Plays by Robert Bolt

A Man for All Seasons

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

In this tense play of conscience, faith and power, Bolt brings to the stage one of history’s most adamantine and principled figures.

Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, enters into a fierce political and moral conflict with King Henry VIII when he refuses to support the King’s decision to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon. More’s decision to endorse the divine right of the Pope over and above that of the King leads to his tragic martyrdom.

A Man for All Seasons depicts the confrontation between Church and State, theology and politics, absolute power and individual freedom. Throughout the play Sir Thomas More's eloquence and endurance, his purity, saintliness and tenacity in the face of ever-growing threats to his beliefs and family, earn him status as one of modern drama's greatest tragic heroes.

The play was first staged in 1960 at the Globe Theatre in London.

Picture of Robert Bolt

© Mark Gerson

Robert Bolt (1924-1995) was born at Sale, near Manchester, the son of a shopkeeper. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and continuing at Manchester University he graduated in history in 1949. He then became a schoolmaster and also started writing radio plays for the BBC before achieving his first London theatrical success with Flowering Cherry (1957).

Bolt's reputation rests largely on his historical dramas, all of which involve confrontations of differing values that have altered history. The best of these, A Man for All Seasons (produced at London's Globe Theatre in 1960, but originally written in 1954 and intended for the radio) deals with Sir Thomas More's struggle to keep his conscience inviolate while serving his sovereign, King Henry VIII, creating a dramatic clash between principle and power.

In Vivat! Vivat Regina! (1970) Bolt returns to the sixteenth century, this time examining the confrontation between Elizabeth I and the vividly defiant Mary, Queen of Scots. State of Revolution (1977) depicts the struggle among Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and others to define and implement the Russian Revolution, showing the corrosive effects of dictatorial power on both people and leaders.

In addition to his stage plays, Bolt is equally known for his screenplays, notably Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Dr Zhivago (1966), the Academy Award-winning A Man for All Seasons (1967) which, like the stage productions, starred Paul Scofield, and Ryan's Daughter (1969).