Essay – A Man for All Seasons – Pragmatism vs. Idealism

This excerpt from an essay was submitted by Iman_189 who wanted to know how well he was addressing the personal response criteria in the mark scheme.

Before you ask: no, I’m not going to be doing notes for ‘A Man for All Seasons’ any time soon.

My annotations are in brackets and the red font. I’ve tried to focus on the personal response above everything else, but also given it a banding based on what I’d give if the essay continued in this vain.

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”Does ‘A Man for All Seasons’ show the triumph of pragmatism over idealism?”

In a man for all seasons (massive bugbear of mine – the title should be properly capitalised and in inverted commas), the author pits two opposite principles, idealism and pragmatism, against each other, to show their effects and value in society at that time (I’d like you to definitively answer the question here – which one wins and why? We don’t need detail, but let me know what to expect from the rest of your essay). Idealism is a principle in which people practice the formation and pursuance of ideals, even unrealistically. While pragmatism is a principle in which people make their decisions based on the reality that life presents, even at the expense of their ideals. This principle values self benefit. (While it may seem useful to define the two terms in the question, I would argue this could be done much more effectively by linking it already to the text – e.g. In the drama More is the picture of idealism, standing up for his principles, even when confronted with his own personal ruination and that of his family; in contrast Cromwell’s rise and success lay plainly on the back of a pragmatic attitude which saw him adapt to circumstance and opportunity.)

In the play, pragmatism is shown to be the dominant principle, followed by most of the characters in the play. While the pragmatists respect ‘idealism’ they refuse to allow it to stand in the way of what they want. King Henry’s decision to divorce Queen Catherine, was a decision that affected the whole of England, forcing the people to choose sides. Would they be idealists, standing up against the King, even if this decision was detrimental. Or would they be pragmatists, ignoring their religious ideals, and choosing self benefit while justifying their actions. The King’s decision led to a war with the Church. This not only affected the people personal ideals but also their religious ones. At the time in which the play was set, England was a strict Catholic country. They saw the Pope as their spiritual link to God. He was to obeyed by all, even the King who was believed to have divine right of rule. (Okay, the way you word your response is good, but it is a bit lacking in textual reference. I’d base this on key scenes for certain characters that demonstrate their pragmatism. Referring to general history is okay, but try to delve into the text itself).

Bolt uses the key people in the King’s government, to show how the king’s decision pitted pragmatism against idealism. The main character in a man for all seasons (grrr) is shown to be a strict idealist. While he does not openly speak against the King, his silence is believed to show his disapproval of the Kings actions. Thomas More is a politician and a lawyer. He is known as an honest man throughout England and is respected for this. “He is the only judge since Cato who doesn’t take bribes!” Norfolk was defending More, during a conversation with Cromwell in Act 2? (if you’re not sure, pretend you are and the examiner probably won’t notice. If you’re completely unsure then maybe don’t mention where it comes from). Cromwell was trying to prove that he accepted a bribe during a trial in which… (I don’t understand what’s going on here. It’s as if you haven’t finished your point). This was not true; he had disposed of the bribe as soon as he realized what it was. The King is shown to value More’s opinion, this is shown on several occasions. First, example of him beginning (Note form makes it difficult for me to comment). More is also shown to be a strict catholic… examples. In the play, he refuses to give his opinion on the topic of the Kings divorce, using clever language to avoid it. Examples… However, towards the second half of the play this becomes harder, as the King becomes determined have his approval.

Overall I would say that the style of writing is fluent and clear. However, the two major issues with this essay are that it does not follow the text closely and that it sits on the fence. I want an essay to know exactly what it wants to do.

Introduction – answer the question directly, but don’t feel the need to explore points in any detail (that’s what you’re going to do throughout).
Paragraph 1 – most significant supporting argument you have. Connect this to the introduction, but now you are going to look at specifics by using either quotations or specific events within the text to explain your point of view.
Paragraph 2 – second most significant supporting argument… The rest of your paragraphs should follow this same pattern apart from maybe one before your conclusion.
Penultimate Paragraph – deal directly with any opposing argument and end by demonstrating why this is not as significant or valid as the argument you have made throughout.
Conclusion – restate your answer, but now be even firmer and nod back to your key arguments.

Knowledge – Band 3/4 – relevant knowledge to address the question, but often references are vague or more historically focused than text focused.
Understanding – Band 4/5 – don’t panic, you just need to acknowledge Bolt as having created your impression of characters/events through and focus directly on the text. I assume the gaps in this essay were going to do just that.
Personal Response – Band 4 – you clearly understand what you are talking about, but you need to take a side and show you have an argument rather than sitting on the fence. If you do this, and start directly referencing the text then your expression and clarity should see you move up to a Band 2.
Communication – Band 2/3 – very strong and fluid. This is probably the hardest one to sort out, but you don’t really need to. Your work will be even better if you know exactly what you’re argument is and take a side because then you’ll be able to more easily connect paragraphs and ideas throughout.

I hope this helps, good luck tomorrow (sorry, I know I left it late!)

Author: Mr Sir

Although I've only been teaching Literature since 2011 and did my degree in History, I think that makes me better placed than many Lit teachers to provide notes that make sense and aren't garbled and wrapped up with inaccessible terminology and effluent nonsense. After adventures in Uganda and Uzbekistan, I am now settling down in the Netherlands. However, currently I am just about as unsettled as I have ever been, with a new job, a new baby, a new country and a hundred other things going on! Ask me a question, collaborate or abuse me.

2 thoughts on “Essay – A Man for All Seasons – Pragmatism vs. Idealism”

  1. Thanks for the reply! I just saw the email now . I’ll keep your advice in mind. It was very helpful. Especially the grading at the end!

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