Fanfare for an Uncommon Man

‘A Man for All Seasons'

St. Thomas More is claimed as a patron by, among others, lawyers, statesmen, widowers, and step-parents—and by people like me who belong to none of those categories. My own devotion derives from having seen Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons at an impressionable age, and though my personal St. Thomas has the face of Holbein’s portrait, he thinks and talks like Bolt’s hero, with the thick voice, ready wit, and simmering intensity of Paul Scofield in the 1966 film.

I cherish this version of More even knowing that A Man for All Seasons is an incomplete account of his qualifications for sainthood. Bolt’s play covers only the last six years of More’s life; it hardly mentions the man’s scholarship and conveys little of his spirituality. The stirring eleventh-hour courtroom address omits what may be the real-life statement’s most remarkable feature—More’s prayer that he might meet his judges “merrily” in heaven. But Robert Bolt did not set out to write a devotional text; his subject was Sir Thomas More, who exemplified a commitment to “self” that Bolt considered rare in the sixteenth century and all but extinct in the twentieth. In a preface to the published play, Bolt offers an “apology...

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About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is Commonweal's associate editor at large. She blogs at dotCommonweal.