Robert Bolt on the rule of law

The following is from Robert Bolt’s 1960 play,  A Man for All Seasons.

Robert Bolt

WILLIAM ROPER: Arrest him.
SIR THOMAS MORE: For what? … …
MARGARET MORE:  Father, that man’s bad.
THOMAS MORE:  There is no law against that.
ROPER:  There is! God’s law!
THOMAS MORE:  Then God can arrest him. … …
ALICE MORE: (exasperated) While you talk, he’s gone.
THOMAS MORE:  And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law.
ROPER:  So now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law!
THOMAS MORE: Yes.  What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
ROPER:  I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
THOMAS MORE:  (roused and excited)  Oh? (advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil himself turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (he leaves him)  This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?  (quietly)  Yes, I’d give the Devil himself the benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

I love those lines, and I loved the play.  I saw both the stage and movie version, and liked the stage version better.  I think Robert Bolt’s Thomas More character is a great example of the way to live, even though he talks like a 20th century agnostic such as Bolt rather than the 16th century Catholic that he was.

Click on Bolt, Robert Oxton for Bolt’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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