The society in Robert Bolts A Man For All Seasons is one where self-advancement, expediency and pragmatism are more effective means of survival than acting solely in compliance with personal morals and principles. The demise of Sir Thomas More is, in effect, the demise of true morals and loyalty in the society. The Act of Supremacy simply highlights the corrupt nature of the society and the irony that a man of such admirable traits cannot survive while remaining true to himself, ultimately a martyr, renders him too good to live and function in society.
As Mores morals and sense of self are so closely intertwined a mans soul is his self!, he feels that if any man compromises his own self in betraying their morals and perjures himself then he neednt hope to find himself again. He would not be able to live at peace with himself if he perjured himself and swore to the oath, and hence has no option but to die. While Mores humanness is certainly apparent, particularly his idealism- he sees extending his silence to his family as only a life-line and is sure he will be safe in the thickets of the law- we shant have to use it but it is comforting to have, is nowhere near the questionable traits of expediency and self-advancement as displayed by Richard Rich, his supposed friend who ultimately perjures himself to provide fabricated evidence to lead to Mores death He said Parliament has not the competence. Or words to that effect. More, however is more sorry for your [Rich] perjury than my peril, further highlighting his true integrity and the fact that he is above the other members of society- he is thinking of Richs soul when he is about to be sentenced to his death, which he knows has been unfairly issued the law is not an instrument of any kind. Once realising that in the corrupt society that the court wont construe according to the law he ultimately sees peace and resolution in dying for his beliefs He [God] will not refuse one who is so blithe to go with him. That dying is the only way he can continue to lead a peaceful existence is evidence that he is too good to live.
The society in which More lived is undoubtedly the key factor in his death. Mores demise occurs because there is no place for him, a humble, wise and particularly honest man to function as himself in the unjust society in which there are no rules. Indeed, unlike the majority of the society (Bishop Fisher excluded), More is the only character in the play who does not have either survival or self-advancement as a top priority, but rather views his status as an obligation I was commanded into office; it was inflicted on me. This is evident in his resignation as Lord Chancellor when he was told that weve severed the connection with Rome- he immediately fumbles with chain because of his belief that this is war against the Church on which he so strongly anchors his morals, and therefore himself. It is Rich, the man who ironically dies in his bed whose first consideration to a proposal is how he will benefit It would depend on what I was offered, yet it is More who is charged with High Treason when in fact the authorities are well aware that traitor he is not. It is impossible for More, a strictly law-abiding citizen to survive by abiding the law, as the law enforcers themselves abuse the law, using it as an instrument in their quest to send him to the Tower and remove him from the situation, where Henry and his subjects are only too aware of his honesty and the detrimental effect he is having This silence of his is bellowing up and down Europe! In the corrupt society, pragmatism and expediency prove more beneficial to the individual, or at least prolong survival than adhering to morals. The corrupt society ultimately rids itself of one of the Kings most loyal subjects Can I help my King by giving him lies when he asks for truth? and this shows that More has no niche in the society- he is too good for it, because as Margaret states, in any state that was half good, you would be raised up high, not here, for what youve done already.
He is on a different plane to all other members of society who simply cannot understand his reasons for being so fixed to his morals. While other characters understand to an extent the reasons for his decision, particularly his daughter Margaret, who removes the chain of office from his neck Theres my clever girl, no one in the State has the true capacity to fully comprehend Mores reasons for taking his course of action, no matter how he tries to explain it. In fact, as he has become dangerous to know, he has to pick a fight with his friend Norfolk a bitch got over the wall! because he cannot make him understand his position I cannot give in, Howard- you may as well advise a man to change the colour of his eyes. The fact that he is a good man, however, is never questioned by anyone Because youre honest- whats more to the point, youre known to be honest and though Alice doesnt believe this had to happen and understands he is the best man she will ever meet. Another example of this is the misunderstanding of Mores resignation as Lord Chancellor- Roper labels it a noble gesture, to which More is horrified- My God, I hope its understood I make no gesture!... Moralitys not practical. Moralitys a gesture. The failure of society to understand that More is prepared to die simply based on his refusal to compromise his morals for survival makes it evident that he is too good to live, because that not one single person can fully relate to him shows he is above all others in the play.
It is evident that Sir Thomas More is too good to live. Firstly, he would not be able to live at peace with himself if he had sworn to the Act, as his sense of self is so strongly tied to his morals. Furthermore, the society in which he lives is so corrupt and bent on removing him, a source of doubt against the Kings campaign, that he cannot function in his law-abiding manner- the fact that he refuses to speak his mind of the oath plays on the insecurity of society and its interpretation of silence as denial, making it panic and determined to expel him in any means possible, and since there is no chance of lawfully convicting him it must resort to perjury. Finally, no other member of society can truly relate to More and his reasons for his actions, rendering him above everyone else and hence too good to live.