Thomas More or The Free Man by Jean Anouilh

February 16, 2021
Saint Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger

Published the year of his death, this superb play concludes Jean Anouilh's work in style.

The story is well known. The King of England wants a divorce but the Pope refuses his permission. Henry VIII decides to separate the Church of England from Rome and become its head. Everyone must take an oath to this schism and few refuse. For these, it is the executioner's ax.

Thomas More is one of them, bur not just anyone, as he is Lord Chancellor of England. Henry VIII, dazzled by his intelligence and his honesty, loved him above all.

He will do anything to convince his friend, but he will fail. Yet Thomas sometimes hesitates, not that he doubts his rights and his conscience, but he is afraid, like everyone else.

He will overcome this temptation and find peace of soul: “I spent the night afraid, son Ruppert,” he said to his son-in-law, “I don't have so much courage, you know. But this morning that it is done, I am no longer afraid. It’s wonderful to have arrived in this glade flooded with light, at the end of your fear ... We are a free man. "

Margaret, his beloved daughter, comes to see him in prison to convince him to take the oath: “It has been said, we must render unto Caesar.” It takes more to disturb the future martyr: “What belongs to Caesar, but when Caesar wants to take something else, there has to be one - one is almost always enough - who says no.”

The free man is going to die happy and Henry VIII started his bloody journey.

We find in this piece themes already discussed in Becket and Antigone: right consciousness at the cost of one's life or the strength to resist an evil accepted by almost everyone. It’s obviously from all eras.

Beyond the substance, the purity of the language of Anouilh alone is worth the detour. This reading can also be the occasion to see the beautiful film by Fred Zinnemann A Man for All Seasons, which tells the story of Thomas More with great sobriety and accuracy.