Notes on A Man For All Seasons
These are the
final two scenes from the 1967 Academy Award Winner, A Man for All
Seasons. Thomas More (Paul Scofield) stands accused of refusing to
submit to an oath required of all English subjects affirming the claim
of King Henry VIII as supreme head of the church. This oath essentially
rejects the authority of the Pope. The king has taken this step because
he cannot gain a divorce from his second wife in order to marry his
third in hopes of gaining a male heir. More has refused to swear to
this oath because he is a devout Catholic and believes that the king is
defender of the faith, not its ruler. However, as a former member of
the court, he is duty-bound to affirm the rightful claims of the King.
How can he balance these conflicting demands?
More chooses a legal course of action. He interprets the laws to claim
that he is, indeed, guilty of treason – an offense punishable by death
– if he rejects the king’s claim. However, if More says nothing, than
his silence may be interpreted as assent. However, More is well
respected in England and throughout Europe. His silence speaks volumes
and mocks the king’s desire. For months, he’s been locked in the tower
of London with the assumption that enough pressure would force him to
relent. But More stands fast and, therefore, must be brought to trial –
charged with treason.
During the trial, he argues that since he has said nothing about his
feelings, he cannot be charged with treason. However, the prosecution
notes that silence can be more powerful than words.
Cromwell: Yet how can this be? Because this silence betokened, nay, this silence was, not silence at all, but most eloquent denial!
Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is "Qui tacet consentiret":
the maxim of the law is "Silence gives consent." If therefore you wish
to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I
consented, not that I denied.
Cromwell: Is that in fact what the world construes from it? Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it?
More: The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.
The jury would appear to side with More’s arguments but not before a
former lackey who'd sought in vain to gain employment is brought before
the court. He claims that More did, indeed, speak against the act. This
claim, while false, is damning. More cannot help but note that the
witness, Richard Rich, has recently been awarded employment by the
prosecutor, as tax collector for Wales.
Only after he knows that he will be executed, More speaks his mind at last.