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Table of Contents Context Plot Overview Character List Analysis of Major Characters Themes, Motifs & Symbols Summary & Analysis

Act One, scene one Act One, scenes two–three Act One, scene four Act One, scenes five–six Act One, scene seven Act One, scene eight Act Two, scenes one–two Act Two, scenes three–four Act Two, scenes five–six Act Two, scene seven Act Two, scene eight Act Two, scenes nine–ten Important Quotations Explained Key Facts Study Questions & Essay Topics Quiz

Suggestions for Further Reading

T HE PLAYWRIGHT ROBERT BOLT was born in 1924 in Manchester, England. In1941, he began working at an insurance agency. Later, he attended Manchester University, served in the Royal Air Force, and fought in World War II. After the war, Bolt worked in England as a schoolteacher until 1958, when his play Flowering Cherry met with success and critical acclaim. He wrote A Man for All Seasons in 1960, and the play was mounted on the London stage that same year and in New York in 1961. Bolt went on to write the screenplays for director David Lean’s famous films Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Dr. Zhivago (1965). He adapted A Man for All Seasonsfor director Fred Zinnemann in 1966, and he won Oscars for both Zhivagoand A Man for All Seasons.

Bolt’s Preface to A Man for All Seasons
Bolt begins his preface to A Man for All Seasons by announcing that the story on which he bases his play is well known. In 1509, King Henry VIII married his brother’s widow, Catherine of Aragón (Spain), thereby cementing his then-tenuous alliance with Spain. The pope granted Henry a dispensation (an exemption from Catholic law) to allow this illegal union between a man and his brother’s widow. The couple then attempted to produce an heir. Unfortunately for Henry and everyone else involved, the couple had no success producing a male offspring, and in any case, the king had become enamored of the lusty and presumably more fertile Anne Boleyn. Henry therefore sought to overturn the pope’s previous dispensation in order to annul his marriage to Catherine and enable him to marry Anne. Citing Leviticus 18—“Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother’s wife”—Henry requested a second dispensation from the pope, this time for a divorce from Catherine. Henry argued that Catherine’s inability to produce a male child proved that their marriage was wrong. When Pope Clement VII refused to dispense with his previous dispensation and allow the divorce, Henry dismissed his adviser, Cardinal Wolsey, who then died of heart complications. Henry then appointed Thomas More as Lord Chancellor of England in 1529. Meanwhile, Henry and his associate Thomas Cromwell enacted legislation to undermine the authority of the Catholic Church in England. As soon as the pope assented to Henry’s appointment of Thomas Crammer as Archbishop of Canterbury, Crammer quickly authorized Henry’s divorce and remarriage. As a result, Henry was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. In 1534, Parliament enacted the Act of Supremacy, which established Henry as the head of the Church in England and eliminated the authority of the pope. Sir Thomas More, who was born in London on February 7, 1477, was beheaded on July 6, 1535, for failing to swear to Henry’s oath of supremacy. For his courage and commitment, More was sainted on May19, 1935. A humanist and a friend to Erasmus, More was also author ofUtopia (1516), a novel that pictured an ideal society founded solely on reason. More was a true Renaissance man, “a man for all seasons.” Following the standard historical account, Bolt discusses his interest in the subject matter and some of the important philosophical questions at hand. He begins by dismissing the modern tendency to analyze texts according to socioeconomic trends—such as from the prospective of progressive economy or conservative religion. This type of analysis, explains Bolt, focuses on the power of social forces rather than on human beings as individual agents. Ultimately, Bolt disapproves of this type of interpretation because he believes it is important to see conflicts as collisions between human beings, not just systems. He prefers to hold the individuals in his play accountable for their actions. Moreover, Bolt argues that looking at history as the interaction of large-scale, abstract forces, such as religion and economy, robs us not only of agency but also of identity. We begin to use social categories to describe an individual, so that the answer to the question “What am I?” becomes a statement of someone’s material and social circumstances. Bolt says he is uninterested in the influence socioeconomic forces and trends may have had over More. Instead, citing Albert Camus’s treatment of his protagonists as an inspiration for his own depiction of More, Bolt renders More with a stable and centered self-image. Bolt was attracted to what he interpreted as More’s “adamantine,” or unyielding, “sense of his own self.” Bolt explains that the conflict in his play hinges on More’s need to make a decision

