The Rule of Law

A Man for All Seasons Paul Scofield.jpgIn an insightful scene from the Academy Award-winning movie A Man for All Seasons, one of Sir Thomas More’s apprentices — Richard Rich — confronts Thomas while he is chatting with his wife, daughter, and his daughter’s fiancee, Will Roper, who is an aspiring lawyer.

Rich proceeds to beg Sir Thomas for a political appointment, which Thomas refuses. Sir Thomas knows that Rich is tempted by corruption and would never be able to resist the bribes that he would be offered in such an appointment. During an earlier scene in the movie, Sir Thomas attempts to persuade Rich to pursue a career as a teacher, where he could avoid such temptations and potentially achieve true fulfillment.

An embittered Rich proceeds to leave Sir Thomas and his family to take a political job with Thomas Cromwell, who King Henry VIII has ordered to pressure Thomas to take the King’s oath forsaking Catholicism and the Pope. It is obvious to everyone in the room that the resentful Rich will ultimately betray Sir Thomas, which indeed he does later in the story.

When Sir Thomas’ wife and daughter, as well as Roper, demand that Sir Thomas arrest Rich because of what he will probably do (i.e., betray Thomas), those demands lead to the following exchange in which Sir Thomas lucidly explains the importance of maintaining the rule of law and not trumping up charges even in regard to an unsavory man who will betray him:

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