Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thomas More in "The Tudors"

Halfway through its second season, The Tudors loses one of its more interesting characters, Thomas More.  More is complexly written and subtly played by Jeremy Northam--I'll miss him.

Thomas More is shown to be a man of scrupulous conscience, a thoughtful man of principle and conviction.  In season two, that is mostly sympathetic--he is willing to die rather than betray his own conscience with an oath he doesn't believe.  But we might also recall the first season to see the other side of scrupulous devotion to conviction.  Certainly More is willing to sacrifice himself to his principles.  But when given the power, he was also willing to sacrifice others to his principles.  He says in the second season his own conscience will not allow him to say the oath, though he does not comment on the conscience of others.  Yet as Chancellor, he executed Protestants--not because he was forced to, but by his own choice of policy.  Is there a difference between the principled Protestants that died under More's condemnation, and the principled Catholic More that dies under the royal condemnation?  I'm not sure there is, but at no point does More explicitly suggest he's considered this connection.

And what is More's role to martyrdom?  When he resigns from office, he tells the king he will never speak out publicly against him, will always be loyal to him, and just wishes to retire from public life.  He tells his family he doesn't willingly seek martyrdom.  Indeed, he doesn't chase after a death--it is only when the king chases him down to insist on the oath that More willingly submits to death.  And yet...I can't help but feeling that even if More did not willingly pursue martyrdom, he willingly invited it.  He took no effort to avoid his death.  I don't blame him for skipping the coronation.  But might he have gone into chosen exile, fleeing England?  Did he really have to go visit Catherine?  If he didn't publicly condemn the king and bring death too him, he quietly waited in expectation.

Without More, the show will still be interesting.  I particularly enjoy Peter O'Toole's portrayal of Pope Paul III--his very speech is oily, slithery, always seeming to slide and slip.  There are stacks upon stacks of ruthless characters, but still some ambiguous and complex ones, too.  But I'll miss Thomas More.

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