In A Man For All Seasons friendships, which are traditionally sources of comfort and joy, instead become dangerous. The Duke of Norfolk, for example, is put in danger by his friendship with Thomas More, as it leads the King and others to assume that the Duke shares More’s traitorous opinions. Other friendships are harmful because they come with expectations—the King calls More his “friend,” and uses this connection to sway More politically. Still other friendships pose a threat because they come with no expectations at all—Richard Rich sees his friendship with More only as a way to personally advance himself. When it’s convenient, he happily denies his relationship to More, selling him out again and again. Friendship, then, is a loaded term in the play—characters use it to refer to personal relationships as well as professional ones; it stands in for political alliances, and can be used as a tool of political pressure.
Richard Rich’s friendships are almost always lopsided. At first, More believes the two are true friends, but Rich sees the friendship as a stepping stone to higher ranking acquaintances. In their first scene together, Rich wonders if he should say he has the “friendship of Sir Thomas More,” or “acquaintance.” More easily responds that they have a friendship, but Rich describes himself as being “A friend of Sir Thomas More.” By saying “friend of” instead of “friends with” he shows how one sided the friendship truly is. Rich doesn’t see himself as having any obligation as a friend, instead expecting More, who is higher ranking, to help him. Later, Cromwell assumes Rich and More are old friends. Rich is reluctant to admit they are friendly, first saying “He isn’t really my friend...” and then explaining that More just recommended him to the Duke, as though the favor was not directly related to the two being friends. Rich worries that if Cromwell thinks he feels any affection towards More, Cromwell will be less likely to help him climb the social ladder. Rich also tries to become friends with Cromwell, but just as Rich had been hesitant to declare himself friends with More, Cromwell says Rich can call them friends “If you like”—yet he never describes Rich as a friend. For Cromwell, political alliances are more important than friendship.
The King refers to Thomas More as a friend, but the two are so unevenly matched in power that they could never have a true, reciprocal friendship. In fact, the King wants More to feel as though he has an obligation to keep him happy. When political pressure does not immediately change More’s behavior, the King hopes the pressures of friendship will cause More to weaken. The King thanks God “I have a friend for my Chancellor,” though suspects More is “readier to be friends, I trust than he was to be Chancellor.” This is true. More is engaged in a balancing act—he does not want to upset the King, but he wants to stay true to himself. By introducing the concept of friendship, the King makes it extra difficult for More, who is now disappointing the King both politically and personally. In the same vein, Alice cautions More to “stay friends” with the King—meaning that More should stay in the King’s good graces, politically as well as personally.
More and Norfolk are close friends, but their camaraderie proves dangerous for Norfolk when More falls out of the King’s good graces. Cromwell even uses Norfolk’s friendship with More to threaten Norfolk, warning that he will “tell the King of your loyalty to your friend,” which will send a signal that Norfolk is loyal to More and not to Henry. Later, Norfolk confronts More about his behavior. He argues that More is not considering how his behavior affects his friends, and tells More he is “dangerous to know!” Although More values his friendships, he values his integrity even more. When Norfolk confronts him, More responds that they can simply stop being friends, and Norfolk will then be safe. More insists he still feels deeply for Norfolk, but that they should just agree to stop being faithful to each other. Although he is the one at risk, Norfolk has difficulty breaking off an acquaintance so easily. Even later, when Norfolk has solidly aligned himself with the King as opposed to More, Norfolk looks out for his old friend and tries to ensure he’s being treated with some dignity.
A Man For All Seasons takes place in what Norfolk describes as “a world of changing friendships.” Friendships are often unreliable, and when they are reliable they’re dangerous. Bonds of friendship are taken to signal political alliances, or else exploited for gossip. For More especially, friendships are often toxic and even deadly. The most important, stable relationships in his life are the bonds of family, which cannot be as easily manipulated for personal gain.
Friendship Quotes in A Man for All Seasons
Norfolk: …The one fixed point in a world of changing friendships is that Thomas More will not give in!
More: To me it has to be, for that’s myself! Affection goes as deep in me as you think, but only God is love right through, Howard; and that’s my self.
Norfolk: And who are you? Goddammit, man, it’s disproportionate! We’re supposed to be the arrogant ones, the proud, splenetic ones—and we’ve all given in! Why must you stand out? You’ll break my heart.
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!
Norfolk: Oh, confound all this…I’m not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names…You know those men! Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?
More: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?