Making the Grades
What is integrity? The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes it as "firm adherence to a code of moral values." It is synonymous with incorruptibility, honesty... or Sir Thomas More.
A Man For All Seasons tells the life story of this famous Englishman whose popularity amidst his fellow citizens comes from a reputation for fair and impartial judgment. Yet More's (played by Paul Scofield) standing within his professional circle is shaken when he declines to support King Henry VIII's (Robert Shaw) desperate desire to rid himself of a wife who cannot produce a male heir (the fact that the Ruler has found another woman is also adding urgency to his plight).
In order to successfully petition the Catholic Church to grant him a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, His Majesty needs the collaboration of the ecclesiastical and political leaders in his own country. Using his royal authority to exert the necessary power of persuasion (including bribes, threats, and levying taxes), the Monarch soon enlists the ruling class in his cause. More is also subjected to these tactics.
First he is bullied by Cardinal Wolsey (Orson Wells), a high ranking official both in church and state, who calls More's religious point of view "a horrible moral squint." Then he is flattered by career advancements. When these approaches fail to sway his loyalty to honor King before God, the attack moves to the courts where clever lawyers attempt to snare the stalwart man in various legal loopholes.
Recognizing the potential dangers of his situation, More tries to shield himself with strict adherence to the letter of the law, using incredible self-control to avoid any incriminating statements. However, his silent conviction to his principles roars louder than any inflammatory speech.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about A Man For All Seasons.
At his trial, More makes reference to the biblical scripture, ?For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?? (Mark 8:36). How did More apply this Christian teaching in his life?
The films script quotes from historical records the actual words spoken by Sir Thomas More and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, after each of them had fallen from the Kings favor. More is reported to have said, “The Kings good servant, but Gods first,” while Wolsey declared, “If I had served God as diligently as I have done the King, he would not have given me over in my gray hairs.” What insight do these statements shed on the practice of “situational ethics?” meaning to shift ones values or behavior according to the prevailing circumstances? What other characters in the movie subscribed to this philosophy?
To learn more about Sir Thomas More, see www.luminarium.org/renlit/morebio.htm. While you are there, check out the biography of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey at www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/wolseybio.htm.