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‘ But everyman has his price.’ Show the part that corruption plays in the action of A Man for All Seasons.
The statement ‘everyman has his price’ suggests that all humans are capable of being corrupted. Humans then succumb to certain temptations: greed, power, deception, bribery, betrayal and self-interest. Often men fall prey to such temptations in search of material comfort at the expense of spiritual comfort. More himself comments upon these temptations in the text:
“But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, trust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, charity, fortitude, justice and thought and have to choose, to be human at all”
He says that not to succumb to these, would make one a hero or at least more than a common man. More did not aim to live up to being a hero, but he stood by his moral codes and did not succumb to such temptations.
Throughout the play, attempts are made to corrupt More. Such attempts to corrupt morals and religious beliefs occur mainly because of the Kings desire to remarry. Henry
married his brothers widow which was disallowed by the Catholic Church-however the Pope eventually gave dispensation for the marriage of Henry and Catherine to take place. Now Henry wants a divorce, to enable him to marry Anne Boleyn and to secure an heir. This creates a dilemma and the King wants the backing of More, which we see when Henry is speaking with More
“Touching this matter of my divorce, Thomas; have you thought of it since we last talked”
Up until this time the Catholic Church had predominated in society and nobody had questioned its authority. Martin Luther and John Calvin were two of the primary instigators, who started a movement against the Catholic Church, because they hated the Churches ‘sale of indulgences’. For his stand Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church in 1521. He then set up his own Church, which, in 1529 was renamed, from Lutherans to Protestants, when they protested against attempts to limit their teachings. In this respect it suited Henry’s present needs to side with the reformation, to gain his divorce and thereby making himself head of the Church of England, enabling him to become his own authority. The only reason why the King needs Mores support in his divorce is because More is honest and people recognise this honesty and integrity:
“Because you are honest, what’s more you’re known to be honest”
Henry attempts to use the power of kingship to persuade More to agree with him,
“I have no wife…and those that say she is my wife are not only liars…but traitors”
The power he has means that if someone were to oppose him, he would simply dispose of them. Henry uses the word traitor because traitors are executed. All this fails to persuade More, his moral stand is too strong. He is trying to emphasise what a good king he is by showing what he is doing is for his country.
“…And all the Popes back to St. Peter, shall not become between me and my duty”
He is, on one hand, witty, pleasant and a man of elegant appearance, but he is also self-opinionated, brutal and corrupt. As he has little success persuading More with these tactics, he tries to convince More that the original marriage was sinful:
“Thomas, Thomas, does a man need a Pope to tell him when he’s sinned. It was a sin, Thomas, I admit it, I repent….”
He further tries to convince More by reasoning that all the sons Catherine has borne have, have died and this has been his punishment. Henrys argument insinuates that God has punished him, and therefore the Pope was wrong for allowing the union.
“…It was no marriage; she was my brothers widow. Leviticus: thou shalt no uncover the nakedness of thy brothers’ wife”
Which uses Biblical text to provide further evidence that the Pope was wrong. More was a devout Catholic and believed the Pope to be a direct descendant of Peter, Christ’s disciple and therefore the Popes authority went without question
“…The theory is that he is also the Vicar of God, the descendant of St. Peter, our only link with God”
“…The King in Parliament cannot bestow the supremacy of the Church because it is a spiritual supremacy.”
Although More may sympathise with the kings argument we understand from what he says his devotion to the Church and Catholicism. Henry tries to challenge Mores belief saying this is a ‘tenuous link’. More clarifies his position further “…Why it’s a theory yes, you can’t see it, can’t touch it…But what matters to me is not whether its true or not but that I believe it to be true…”, thus showing he cannot disobey Rome.
More will not break his principals, although in the end he leads his family into poverty. Alice and Margaret want More to agree with the King and to forget his principles. Their reason for this is for their family safety. Alice tries to convince her husband to capitulate with the King
“You can fit the cap to anyone you want” and accuses him of being ‘cruel’ to the household.
More asks Alice to remove his chain:
“Hell’s fire-God’s blood and body no!” “…Is this wisdom to betray your ability, abandon practice, forget your station and your duty to your kin and behave like a printed book!”
