While kids and adults all over find their noses stuck in picture books and novels during National Reading Month, my nose has been stuck in something different: a stageplay script.
I give you A Man for All Seasons.
Written by Robert Bolt and originally performed in 1960, A Man for All Seasons tells the story of Sir Thomas More, the English Lord Chancellor who stood up to King Henry VIII—and died for it. As the famous story goes, Henry wanted to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Spain, in order to marry another woman whom he felt convinced could bear him sons (little did he know that’s not how biology works). After breaking with the Church of Rome, Henry was quickly able to obtain his divorce and marry Anne Boelyn, making her the new queen and demanding that everyone acknowledge her as his rightful wife. Pretty much everyone did… except for Sir Thomas More. He stood by the church’s authority to declare marriages valid or invalid, thereby rejecting Henry’s self-proclaimed supremacy. After trying relentlessly to gain More’s approval, Henry finally had him executed.
The play was eventually made into a movie in 1966, starring Paul Scofield and Robert Shaw, although Scofield continued to play the role of Sir Thomas More on stage for years to come.
I actually grew up on the movie since it was my father’s favorite—although as a youngster, I could never understand why he loved it so much. It was just a bunch of people in fancy costumes talking, right?
Now, years after my dad’s passing, I stumbled across the play script in his basement. I opened it up and started reading. And now, years after those family movie nights, I can see why it was his favorite.
It’s about jealousy. It’s about insecurity. It’s about manipulation. It’s about power. It’s about fear. It’s about courage. It’s about betrayal. But most of all, it’s about conscience.
I find it noteworthy that the Martin Luther (the father of the Protestant Reformation) shared More’s level of conviction about conscience: “…to act against conscience is neither right nor safe.”
The ethical questions raised in this story are beautifully explored in Bolt’s script, and they are just as relevant today. As a writer, I especially relish the way the dialogue resembles a chess game. Every piece on the board is working to corner More, and you can only wonder how long the game can continue before someone falls. So if you are looking for a thought-provoking, historically based read to finish out National Reading Month, I highly recommend this one. You will not be disappointed. And if you can’t get to it this March… well, the title suggests it should do for any time of year. 😉
What have you been reading this March?
Do you ever read stageplays for fun?
How familiar are you with the story of Sir Thomas More? What are some historically based works that you think raise pertinent questions?
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