1 As Bolt depicts Thomas More, he struggled to find carefully balanced courses of action that might preserve a sense of integrity, in an inherently unjust social order – more precisely, to find such courses of action in an order that was presided over by a crowned tyrant whose genuine abilities dissolved in adolescent rages, and who was manipulated by “administrators” like Thomas Cromwell and his eventual protégé Richard Rich, whose effort to “minimize . . . inconvenience” were dictated by the “state reasons” Henry’s rages embodied in more grotesquely immediate ways.
This portrayal prompts many natural questions. Among them are the following.
a Can one ( reasonably hope to ) preserve such a sense of integrity, when one occupies a prominent position in an “administration” like that?
b If not, what might Raphael Hythlodaye have had to say about the dilemma(s) More ultimately faced?
c Whatever your answers to a and b, can you find any relevant or appropriate comment which we began the course – in the Republic, for example, the Nicomachean Ethics, or the fragments of the Epicureans and Stoics? ( Feel free, of course, to ignore the references which do not apply to your section. )
2 Richard Rich, in John Hurt’s brilliant portrayal, was – initially, at least – not quiet the same sort of “administrator” as Thomas Cromwell – more ambivalent, more sensitive and self-critical ( in ways Cromwell brutally mocked and blunted in the scene in the tavern ), and in his pathetically corruptible way more honest.
a What was the nature of his dilemma, in the play’s dramatic context? Are there slight differences between his characterisations in the play and the ( somewhat shorter ) film? At what point – if ever – did his careerist progress and moral regress become ‘inevitable’? Do you agree with Bolt’s apparent suggestions ( in the play’s stage directions and assorted descriptive asides ) that self-loathing made his moral decline sharper and more drastic in complicated ways?
b Can you find any relevant observations in Utopia or the Greek ethical writings mentioned above that would apply well to him, or to the choices he faced? ( Compare, for example, Glaucon and Adeimantus’ remarks about the successful opportunist in Republic Book II; or Aristotle’s claims about “akrasia”/”weakness of the will” in NE Book VII; or the analysis of “what is in our power” by Epictetus in the Manual, #25, page 139 of our text.)
c At page 72 of the play’s text, Richa acknowledges ( after a “bitter” pause ) that what he would report and do “would depend what I was offered”. Do you believe this is true of most of us, in some morally relevant sense, as Rich himself claims in the exchange between himself and More on pages 4 and 5 of the play ( omitted from the script of the film )? Or is it simply a “convenient” rationalization for an active propensity – more active, perhaps, in Rich than in others – to seek such “offers”, as Bolt’s portrayal suggest?
3 Nigel Davenport, as the Duke of Norfolk, is identified in relatively small print in the film’s opening credits, but he is a fine actor ( he appeared as a similarly ‘aristocratic’ role in Chariots of Fire ), and he is, therefore, a ( literally ) imposing figure in the play – in his own right (when he triumphantly explodes the claim that More has “accepted bribes” – “God damn it, he was the only judge since Cato who didn’t accept bribes. . .” ), and as an incongruously “arrogant” foil ( cf. 122 ) and genuine friend, in two searching conversations about the nature of the ‘integrity’ considered in 1 above ( cf. 89-93 and 120-123 ). Norfolk’s young “son”, by the way – whom More refers to solicitously on 121 – later became a respected poet ( the Earl of Surrey ), whose sonnets are still read.
a Did Norfolk have some sort of Stoic ‘integrity’ of his own? Did his character resemble in any ways that of one or another sort of Platonic ‘guardian’? What sort of Aristotelian “friendship” or “philia” ( NE, Books IX and X ) might he and More have enjoyed?
b More precisely, what did Norfolk and More have in common, if anything? Was their friendship really “mere sloth”, as More asserts, or only partly “sloth”? Did More really mean that assertion, in any case – without qualification – or was More just trying to suspend their friendship, in some complicated but kindly way, in order to ‘free’ each party to do what he ‘had to’ do?
Whatever your answer to the question in the last sentence, might it sometimes be a genuine act of friendship or philia to ‘end’ a friendship in this way, under certain circumstances?
c Whatever your answers to a and b, what do you think of the tenability and scope of More’s scathing remark on 123, that “the nobility of England, my lord, would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount”? Are there more current analogues of this remark with which you might agree? Can you perhaps imagine alternative circumstances in which Bolt’s “patriot” “( Thomas Howard ) the Duke of Norfolk” ( as depicted in the play ) might readily and wryly have agreed with the principal implications of More’s remark?