English 233: Introduction to Western Humanities
Baroque and Enlightenment
on the film A Man for All Seasons
Sir Thomas More (1477-1535) has been described (by G.K. Chesterton) as the single person who "may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English History." Here's a chance to get acquainted with this remarkable figure, and to explore some of the issues he confronted in the context of the Protestant Reformation as it developed in England.
This is a story about AUTHORITY (of the pope, of kings, of the Bible, of the law of the realm, of codified and uncodified morality), and thus a story about DUTY (duty to God, duty of subject to king, obligation of king to subject, obligation between friends, obligation incurred by promises). As you will see, it also turns out to be about the relations between REASON AND FAITH: how reason can clarify the content of faith, how reason might enable one to discriminate in particular cases between trust and credulity, to what degree reason can provide grounds for faith, how reason can be employed to devise plausible ways to cloak interest in the garb of faith. As this list of issues suggests, what reason ends up achieving is a function not merely of degree of intelligence and knowledge, but of the state of the will: whether it chooses to subordinate itself to reason or appetite. Hence, this is a story (as, in a very different way, Tartuffe is as well!) about the differences between COURAGE AND OBSTINACY just as it is a story about the difference between JUSTIFIED FLEXIBILITY AND OPPORTUNISTIC TRIMMING.
To prepare for this assignment, you should
review the following portions of The Western Humanities:
Intellectual Controversy and Thomas Aquinas (pp. 221-222)
The Reform of the English Church (pp. 334-335)
Northern Humanism (pp. 338-339);
review the material synthesizing
our exegesis of Genesis1-4 i.e., our sketch
of traditional Christian theology, developing such topics
as "masters and servants," "divinely
ordained subordination," "faith," and
"breach of faith."
read through the following set of biographical
articles (which you may acquire from the Arts &
Sciences Copy Center in Eisenhower 11):
on More (from Britannica 3)
In the film Thomas More is played by the noted Shakespearean actor Paul Scofield.
on Cardinal Wolsey (from The Columbia Encyclopedia, 3rd Ed. )
This role goes to the corpulent genius Orson Welles.
on Thomas Cromwell (from the same)
Cromwell is played by Leo McKern.
on Henry VII (from the same)
Robert Shaw gets the
call here in the film.
view a videotape of the film A Man for All
Seasons (1960; directed by Fred Zinneman
based on Robert Bolt's 1960 play).
This film, incidentally, won 6 Academy
Awards when it appeared in 1966,
including that for Best Picture. Bolt,
who had previously won awards for his
original play, did the screenplay for the
film. (He also did the screenplay for the
Mission, which is the focus a
separate extra-credit option.)
You can rent a copy of the videotape from Dillons East (and perhaps West as well) for 39¢ (!) a day a steal. I suggest that you invite some classmates and/or friends to join you in watching it.
The choice of topics. After viewing the films and carefully reflecting on it in the light of the materials from WH and our other readings, write a short essay on one of the following. (Shoot for something around a page long, single-spaced with standard margins and 12-point type or 10 c.p.i.)
Topic A. Compare and contrast the conception of "the good servant" represented by Cromwell and More. How is it that More was rationally able to maintain that he died "the king's good servant" even though he was being executed for treason at the king's instigation?
Topic B. It is a commonplace that servants can betray their masters, but can masters betray their servants? How could it be argued that King Henry VIII betrayed More?
Topic C. The play makes much of the fact that More is an able and principled lawyer, and a very shrewd man as well. How is he shown as man who takes the law seriously, who "puts his faith in the law"? Does the play represent him as foolish for doing this or as heroic?
Review the general instructions on Extra-Credit Assignments.
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Lyman Allen Baker
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Revised 17 September 1996