Alice is scared of loosing her position and becoming a pauper and because of this she tries to corrupt More. More is only human and Alice only wants her husband to do what she feels is best for the family and the country therefore she will not remove the chain. More, though, is acting like ‘a printed book’ and he will not accept bribes or money from the Church. Margaret knows that Sir Thomas is going to resign anyway and to show her love and respect for her father, she removes the chain although she knows it will lead to her poverty.
More feels it necessary to resign because it was his way of resisting severing the connection with Rome and Chapuys encourages Mores resignation saying he could not believe that More ‘will allow himself to be associated with the recent actions of King Henry’. More too, does not want to be associated with the corrupted King. Chapuys is not really interested in Mores moral stance; his concern is for the furtherance of Spain. (Catherine is Spanish and a divorce would sever Spanish interests in England). When he mentions that Northumberland and Yorkshire are ready to resist I deduce his intentions are political and not concerned with Mores moral integrity. When Chapuys tells More:
‘Beyond that point, Sir Thomas, one is not merely ‘compromised,’ one is in truth corrupted,” he is using verbal bribery to ensure his resignation.
More will not go against his principals; he does not want to stand trial for treason. He is careful not to accept any bribes. Chapuys brings a letter from Charles 1st, which More refuses to accept as it could be seen as an allegiance with Spain. More feels that if he were to take money offered by the Bishops, the King would have more evidence against him.
“If the King takes that matter any further, with me or the Church, it will be very bad, if I even appear to have been in the pay of the Church”
Other characters also appear to corrupt, often in their attempts to please the King. Cromwell is a very corruptive character. He shows allegiance to the King – but only for his personal satisfaction:
“Sir Thomas is going to be a slippery fish, Richard; we need a net with a fine mesh”
Cromwell is being corruptive in trying to discredit More. Cromwell uses metaphors “Raising the storm” and “to come out of harbour” to accuse More of causing conflict in standing by his morals.
The common man also refers to social movement as ‘canals’ and “Against the current of their times.” This movement is also shown with the River Thames used as a waterway that takes the characters along. This metaphor again is used by the Boatman to show how More is getting deeper into his position and the feud is getting heavy, ‘silt’, but More is trying to keep straight:
“There’s a channel there getting deeper all the time”
Cromwell is trying to set More up so that he can be more acquainted with the King. He accuses More for using God to “provide a noble motive for his frivolous self conceit.” Cromwell asks Rich to help, but Norfolk defends More because he has realised that Cromwell is only trying to corrupt him and his family, therefore Norfolk wants nothing to do with this. Norfolk consequently is not corrupt, he just does not have a strong moral code to abide by.
Wolsey, however, tries to persuade More to support him in getting Henry’s marriage to Catherine annulled. Again More adheres to his moral code, taking care not to criticise the King or say anything that would put him in danger:
“A dispensation was given so that the King might marry Queen Catherine, for states reasons. Now we are to ask the Pope to-dispense with his dispensation, also for sate reasons?”
Wolsey’s corruption is not for his personal gain. Catherine has been unable to bear Henry a son, and Wolsey feels that for the sake of the Royal succession, Henry should remarry so that he may have an heir.
“The King needs a son…let him die without an heir and we’ll have them back again” (referring to the War of the Roses). Wolsey feels that ‘certain measures perhaps regrettable, perhaps not-there is much in the Church that needs reformation Thomas-alright, regrettable! But necessary, to get us an heir!” therefore he justifies his corruption (if you can justify corruption) because it ultimately would benefit the country. More answers this:
“When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their own public duties…they lead their country by short route to chaos” More does not agree with Wolsey and even these reasons are unacceptable.
Of all the character in the play, More is the only one who does not succumb to corruption. It would have been the easy option for More agree and comply with the King, but the strength of his religious and personal morals meant more to him. He was respected for these attributes and did not want to loose this. He also felt that ultimately God was his judge.
This play is about political dalliance rather than fast moving action, “The interval started early in the year 1530 and it’s now the middle of May 1532.Two years.” It is about corruptive persuasion that More resists and ultimately leads to his execution. This is shown at the beginning of act 2:
The political dalliance of the play is instigated by More not giving in to coercion, persuasion or even temptation.
Ultimately, according to his own definition, More is a hero:
“If we lived in a State where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes.”
He lived up to his rules and the rules of his religion, however unhappy he has made those around him. ‘Everyman has his price’ except More, or was it his life that was the price he had to pay?