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A Man for All Seasons: Marxist Literary Criticism
Transcript of A Man for All Seasons: Marxist Literary Criticism
Based on the ideas of Karl Marx, this criticism focuses on relationships between socioeconomic classes.
How does the text reflect the socioeconomic conditions of the time it was set?
The play is set in the sixteenth century, during the reign of King Henry VIII.
How might the work be seen as a critique of organized religion?
In the text, religion is not used to aid the general population, but to attain political goals while avoiding civil unrest.
How does religion function in the text to keep a character from realizing and resisting socioeconomic oppression?
In this context, the oppressive force is King Henry VIII.
Does the text reinforce capitalist, imperialist or classist values?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
The story is set in sixteenth century England. The country is controlled by a monarchy.
The Moral Lawyer
The Immoral Cardinal
: Would you tell the council? Yes, I believe you would. You're a constant regret to me, Thomas. If you could just see the facts flat on, without that moral squint; with just a little common sense, you could have been a statesman." p. 10
He appears more as a political figure than a religious one.
He makes an
so that Henry and Catherine can marry, so England and Spain can have a politically favorable alliance.
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This criticism will be applied to
A Man for All Seasons
through five questions.
Capitalism: a way of organizing an economy so that the things that are used to make and transport products are owned by individual people and companies rather than by the government
Imperialism: a policy or practice by which a country increases its power by gaining control over other areas of the world
Classism: unfair treatment of people because of their social or economic class
The few elite control the country.
The gap between the elite and the majority poor is very wide. The rich control the health care, education, religion and power.
Both individual companies' power
and other nations aren't discussed.
That rules out capitalist and imperialism.
That just leaves classism.
Classes other than the elite are left out of
The play does display the elite as
corrupt, however they do try to help
the country by insuring it has an heir.
Which would support the idea they should be in power.
That could be seen as supporting the elite
and unintentionally supporting classism.
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In what ways does the text reveal, and invite us to condemn, socioeconomic forces?
The highest socioeconomic class controls everything in the country.
The king needs More accept his position as head of the church in England so others will follow.
Greed and Justice
That is a stretch at best.
There is no concrete evidence that this text supports capitalist, imperialist or classist values.
We also learn , during More's prosecution, it is common for judges to accept bribes.
If More doesn't accept it, than it could cause riots amongst the lower classes.
"Norfolk: What! Goddammit he was the only judge since Cato who didn't accept bribes! When was there last a Chancellor whose possessions after three years in office totalled one hundred pounds and a gold chain." p. 58
This creates a double standard in the law between rich and poor.
This also constitutes a form of oppression.
The poor think the courts will give them a fair judgement, but they do not, and they accept this unfair judgement.
The story displays the bias in the justice system and how it is used to benefit the powerful and wealthy.
They use the justice system, religion and politics to manipulate the people and stay in power.
If he does, it means the king will have little trouble with the people during this transition.
"Chapuys: Believe me, my lord, such a signal would be seen-
Chapuys: Yes, my lord; it would be seen and understood.
More: By whom?
Chapuys: By half of your fellow countrymen! Sir Thomas, I have just returned from Yorkshire and Northumberland, where I have made a tour.
More: Have you indeed?
Chapuys: Things are very different there, my lord. There they are ready.
More: For what?
Chapuys: Resistance!" p. 51
Connection with Religion
is an ideology that keeps the poor happy and the rich wealthy.
The population follows the teachings of the religion and the decisions of the religious leaders.
In this case, the Pope.
The King doesn't have control over religion. That means he can't divorce without the Pope's permission.
People are very attached to their religion. The King changing or altering the religion in England has potential to cause great political unrest.
To proceed with his political and personal divorce, he will require a lot of support from the community to avoid unrest amongst the people.
The King will have to manipulate religion to keep the public happy while he seeks his political goals.
And that is exactly what he does.
It begins when the Church in Convocation submits and the connection with Rome is severed.
An example from the text:
"More: All right I will - this isn't 'Reformation'; this is war against the Church! ... Our King, Norfolk, has declared war on the Pope - because the Pope will not declare that our Queen is not his wife." p.52
Then the "Act of Succession", which declares the King's marriage to the Lady Catherine was unlawful because the Pope had not the authority to sanction it.
The King now has the religious and political power to succeed.
As anticipated, not everyone is happy with the change happening. More has not submitted to the King like everyone else and begins to become a symbol of resistance.
For this reason, the King must stop More to maintain his power over the people.
There are many ways that this text reveals the oppressive socioeconomic forces at the time.
The three main ways are through the manipulation of religion, politics and the courts.
Oppression Through Manipulation
This is all done so that one man, the King, may remarry.
Along with the corruption, it is difficult for the reader not to condemn the socioeconomic forces.
In this time period, the few elite control the country.
The majority of the population was poor - the middle class was almost nonexistent. Also, the morality rate amongst the poor was very high.
Lack of Evidence
A Man for All Seasons
focuses on the elite and the lack of contrasting between classes makes it difficult to gain information about the time period.
We are given little information about the economic state of the common man or woman in this story.
However, we do have an idea about their social status.
Character: The Common Man
The Common Man represents the population
in the story.
He has next to no social power whatsoever.
However, he does say:
"...The Sixteenth Century is the century of The Common Man. Like all other centuries."
Suggesting, that one ordinary person doesn't hold power but masses have true control of the country.
From what we can guess, the common man is also quite poor compared to Thomas More.
This reflects that the majority of the population was poor while the elite were very rich in comparison.
