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Is More a bore?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 09, 2008

Is it heresy to whisper that the sainted Thomas More is a bit of a bore?

Thus begins a New York Times review of a Broadway revival of Robert Bolt's memorable Man for All Seasons: the play that became the still-more-memorable movie.

No, it's not heresy. A saint could, in theory, be a dull subject for theatrical portrayal. But it's a curious criticism, at least, to say (as Times review Ben Brantley says) that the playwright "neglects to include several essential ingredients for a compelling dramatic hero. Like conflict, doubt, vacillation and change."

Is it obligatory for a dramatic hero to manifest self-doubt? Somebody should tell Sophocles. 

In the screenplay, Bolt takes pains to show the interior struggle of St. Thomas More: a good man's desire to save his position, his family, and ultimately his life; competing against the demands of intellect, honor, and conscience; in the end, with the prospect of martyrdom staring him in the face, recognizing: "Finally, it's a matter of love."

Did the lead actor fail to display that dramatic struggle? Apparently not; Brantley goes to great length to praise the work of Frank Langella, who played the role of St. Thomas.

So what is the critic's complaint, then? There may be a clue in his off-hand reference to the "monolithic goodness" of the saint's character. An evil character might be easier to take--and indeed Brantley expresses keen interest in the role of the conniving, amoral Cromwell. But virtue is out of fashion. 

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