2006. It was at the time the West End was buzzing with politically-motivated shows in an attempt to teach the world to differentiate between right and wrong in politics, when I was taken by a good friend to a fantastic show. Without writing a review of the play, I’m attempting to justify classifying this as a cultural piece and on looking up the definition for the word ‘culture’, I found two entries which hopefully justify my witterings:
2. that which is excellent in the arts, manners, etc.
4. development or improvement of the mind by education or training.
‘Excellent in the arts’ and ‘development or improvement of the mind by education’ are the parameters of this blog entry. The play was the most excellent show I have ever seen, and it was and still is contributing to the development and improvement of my mind.
The play- A Man For All Seasons
The author- Robert Bolt
The premise- 16th century England: Henry VIII wants to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The Church refuses to recognise the divorce let alone the new marriage. Henry decides to go ahead anyway and make himself the Head of the Church of England. Sir Thomas More, a friend of Henry and Chancellor of England (akin to Prime Minister), is looked upon by the people as the moral compass of the nation. Henry VIII needs More’s endorsement to win over the hearts and minds of the nation. More refuses to bend to the King’s will. More is executed.
At the time, and still today I find the principles presented in the play applicable to life, politics, and morality (whether based on religion or not – let’s not get into this discussion now). The play is filled to the brim with lessons (and laughs and tears), but I put forward three lessons that I immediately applied to Iraqi politics (and politicians) back then, and continue to apply now:
1. Not to place your self in positions of possible temptation
Richard RICH wants to get a good job from his ‘friendship’ with More. More tests him and gauges that Rich is not fit for a position where he can be tempted. Note how More considers that being appointed to a senior position is an affliction.
MORE The Dean of St. Paul’s offers you a post; with a house, a servant and fifty pounds a year.
RICH What? What post?
MORE At the never school.
RICH (Bitterly disappointed) A teacher!
MORE A man should go where he won’t be tempted. Look, Richard, see this. (He hands him a silver cup) Look . . . Look .
MORE Italian. . ,. Do you want it?
MORE No joke; keep it; or sell it.
RICH Well- Thank you, of course. Thank you! Thank you! But–
MORE You’ll sell it, won’t you?
RICH Well-I- Yes, I will.
MORE And buy, what?
RICH (With sudden ferocity) Some decent clothes!
MORE (With sympathy) Ah.
RICH I want a gown like yours.
MORE You’ll get several gowns for that I should think. It was sent to me a little while ago by some woman. Now she’s put a lawsuit into the Court of Requests. It’s a bribe, Richard.
RICH Oh . . . (Chagrined) So you give it away, of course.
RICH To me?
MORE Well, I’m not going to keep it, and you need it. Of course-if you feel it’s contaminated . . .
RICH No, no. I’ll risk it.
(They both smile)
MORE But, Richard, in office they offer you all sorts of things. I was once offered a whole village, with a mill, and a manor house, and heaven knows what else-a coat of arms, I shouldn’t be surprised. Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one.
RICH And if I was, who would know it?
MORE You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that . . . Oh, and a quiet life.
RICH (Laughing) You say that!
MORE Richard, I was commanded into office; it was inflicted on me . . . (RICH regards him) Can’t you believe that?
RICH It’s hard.
MORE (Grimly) Be a teacher.
2. Standing fast in the face of peer pressure
NORFOLK Oh, confound all this . . . (With real dignity) I’m not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names . . . You know those men! Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?
MORE (Moved) And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?
3. Respect the Rule of Law, even if it be Man’s law (not God’s law) and it be used to defend the Devil
ROPER So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
MORE Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
MORE (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on ROPER) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you-where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast-man’s laws, not God’s-and if you cut them down-and you’re just the man to do it-d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.
If the above resonated with you, then you could watch the 1966 film, which although not as great as the show is still very good. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060665/)