but by creating an “overtly theatrical” piece that involves the audience while providing enough distance for critical reflection. Bolt argues. These days. However. encouraging the audience to identify with him as both a thinker and a participant in the action of the play. which was conceived by the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. who periodically addresses the audience and comments on the action. Because Catholicism is something More believes in. but for Thomas More. his own soul. Bolt writes. His own life. Whereas modern audiences might view the oath More was asked to swear as a symbolic or ritual exercise. the convention of alienation discourages audiences from identifying with the characters on the stage. he or she usually provides a guarantee in the form of cash. To justify his interpretation. rather than simply viewing theater as entertainment. an oath was a contract in which More was his own collateral. Specifically. Bolt outlines the difference between what an oath meant to More and what it might mean to us today. In A Man for All Seasons. Bolt claims to be writing against the grain of contemporary theater as well as against the grain of contemporary historical study. . Brecht did not always follow his own didactic technique. Catholicism is something that More essentially is. Bolt explains that his style is a “bastardized version” of the theatrical technique called alienation. when someone takes an oath. Bolt explains that his attempt at alienation in the play comes by way of the character named the Common Man. According to Brecht. Bolt says he wishes to engage his audience not by slapping it in the face. as Bolt notes. More saw it as an “invitation to God” to judge More.when he is asked to swear an oath against the Catholic Church. Brechtian alienation was a highly didactic method of encouraging (and sometimes forcing) the audience to think about the characters and the message presented on the stage. depended upon whether he kept his word.

Lord Chancellor of England. despite the late hour. More runs into Thomas Cromwell. After conversing with Wolsey. the woman Henry married. Catherine. . Chapuys takes More’s noncommittal response to questions about his meeting with Wolsey to mean that More agrees that the divorce should not go through. Margaret. but More refuses to allow a Lutheran. his presence is indicated only when he interacts directly with the other characters in the play. More doubts that the pope will agree to overturn his first dispensation. recently promoted to the position of cardinal’s secretary. her Lutheran boyfriend. Wolsey dies. At a meeting with Cardinal Wolsey. More points out that the pope provided a dispensation. keeps quiet about his feelings in the hopes that Henry will not bother him about the matter. Back at More’s home. the Spanish ambassador to England. who is also the king of Spain’s aunt. Wolsey accuses More of being too moralistic and recommends that he be more practical. More also meets Signor Chapuys. and Wolsey died in disgrace. Meanwhile. Although treated in more detail in other sections. SSir Thomas More. ever the diplomat. into his family.Plot Overview The Common Man figures prominently both in the plot of the play and also as a narrator and commentator. But More. More is appointed as Wolsey’s replacement. Roper asks More for Margaret’s hand. objects to King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce and remarry in order to father a male heir. Chapuys stresses Christian morals and Catholic dogma and seems most concerned that Henry does not insult Henry’s wife. the king’s confidante. has received a visit from Roper. leaving the position of Lord Chancellor vacant. Cromwell. in order for Henry to get married in the first place. in the following plot summary. a scholar and statesman. or exemption. Chapuys thinks he has found an ally in More. The king was displeased with Wolsey’s failure to secure a papal dispensation to annul his marriage to Catherine. was the widow of Henry’s brother. More’s daughter. in his eyes a heretic. since Catherine. More reviews the letter to Rome that requests the pope’s approval of Henry’s divorce. insincerely tells More he is one of More’s greatest admirers.

