce. If Wolsey did not name More for chancellor, More would not have been able to be tried for high treason, and he would have been able to disagree with the king and not face execution.
More receives many pressures from many people through King Henry, both directly and indirectly. In addition to Meg, More’s whole family, including Alice, his wife, pressure him to support the king’s divorce. Also, politically he was challenged not only by Cromwell and Wolsey, but he is pressured by Norfolk, Rich, and Cranmer to support the divorce as well. Socially, More is alone in his disagreement with the divorce. All this pressure against More, and he still sticks to what he believes in and what his religion says to do, although he dies for it.
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