Paul Scofield: A Man For All Seasons

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Len Hart

The greatest Shakespearean actor “of his generation” is dead at the age of 86. For another generation, Paul Scofield would become the living embodiment of a saint –Sir Thomas More, who is known to us in the painting by Holbein and more immediately in a portrayal of him in the motion picture –A Man For All Seasons.

More –more accurately Scofield’s portrayal of More –has never been more important. We live in an age, not unlike that of Henry VIII. It is an age in which not only allegiances are tested but what it means to be human. This film changed my life.

When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. (He cups his hands.) And if he opens his fingers then —— he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men are capable of this, but I’d be loath to think your father one of them.”

–Sir Thomas More, Portrayed by Paul Scofield, A Man For All Seasons

It sounds trite to write of Scofield that he brought the words of screenwriter Robert Bolt to life. He was More, a man who chose to die rather than to lie to himself and live.

Scenes from A Man For All Seasons Starring Paul Scofield

Paul Scofield, the British stage legend often hailed as the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation and an Oscar winner for his soaring performance in 1966’s A Man for All Seasons, has died. He was 86.His agent, Rosalind Chatto, told reporters Scofield passed away peacefully Wednesday in a hospital near his home in southern England. He was suffering from leukemia and had been ill for some time.Scofield was considered one of the giants of the British theater during its post-World War II heyday, playing virtually every major Shakespearean role and conquering both the West End and Broadway with his authoritative presence, weather-beaten countenance and low, rumbling voice.But it wasn’t until he originated the part of rebellious Tudor statesman Sir Thomas More in the 1960 London stage production of Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons that Scofield finally earned the international fame he so richly deserved. He reprised the role a year later along the Great White Way, nabbing a Tony for his efforts.Four years later, director Fred Zinneman brought the thesp back for the film version, which garnered six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and a Best Actor Oscar for Scofield.

Oscar Winner Paul Scofield Dies, Josh Grossberg

More defended the obedience to “…man`s law, not God`s”. That makes More a secular humanist

Roper: So now you`d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get at the Devil?

Roper: I`d cut down every law in England to do that.

More: Oh! (advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you –where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws —man’s laws, not God’s [emphasis mine]–and if you cut them down –and you’re just the man to do it –d`you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I`d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety`s sake.

And, in yet another memorable exchange:

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.

Of course, the dialogue above was written by Robert Bolt, a writer of genius. But his words were graced by Scofield.
One of the most famous exchanges from the motion picture may turn out to be as immortal as are the many passages in Shakespeare, another author whose words were given life by Scofield. Again –from A Man For All Seasons:

Roper: So now you`d give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get at the Devil?

Roper: I`d cut down every law in England to do that.

More: Oh! (advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you –where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws —man’s laws, not God’s [emphasis mine]–and if you cut them down –and you’re just the man to do it –d`you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I`d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety`s sake.

And, in yet another memorable exchange:

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.

It is enough to say that Scofield’s work will live on. He will have become as he was in life — A Man For All Seasons. Adieu, Paul.

http://existentialistcowboy.blogspot.com/

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