and the spineless Rich seems all too eager to accept the job in exchange for information he has about More. Matthew tells them only the most well known facts about his master. but the trio pays him off anyway. . Parliament passes the Act of Supremacy. but More is nowhere to be found. but More turns him away. and Cromwell announces simply that he does whatever the king wants done. When the king arrives. who has just entered. a low-level functionary whom More helped establish and to whom More gave a silver cup he was given as a bribe. all are on their best behavior. Meanwhile. but he ultimately agrees to tell Cromwell about the bribe that More received and passed on to him. He refuses to explain himself to anyone but the king.” but More. He mentions that the king has planned a boat ride down the Thames to visit More. Even his wife and daughter cannot know his reasons. Rich and Chapuys. More does tell the king that More cannot agree to the divorce. Alice. He asks for employment. dead set against the act. Both Chapuys and Roper call it a remarkable “gesture. Cromwell offers Rich a job. More’s wife. which establishes the Church in England and appoints King Henry as its head. More decides that if the English bishops decide to go along with the act. More’s manservant. Rich is reluctant and guilt-ridden. because he does not want to put them in the position of having to testify against him later. and More comes off as the most flattering of all. and Chapuys are eager to bribe him for information. Matthew (played by the Common Man). Rich arrives to tell More that Cromwell and Chapuys are collecting information about him. and Cromwell. the king is set to arrive. However. Cromwell meets Rich to conspire against More. At a local pub called the Loyal Subject. Rich. ask Cromwell what his current position is. Back at More’s home in London’s Chelsea district.) Cromwell tempts Rich with an opportunity for advancement. he will resign as Lord Chancellor. After fretting over his absence. the family eventually finds him busy at vespers (evening prayers). has entered the room. (More did not realize that the cup was a bribe when he received it. thinks of it as a practical necessity.Cromwell meets with Richard Rich. reminding him that the king promised not to bother More about it. The king storms off. telling More he will leave him alone provided More does not speak out against the divorce. is angry at his behavior and thinks her husband should do as Henry wants. In exchange.

that the king expects him to participate in the persecution of More. and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Norfolk proves that More gave the cup to Rich as soon as More realized it was a bribe. Cromwell also accuses him of having written a book attributed to King Henry. but they cannot trick him into signing the oath or divulging his opinions on the king’s behavior. More insists that if he wishes to remain in the king’s favor. Margaret. and Cromwell is forced to come up with some other way to entrap More. More deconstructs both these charges. Meeting Norfolk outside. displaying their full love toward each other. Cromwell gives Rich the office of attorney general for Wales in exchange for Rich’s false testimony at More’s trial. More is sentenced to death but not before he can express his disapproval of the Supremacy Act and his disappointment with a government that would kill a man for keeping quiet. who was executed for treason. interrogate More in prison. and. More refuses to relent. tries to convince her father he has done all he can. but when Cromwell reads a letter from King Henry calling More a villain. As long as More refuses to talk or sign the oath. Norfolk should cease to be his friend. and he turns down the bishops’ sincere offer of charity. he is in jail for having refused to take the oath. Rich claims he heard More deny the king’s authority over the Church. Though More’s daughter. He tells Norfolk. Norfolk. Cromwell. since by this point it is dangerous to know a man like More. Though More never opened his mouth. and the play ends with his beheading. Cromwell can keep him locked up but cannot have him executed. this time requiring subjects to swear an oath to King Henry’s supremacy in England over the Church and to the validity of his divorce and remarriage. however. The next time we see More. Thomas Cranmer. hoping that they will be able to reason with him. they reconcile just before the jailer (the Common Man) insists that the visit is over. Parliament passes another act. More goes to his death with dignity and composure. Alice finally sympathizes fully with More’s predicament. More is genuinely shaken. A now impoverished More refuses to receive a letter of appreciation from the king of Spain. . He removes More’s books but lets his family visit.Cromwell meets with the Duke of Norfolk and tells him of his plan to bring More up on bribery charges. Cromwell calls More to his office and attempts to malign More by accusing him of sympathizing with the Holy Maid of Kent.

