What just as the King is nearly upon
What could a deeply religious, devout Christian nobleman and an existential, indifferent common man separated by roughly four hundred years have in common? Furthermore, what could Sir Thomas More, an eventual saintly martyr as portrayed in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons, and Albert Camus’ Meursault from The Outsider, an apparent murderer who does not believe in God, possibly have in common? For starters, both men have led similar lives in a search for the truth, and have very strong personal belief systems. It is for this that they are persecuted and “who, without any heroic pretensions, agree…to die for the truth” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 119). Both characters, More and Meursault refuse to compromise their beliefs and as a result society condemns them.
Despite their obvious differences More and Meursault were similar men in many ways. Both men led routine lifestyles. More is a very devout Christian and as such is immersed in repetitious behaviour. Throughout the play More is often found praying, even during the arrival of the King at his home. More enters the scene just in the nick of time wearing a cassock, just as the King is nearly upon him, and knowingly risks disfavour with his liege because his prayer is that important to him. Norfolk is indignant at this behaviour, “What sort of fooling is this? Does the king visit you every day” (A Man For All Seasons, Robert Bolt, Act One, p. 26). Also, according to his Steward “Sir Thomas rises at six … and prays for an hour and a half”, “During Lent … he lived entirely on bread and water” and “He goes to confession twice a week” (A Man For All Seasons, Bolt, I, p. 23). It is in this way that More endeavours in a search for truth about life, he looks to God for the answers. Meursault is also immersed in routine, but his is a routine of a simple lifestyle. His week is made up of breakfast at Celeste’s and his nine to five day job and he “used to wait for Saturdays to embrace Marie’s body” (The Outsider, Albert Camus, p. 75). Meursault also had found his truth, but as Camus states in his after word, “This truth is as yet a negative one, a truth born of living and feeling” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 119). It is this truth that results in Meursault’s very strong beliefs. Even faced with death, he is firm in his position that there is no God. He regards the prison chaplain as one who “couldn’t even be sure he was alive because he was living like a dead man” and in regards to himself affirms his position.
“I might seem to be empty-handed but I was sure of myself, sure of everything, surer than he was, sure of my life and sure of the death that was coming to me.Yes, that was all I had. But at least it was a truth which I had hold of just as it had hold of me.” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 115)
Likewise, More also had his own beliefs, deeply rooted in religion in contrast with Meursault, on which he stood resolute. More readily denounces his strong friendship with Norfolk rather than betray his ideals, “Howard you must cease to know me…as a friend. …I can’t give in … Our friendship’s more mutable than that.” Even when offered friendship and redemption, More and Meursault refused to compromise their beliefs.
Due to their contradictory ideas, Meursault and More are pressured by their respective societies to conform. Regardless, they are both very honest men and refuse to lie to simply meet the expectations of the people around them. As pointed out by Camus “Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also…saying more than is true and…saying more than one feels” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 118). Meursault refuses to tell Marie that he loves her because that would be saying more than he feels. He is brutally honest with her because that is his nature, admitting that he doesn’t really care whether they get married or not. So it is in this way that Meursault is “condemned because he doesn’t play the game…he refuses to lie”. Meursault will not play his lawyer’s game wherein by stretching the truth on a few points, he could probably walk away without the death sentence. Instead he does not try to hide the fact that he did not cry at his mother’s funeral and when asked if he regrets his crime he admittedly replies that he “feels more annoyance about it than true regret” (Ibid., p. 19). More also refuses to “play the game”, he is consistently offered escapes throughout the play. He is promised great rewards from the King, and Margaret pleads with him, offering a loophole, “ ‘God more regards the thoughts of the heart than the words of the mouth’ or so you’ve always told me. …Then say the words of the oath and in your heart think otherwise” (A Man For All Seasons, Bolt, II p. 83). However, More will not accept this and explains why it would be a betrayal of the self to do so.
“When a man takes an oath…he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water and if he opens his fingers then – he needn’t hope to find himself again.”
It is with such an understanding that More must grow to accept his imminent death. He knows that as long as he stands on this point that he will eventually be executed. There were times during his imprisonment in which More was “in such a case that I thought to die within the hour” (A Man For All Seasons, Bolt, II p.97). These same difficulties were faced by Meursault upon his imprisonment, at first what preoccupied him was “trying to escape from the mechanism, trying to find if there’s any way out of the inevitable” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 104). Eventually though he came to the realization that “Given that you’ve got to die, it obviously doesn’t matter exactly how or when” (Ibid., p. 109), finally accepting his fate, condemned for refusing to “play the game”.
It was Meursault and More’s determination to stand for what they believed in, that results in their condemnation by society for doing so. They are condemned because society always has the capacity to hate anyone, or anything, that is different. Meursault is discriminated against because his behaviour is different from most people, and the jury shows him no remorse because of it. Camus wrote that “In our society any man who doesn’t cry at his mother’s funeral is liable to be condemned to death” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 118). This prejudice is amplified by the fact that not only is Meursault different, but because society does not understand him. The chaplain does not understand how Meursault does not believe in God and does not seek redemption, he says “Have you really no hope at all and do you live in the belief that you are to die outright?” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 112). In the same way, More’s friend Norfolk cannot understand why, his life hanging in the balance, More will not give in.
“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?” (A Man For All Seasons, Bolt, II p. 71)
Also, Meursault and More’s societies relieve their conscience by convincing themselves that these men have been given every chance for redemption, have shunned them, and so deserve the fate of their own choosing. Norfolk tries desperately to offer More one final chance, “…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?” (A Man For All Seasons, Bolt, II p. 78). Norfolk knows that he did what he had to do to survive, and he had given More every opportunity to do the same, and so he can accept More’s fate knowing that he did “everything he could” to help. Meursault also is given every chance by society to prove himself a man of conscience. Instead he openly admits that he didn’t cry at his mother’s funeral, considers a suspected procurer a friend and even intervened on his behalf when he had beaten his mistress. Society could accept the execution of an “immoral monster”. So Meursault and More willingly accepted their sentence, since it was more important to them not to betray themselves.
Meursault and More have shared a very similar life experience, a search for the truth, in which they have been condemned by society for standing resolute on their strong beliefs; for refusing to “play the game”, for refusing to lie. However these men have succeeded in their own right. Upon his call to death, Meursault “…for the first time…laid myself open…to the benign indifference of the world. And finding it so much like myself, in fact so fraternal, I realized that I’d been happy, and that I was still happy” (The Outsider, Camus, p. 117). Likewise, Sir Thomas had his own personal victory. Regardless of any protest, More apparently is the stuff of which martyrs are made and it would appear that, much to Richard Rich’s undoubted dismay, that Sir Thomas More was correct: Not every man has his price, not even in suffering.