More and his family are well educated and literate.
The Common Man is illiterate and, as far as we know, has had no education.
This reflects the monopoly on education by the elite at the time.
By Robert Bolt
: Bless you, sir - that's all right! I expect you'll make it worth my while, sir.
: Boatman, have you a license?
: Eh? Bless you, sir, yes; I've got a license.
: Then you know the fares are fixed - ..."
Historically we know that inflation was high during this period. The price of food and goods was rising so quickly many families were unable to buy food.
It was particularly a problem for jobs with fixed wages because the prices would rise faster than their income.
Fixed wages, however, benefited the rich because they could pay the workers the same amount as the value of money decreased.
The King was the most powerful person in the country at the time. Evidence of his power is displayed very clearly in this text.
The King had the power to:
Execute a person
Seize a person's assets (as with Thomas More)
Control the military
Influence, and eventually, control religion
Decide his heir
The King controls much of the country and what he can not control, he can influence.
Socioeconomic Power Gap
From the King to the Common Man, this text reflects accurate historic data concerning social power and economic status.
The King has the treasury at his disposal, and wields the most power within the country.
The Common Man has no social power and very little money, as was the status of the majority of the population at the time.
This is demonstrated through possessions, assigned power and benefits (such as education and health care).
The hierarchy of the church is portrayed as corrupt and weak.
History tells us Spain was occupying Rome when the Pope made the decision that Henry and Catherine can't have a divorce. That alliance was favorable to Spain and the Pope submitted to their wishes under pressure.
The Pope is portrayed as a weak man, who bases his decisions on politics rather than what is right and wrong.
The King's View
No opposition I say! No opposition! Your conscience is your own affair; but you are my Chancellor! There, you have my word - I'll leave you out of it. But I don't take it kindly, Thomas, and I'll have no opposition! I see how it will be the Bishops will oppose me. The full-fed, hypocritical, 'Princes of the Church'! Ha! As for the Pope! - Am I to burn in Hell because the Bishop of Rome with the Emperor's knife to his throat, mouths me Deuteronomy? Hypocrites! They're all hypocrites! Mind they do not take you in, Thomas! Lie low if you will, but I'll brook no opposition - no words, no signs, no letters, no pamphlets - mind that, Thomas - no writings against me!" p. 33
This section is a direct criticism on the Church by Henry because they are hypocrites by not letting him repent his sins by divorcing Catherine.
This whole conversation is very ironic because Wolsey, who is a cardinal, is asking Thomas, a lawyer, to be less concerned with morality.
Again, the text suggests the Church is more focused on politics than religion.
The Submission of the Church
Earlier on, Henry declared he would have no opposition when he decided to separate from Rome.
"Norfolk: "I'll do it, Roper! Convocation's knuckled under, Thomas. They're to pay a fine of a hundred thousand pounds. And ... we've severed the connection with Rome." p. 52
He was correct. The Church in Convocation submitted to him with only one Bishop opposing the decision. The bishops abandoned the rules of their religion, which states the Pope is the connection to God, and their loyalty to Rome in order to avoid prosecution by the King. The bishops are supposed to be moral, but they left those morals behind.
This criticizes the bishops for being moved by fear to cut off Rome. The bishops are supposed to be moral, but they aren't portrayed that way in the text.
As a religious man, Wolsey should be the one arguing for morality. Instead, Thomas is.
Critic at Heart
This narrative is constructed around morality. The man that shouldn't be moral is, and the religious men aren't.
Throughout the text, the Church is portrayed in an immoral, hypocritical light.
The audience sees the leadership of the Church composed of men driven by politics, not morality or religion.
At the end, the religion resembles a tool rather than a guide of morality.
This is the reasoning behind More's prosecution.
Turn on the volume!
We know the religion keeps the lower classes passive, but those aren't really included in the play.
One character blinded by religion is Sir Thomas More.
By far the most religious character in the text, More is even more moral than Cardinal Wolsey.
He firmly believes in the rules of religion and the leadership of the Pope.
Throughout the story, More refuses to accept the reality of his situation.
The situation, that is, of the separation of the Church of England.
Faith in Others
More is a good person but he makes the mistake of thinking other people are as moral as he is.
Possibly he doesn't know this, or he isn't willing to accept it.
This leads him to believe others will see the wrong in the separation and take action, without him having to interfere.
One of the teachings of religion is to have faith in the leaders of the Church.
More believes the bishops will do the religiously correct thing and defend the Pope.
More believes the elite of the country are as moral as he is.
This stems from another religious teaching: that everyone can be good.
Blinded by Faith
More is convinced by his faith that others are as moral as he is and they will take action against what is wrong.
Following these beliefs, More doesn't take action to defend the Pope.
More follows the law, and believes others will too. During his prosecution, he knows they can not legally harm him but that is assuming they follow the law.
More's religion keeps him blind to the misdeeds of others and advises him against taking action against the leaders of the Church and country.
A Man For All Seasons
is a novel which reveals and reflects the socioeconomic conditions of the time it was set. Those same socioeconomic forces are portrayed as oppressive and are condemned. In no way, are classism, imperialism or capitalism promoted in the text.
Religion is also seen as a tool of the elite for control over the population. it keeps the people from taking action against those in power, for example, Sir Thomas More. Organized religion is shown as corrupt and political.
Overall, the elite are portrayed as corrupt, immoral and weak.
The novel invites the reader to condemn them.
It's time to wake up
All five questions have been answered,