Rich. Rather. but More denies him a high-ranking position and suggests that Rich become a teacher.A low-level functionary whom More helped establish. Richard Rich . Only after Cromwell condemns him does Thomas reveal his true opinions. the boatman. but Bolt intentionally does not depict More as the saint or martyr of legend. Rich seeks to gain employment. which dictates that he not turn his back on what he believes is right or on God.Character List Sir Thomas More . The Common Man . Over the course of the play.The Common Man sporadically narrates the play. To More. and the headsman (executioner). the jailer. Bolt’s More is a man who gives up his life because hecannot sacrifice his own commitment to his conscience. but ultimately the Common Man shows that by common. Therefore.The protagonist of the play. a man’s conscience is his self. He ends the play by implying that most people do the same thing. the jury foreman. the Common Man plays characters who just do their jobs without thinking about the consequences of their actions or anyone’s interest other than their own. In the end. most of these characters end up betraying their own personal moral values. More makes no move to speak out against King Henry’s divorce or to make any public gesture that indicates his opinion on the matter. goes to work for Norfolk instead and eventually obtains from Cromwell a post as the attorney general for Wales in exchange for perjuring himself at More’s trial. Like the Common Man. however. the characters the Common Man plays become more and more guilt-ridden. the publican (innkeeper). so he refuses to betray his own conscience even on pain of death. and he plays the roles of most of the lower-class characters: More’s steward Matthew. Rich . Bolt implies base. In most instances. Read an in-depth analysis of The Common Man. More’s historical refusal to swear to Parliament’s Act of Supremacy is the play’s main subject. Significantly. Bolt explains in his preface that he intends the Common Man to personify attitudes and actions that are common to everyone. Bolt does not see More as a person who takes a stand and sacrifices himself for a cause. the Common Man silences his guilty conscience by finding solace in the fact that he is alive. Read an in-depth analysis of Sir Thomas More.

Roper’s high- . A conflicted character. Alice spends most of the play questioning why her husband refuses to give in to the king’s wishes. Cromwell is motivated more by an evil nature. Wolsey’s sudden death hangs over the rest of the play as a warning to anyone who would court the king’s disapproval. does not go through. Alice finally shows him unconditional love.The Lord Chancellor of England. Her attitude shifts from anger to confusion. When she visits her husband in prison. The repetition of the wordrich in his name signals Rich’s Machiavellian willingness to sacrifice his moral standards for wealth and status. he is often too stupid to know what’s going on. Chapuys displays his aptitude for hiding his political agenda under the guise of religious fervor. or character contrast. Read an in-depth analysis of Richard Rich. A large and rather simpleminded man. Cardinal Wolsey . Wolsey’s character is not well developed. Alice More . which would dishonor Catherine.More’s close friend.The Spanish ambassador to England. her husband. execution. Unlike More. Rich conquers and destroys his conscience rather than obeying it. Thomas Cromwell . Though Bolt’s character descriptions claim Wolsey is ambitious and intelligent. and so on) somewhat reluctantly at times. and even encouraged by More himself. to betray his friendship with More. Rich’s meteoric rise to wealth and power is simultaneous with More’s fall from favor. saying that the fact that “God knows why” More must die is good enough for her. for Sir Thomas. Norfolk is ultimately asked by Cromwell. More shows her that he cannot go to his death until he knows that she understands his decision.A crafty lawyer who is the primary agent plotting against More. and he is innocent relative to Cromwell. Chapuys .serves as a foil. Chapuys is loyal to his country and intent on assuring that the divorce between King Henry and Catherine. He facilitates More’s downfall with only a minimum of guilt. after he converts to Catholicism. William Roper .More’s wife. Duke of Norfolk . Roper is also Margaret’s boyfriend and.An overzealous young man who is a staunch Lutheran at the beginning of the play and later converts to Catholicism. and his primary function relates to the plot. Eventually. who dies suddenly following his inability to obtain a dispensation from the pope that would annul King Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon and permit him to marry Anne Boleyn. When questioning More. Whereas Rich and the Common Man are driven to their immoral actions (conspiracy. In particular.

