Judging by the frequency with which they are—or rather used to be—quoted, the most famous words in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons (1960) come in response to the contention by William Roper that he would “cut down every law in England” to get at the Devil. Roper’s father-in-law, Sir (later Saint) Thomas More, replies:

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.

Back in 2008, the...


New to The New Criterion?

Subscribe for one year to receive ten print issues, and gain immediate access to our online archive spanning more than four decades of art and cultural criticism.

Popular Right Now