April 10, 2017

A Man For All Seasons – Giving the Devil the Benefit of Law

Filed under: History, Law, Liberty, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Aug 8, 2012

From Robert Bolt’s classic A Man for All Seasons (1966), directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Paul Scofield as Thomas More, the famous English lawyer, philosopher, and Renaissance humanist.

Alice More: “Arrest him!”
Sir Thomas More: “For what?”
Alice More: “He’s dangerous!”
Margaret More: “Father, that man’s bad!”
Sir Thomas More: “There’s no law against that.”
William Roper: “There is: God’s law!”
Sir Thomas More: “Then God can arrest him.”
Alice More: “While you talk, he’s gone.”
Sir Thomas More: “And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!”
William Roper: “So, now you’d give the Devil the benefit of law!”
Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”
William Roper: “Yes! I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”
Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is 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, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”


  1. Thomas More is the Atticus Finch of the English Reformation — not nearly as admirable in real life as he was in the play/film/book. I had a seminar on Thomas More in my fourth-year university course. I found him just as bad as the villains he was fighting — intolerant, etc. If I recall correctly, his willingness to give the Devil the benefit of man’s law may well have been accurate. That attitude would not have been unusual in a 16th (17th, 18th, 19th) century common lawyer.

    Comment by Steve Muhlberger — April 10, 2017 @ 08:37

  2. I’ve had rather the same experience, although I never took a course that included More directly. A great film, according to many film buffs, but not great history (still, probably better than average for its time).

    Comment by Nicholas — April 10, 2017 @ 08:52

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