The king of England. Henry. and he advocates human law as a better guide to morality. a man of great moral repute. However. which he dubs “seagoing principles” are inconsistent at best. who believes that he can force everyone. King Henry VIII . In a conversation with Roper. wants to put his conscience at ease by forcing More to sanction the king’s divorce from Catherine. Margaret questions her father’s actions. who only briefly appears onstage but is a constant presence in the speech and the thoughts of the other characters. making Roper yet another foil for More. Also called Meg.More’s well-educated and inquisitive daughter. in opposition to More. of course). thinks of him. Each of Roper’s scenes shows him taking a public stance on a new issue.minded ideals contrast with More’s level-headed morality. and he therefore cares greatly about what More. It is very important to Henry that others think of him as a moral person. She shows that she understands her father perhaps better than anyone else in the play (except for More himself. More argues that high-minded ideals. including the pope. who prefers to keep his opinions to himself. into validating his desires. like her mother. Margaret Roper . Margaret is in love with and later marries William Roper. .

Bolt calls More “a hero of selfhood. As a hero. is rooted in his love for the law. the letter of the law held an important place in More’s conscience. Bolt does not depict More as someone who ascribes to religious dogma of any sort. More’s morals are continually shifting. he will discard it. which he defines by his moral conscience. not by More’s individual characteristics. According to Bolt. Bolt disparages such people. In fact.Analysis of Major Characters Sir Thomas More Even though Bolt announces in his preface that he tried to avoid the perils of having his characters represent something. Chapuys too sees More as an upstanding moral and religious man. and Chapuys takes comfort in the fact that the virtues More represents contradict the king’s actions. even as he sacrifices hislife. who are represented by Will Roper. Cromwell. More will do his best to live up to it. Perhaps. because he looks inwardly for his motivations and does not rely on any external ideals to guide his speech and actions. More put his faith . If an ideal agrees with his conscience. as most characters are motivated by More’s reputation as a moral man. In fact. In his preface to the play. More stands for the perils of being perceived as a saint or a moral man. if not.” More refuses to sacrifice hisself. Bolt contends. and he surprises Chapuys and other characters with his sharp wit and unexpected pragmatism. Throughout the play. His consent is important to the king and to Norfolk because it would make them feel and appear moral. Bolt explains that he uses More’s reverence for heaven as a metaphor for humanity’s reverence for the “terrifying cosmos. albeit a notch below that held by the Church of Christ and the kingdom of heaven. in fact. characters—including Chapuys. Though More was much later sainted for his refusal to swear an oath to King Henry’s supremacy to the pope. and the king—view More as a representative of a concept rather than as a person. More is more existential than religious. Roper. however.” which is either void of any morality or occupied by warring forces of good (God) and evil (the devil). Unable to know the nature of the cosmos. symbolism turns out to be a major force driving the action of the play. More’s reverence for being practical.

Rich is a Machiavellian hero. As a whole. Bolt laments the fact that upper class and even lower-status people. In fact. Initially. failed or refused to view the Common Man as a representative of themselves. Matthew. the Common Man’s role in the play shows his complicity in More’s persecution. he portrays Matthew and the boatman. who resented such an image. symbolized by dry land. offer the only shelter from the uncertainties of the universe. Richard Rich Again. the Common Man affirms the notion that to be alive—regardless of the nature of one’s actions—is the only thing that counts. Because the Common Man represents humanity in general. tries to suppress his guilty conscience for having sold out More after More expresses his affection for Matthew. the Common Man shows that the “common” human being is base and immoral. regardless of how Bolt viewed his character. even though Bolt claims that he did not want his characters to stand for anything in particular. symbolized in the play by the sea and water. By the end of the society’s system of judgment—the law. he is intended to draw us all into the play’s central moral dilemma. remains unknown to humankind. someone who . However. The great beyond. even the characters played by the Common Man begin to lose their moral footing. the Common Man’s characters become more aware of the excuses they make for their immoral acts. for example.” but many people ascribe the pejorative connotations of vulgar and low class to the word as well. he actually develops into a coherent character as the play progresses. Earthly society and laws. Bolt explains that he intended “common” to be understood to mean “universal. Eventually. who are forgotten figures of the lower class who judge the noble characters in the play and make them look like fools. When the jailer deliberates about whether to set More free. The Common Man In his preface. Although the Common Man acts in many different roles in order to establish his universal nature. he speaks directly to the audience about the futility of trying to do the right thing. the Common Man embodies both universality and baseness. Yet as the play progresses. Rich symbolizes the tendency to succumb to the temptation of wealth and status.

