Over the course of the play, Thomas More’s fortune falls metaphorically (as he falls out of the King’s graces) and literally (as he becomes poorer as a result of his lower social standing). In contrast, More’s onetime friend Richard Rich becomes wealthier and wealthier from scene to scene—the two men’s relative fortunes are mirror images. Although from the outside Rich looks like the more successful of the two men, Robert Bolt demonstrates appearances can be deceiving, by contrasting monetary wealth with rich morals. A polished, luxurious appearance does not represent a pure heart. Instead, More’s relative poverty and Rich’s relative wealth represent the opposite of their moral standings.
As Thomas More becomes increasingly committed to his moral position, his social standing decreases. More begins the play affluent, with many servants, fine clothing, and the ability to gift fine goods, like the silver cup he passes on to Rich. Rich, who has an eye for luxury, even comments that he wants “some decent clothes,” specifically a gown like More’s. However, More doesn’t value material goods. When his fortunes fall he is unperturbed, since his conscience is more important to him than physical objects and social power. Although his house is cold and food is scarce, he refers to what little he has as a “luxury.” More’s misfortune is more difficult on his family, but he tries to comfort them by saying, even “at the worst, we could be beggars and still keep company, and be merry together!” In his mind, wealth means nothing without his family and personal values, and his family and his values are enough to support him even in the absence of conventional riches.
As Richard Rich sacrifices any morals and personal integrity, he is rewarded with gold, titles, and power. In his very first scene, Rich comments that any man can be bought for the right price. Throughout the play, he proves he can be purchased, as there is nothing he won’t do for the proper payment. Each time Rich reenters, his status has grown by degrees. In the first scene he remarks how he doesn’t want to be a teacher because “who would know it?” Although he does not say it, Rich likely also does not want to be a teacher because he wants the bribes that come with a more prestigious position. Soon after Rich is working for Norfolk, but trades information about More (who secured him his position with Norfolk) with Cromwell for an even more prestigious position. In his final appearance, during which Rich lies under oath, the stage directions note that he is “now splendidly official, in dress and bearing.” During a moment in which he essentially condemns More to death with a lie, Rich, now the Attorney General of Wales, is the richest he’s ever been. More even comments upon it, asking his former friend, “For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world…But for Wales!”
Throughout the play characters attempt to bribe each other with money, power, and status. For most, a bribe is powerful enough to override any previous loyalties or moral reservations. More is one of the only characters who cannot be swayed by offers of luxury, and although he is forced to suffer, he never weakens. He is even concerned with appearing to have taken a bribe. He tells his wife, Alice, that he is unwilling even to take charity from the church, because (despite that they are not paying him for his writings) “It would appear as payment.” Others have less integrity. More’s Steward sells secrets about him for money, as does Rich. Still others, notably the Common Man as the Jailer, note the true cost of bribes. He refuses an offer to report anything More says in prison. The Jailer realizes that taking the bribe would temporarily benefit him, but it would also involve him in a complicated, potentially deadly situation. He remarks “fifty guineas isn’t tempting; fifty guineas is alarming…if it’s worth that much now it’s worth my neck presently.”
When it comes to Thomas More and Richard Rich, monetary wealth indicates a lack of morality. Rich, whose name even suggests his eventual economic status, has no morals or conscience. As a result, he happily takes bribes, and gains money and power. Thomas More, in contrast, values a moral richness over a worldly one. He doesn’t necessarily despise money, but he would rather feel spiritually rich and true to himself than keep a well furnished, impressive home. Although accepting bribes works out for Rich in the short run, the Jailer points out that monetary gain can be a stepping stone on the path to the gallows, and More worries that although accepting bribes can lead to a comfortable life, they would damn him in the afterlife.
Financial vs. Moral Richness ThemeTracker
Financial vs. Moral Richness Quotes in A Man for All Seasons
It is perverse! To start a play made up of Kings and Cardinals in speaking costumes and intellectuals with embroidered mouths, with me.
If a King or a Cardinal had done the prologue he’d have the right materials. And if an intellectual would have shown enough majestic meanings, colored propositions, and closely woven liturgical stuff to dress the House of Lords! But this!
Is this a costume? Does this say anything? It barely covers one man’s nakedness? A bit of black material to reduce Old Adam to Common Man.
Oh, if they’d let me come on naked, I could have shown you something of my own…The Sixteenth Century is the Century of the Common Man. Like all other centuries. And that’s my proposition.
Rich: But every man has his price!
Rich: But yes! In money too.
More: No no no.
Rich: Or pleasure. Titles, women, bricks-and-mortar, there’s always something.
Rich: Well, in suffering, certainly.
More: Buy a man with suffering?
Rich: Impose suffering, and offer him—escape.
More: Oh. For a moment I thought you were being profound.
Cromwell: Oh no—they’ll talk about the divorce. The King will ask him for an answer.
Chapuys: He has given his answer!
Cromwell: The King will ask him for another.
Chapuys: Sir Thomas is a good son of the Church!
Cromwell: Sir Thomas is a man.
The great thing’s not to get out of your depth…What I can tell them’s common knowledge! But now they’ve given money for it and everyone wants value for his money. They’ll make a secret of it now to prove they’ve not been bilked…They’ll make it a secret by making it dangerous…Mm…Oh, when I can’t touch the bottom I’ll go deaf, blind, and dumb. (He holds out coins) And that’s more than I earn in a fortnight!
The Apostolic Success of the Pope is—….Why it’s a theory, yes; you can’t see it; can’t touch it; it’s a theory. But what matters to me is not whether it’s true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it…I trust I make myself obscure?
More: Well, it’s a luxury while it lasts…There’s not much sport in it for you, is there? Alice, the money from the bishops. I can’t take it. I wish—oh, heaven, how I wish I could! But I can’t.
Alice: I didn’t think you would.
More: Alice, there are reasons.
Alice: We couldn’t come so deep into your confidence as to know these reasons why a man in poverty can’t take four thousand pounds?
More: Alice, this isn’t poverty.
Alice: D’you know what we shall eat tonight?
More: Yes, parsnips.
Alice: Yes, parsnips and stinking mutton! For a knight’s lady!
More: But at the worst, we could be beggars, and still keep company, and be merry together!
More: The nobility of England, my lord, would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount. But you’ll labor like Thomas Aquinas over a rat-dog’s pedigree. Now what’s the name of those distorted creatures you’re all breeding at the moment?
Norfolk: Water spaniels!
More: And what would you do with a water spaniel that was afraid of water? You’d hang it! Well, as a spaniel is to water, so is a man to his own self. I will not give in because I oppose it—I do—not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do—I! Is there no single sinew in the midst of this that serves no appetite of Norfolk’s but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord!