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The other Mr Moore


All the hubbub swirling about a certain Mr Moore — his insistence on the use of a previous title may add unearned luster to the man, but it tarnishes the title — has reminded me of another with only a slightly different name, Sir Thomas More, of Robert Bolt’s play “A Man for All Seasons.” It’s been too long since I last watched Paul Scofield’s Academy Award-winning portrayal of More in the 1966 film version.

We are, or at least have been, a Nation of Laws, and there seem to me to be too many playing fast and loose with the law these days — from the Oval and the A.G.’s offices on down. Playwright Bolt puts some mighty words into Sir Thomas’s mouth, well worth reading again until I can see the film:

William Roper: “So, now you 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!
— Robert Bolt, “A Man for All Seasons”

The legal profession is represented in Agincourt today by at least one firm: Cable+Coomaraswamy+Bell. They (or one of their antecedent incarnations) bought the old Public Library in the mid-70s when it moved to the building on East Louisa near the Catholic church. And I’ve been anxious to explore their role in community affairs and, of course, how someone with a Sri Lankan name came to live among us.

Oh and, by the way, we might do well to note the last words of the film and imagine some substitution of characters:

Thomas More’s head stood on Traitor’s Gate for a month until his daughter Meg claimed it in order to give her father a proper funeral. Thomas Cromwell was beheaded five years after More was. Archbishop Cranmer was burned at the stake. The Duke of Norfolk was slated for execution but the King died of syphilis the night before the order was scheduled to be signed. Richard Rich became Lord Chancellor of England and died in his bed.

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