In Rich’s awareness of his moral shortcomings. More teaches by testing Rich by offering him the goblet. highlighting More’s superior character. Like Cromwell. In his interaction with Rich in the first scene. whatever the cost. self-interested urge to gain wealth and status. in the opening scene. Despite his selfishness. For instance. Rich reveals his humanity when he wrestles with his own conscience while he sells out his friend More. More tells Rich that he should be a teacher. It is therefore tragic that Rich eventually perjures himself to condemn More to death. he is similar to the Common Man.seeks to advance himself politically and socially. More shows great interest in Rich’s moral fiber and wishes for him to quell his petty. More understands Rich’s faults from the very opening of the play. but he tries to nurture Rich anyway. . Rich also illuminates More’s character in less obvious ways. More’s conversation with Rich reveals More’s own interest in teaching as not just a profession but as something he himself practices throughout the play. Rich serves as a foil to More. letting Rich know that the goblet was a bribe and is therefore tainted.

like Cromwell or Rich. subtle. As More’s steadfast selfhood earns him a spot on the chopping block. Corruption A Man for All Seasons focuses on the rise of Richard Rich as much as it follows the fall of Sir Thomas More. each time utterly convinced of his own righteousness. Roper switches willy-nilly from Catholicism to Lutheranism and back again. at theexpense of his beliefs. He obeys the law fully. . . Roper follows ideals instead of a his conscience or the law. . More strongly opposes Henry’s divorce. yet he hopes to avoid rather than speak out against the Oath of Supremacy.” More respects God’s law above all else. much less wrap it up in a tidy theory. . But I find him rather too . even if it occasionally contradicts God’s law or lets some evildoers off the hook. but he also does not pretend to understand it. In his approach to moral action. Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. in the end. he sees man’s law as the best available guide to action. it is because he is trying to balance his respect for the law and society with his deep-rooted sense of self. Therefore. and More argues that attempting to navigate high-minded ideals is akin to being lost at sea. If More sometimes seems hypocritical. the prosecution has to come up with false charges to execute him. . we should focus our energy on improving ourselves and our society. and.Themes. “God’s my god. Rich acquires more and more wealth and greater status by . Bolt implies that because we cannot comprehend the moral alignment of the universe. Robert Bolt addresses the apparent contradiction between Thomas More’s upright moral sense and his periodic attempts to find legal and moral loopholes. More’s pragmatic maneuvering through society contrasts with what More calls Roper’s “seagoing” principles. More explains his actions when he says to Will Roper. Types of Moral Guides In his preface. but not. More is thoroughly pragmatic.

scene eight recalls many cautionary religious tales about the seductive powers of the devil. One could also argue that More shows his friendship and love by teaching others. However. shows the damage Rich has done to his own life. In More’s conversations with Norfolk and Alice. Rich has sacrificed the goodness of his own self. or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. He tells his wife that he could not die peacefully if he knew that she was still confused about why he remains silent and does not give in to King Henry. scene eight. he attempts to teach others to do the same. respectively. Rich gives Cromwell information about the silver cup in exchange for a job. More’s instructive instinct results in relationships that are not overtly heartfelt. set against More’s hard and fast sense of self. and through tests and through the example he sets. Cromwell himself evokes the devil as he craftily cajoles Rich into selling out before cramming Rich’s hand into a candle flame. The play shows that More’s self-reliance is not completely incompatible with friendship and love. Bolt does not depict Rich’s corruption to warn us that people like Rich go to hell.selling out his friend and his own moral principles. Above all. the play examines the extent to which one can be true to oneself and a good friend to others. More also tells Matthew that he will miss him. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. Rich’s corruption. and the scene suggests that Rich has sold his soul to the devil. by the end of the play he has no qualms about perjuring himself in exchange for a high-ranking position. More tells Norfolk to “cease knowing him. . He appears to be more of a teacher than a friend or a lover. More looks inwardly for his strength and comfort. Although Rich at first bemoans his loss of innocence. In Act One. The Self and Friendship Through its depiction of More’s personal relationships. Rich laments that he has lost his innocence. which the play argues is the only thing for which life is worth living. contrasts.” but More argues that he gives his instruction because of the friendship the two men share. he shows that he truly cares about them as his friend and wife. Rather. Although Act One. He relies on his own conscience as his guide.

At the trial. . Cromwell’s argument to the jury equates More’s silence with complicity in a crime. Silence More is remarkable as much for his silence as for his statements. scene seven. like Roper. In Act One. who clamor at all times about ideals. More is silent in other ways as well. More prefers to listen to the voice within. More’s wit establishes his humanity. Much to Alice’s chagrin. He disparages people. More also protects his family from legal persecution by staying silent about his opinions in their presence. Chapuys wrongly assumes that More’s straightforward answers are double talk and gives him a knowing wink that is completely out of place. according to the Bible. refusing to incriminate himself in a way that resembles invoking the fifth amendment in a United States court of law. he means that man must cleverly escape death for as long as he legitimately and lawfully can. In the play. Cromwell’s claim is ironic. Historically. his conscience. Cromwell humorously states that he can never be quite sure whether he’s duping or being duped when he interacts with such a “tactful” person. Cromwell has a similar exchange with Rich. but the statement also emphasizes the importance of a sense of humor. In Cromwell’s exchange with the innkeeper. More spends most of his time making light of the dangerous situations he encounters. He maintains that if he does not speak his opinion concerning his disapproval of the king’s intention to divorce his wife. in which he tries to assess just how trustworthy and how bribable Rich might be. More was as witty as he was saintly. More uses silence to his advantage.Satire and Wit Throughout the play. He does not criticize Norfolk until he is sure that Norfolk needs to be criticized and enraged. then. his silence will connote consent. for the play shows how many other characters— primarily those played by the Common Man—remain silent when they could tell More about the plot against him. the characters with ties to the court participate in confused and misinterpreted exchanges of dialogue. More insists that man is born to serve God “wittily. These exchanges both satirize the court and portray the way corrupt morals lead to corrupt and ambiguous speech.” By this. not dissent.

particularly in the characters of Rich. Norfolk is obviously wracked with a sense of guilt when he tells More of Cromwell’s plot and his own association with it. characters. More understands guilt as a personal judgment made by one’s own conscience. Bolt shows how Rich constantly suffers under his own sense of guilt and yet cannot resist the temptation to improve his own prospects at the expense of others and his own conscience. the Common Man has a conscious understanding of his guilt and assuages his guilty conscience by convincing himself that it would be futile to set More free. He also seems to be able to eradicate the guilt he feels for taking the tainted goblet as a bribe by getting rid of it. Unlike Henry and Roper. the Common Man noticeably feels guilt on some level when More shows affection for him. Symbols Symbols are objects. who holds what More calls “seagoing” principles. To emphasize his belief in law as . More compares the realm of human law to a forest filled with protective trees firmly rooted in the earth. More recognizes God’s will as impossible. the unknowable realm of God and the devil. whose shaky moral ground is symbolized by the way he sails down the Thames in order to visit More. figures. More himself shows an inkling of guilt when he realizes that he might have to go to the chopping block with his family still unaware of why he acts the way he does. Water and Dry Land In his preface. When he is Matthew. and. and even in More himself. which symbolizes the uncertain moral territory of the great beyond. Norfolk. Matthew. the same action could be guilty or innocent. or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. When speaking with Roper. As the jailer. which is associated with the plot against More. Characters who establish their actions on such an uncertain base include King Henry. Bolt announces that his play is rife with water and seafaring imagery.Guilt Guilt receives much attention in the play. More says that he and More could part as friends even if Norfolk were to remain in his office. and Roper. and More therefore prefers to root his actions in his own conscience and in the law. based upon one’s perspective. the jailer. This flexibility is particularly true with respect to Norfolk.

More tells Roper that removing all the laws in pursuit of the devil would be like cutting down all the trees in the land. More views society as a bulwark against the moral mysteries of the cosmos. letting the devil run amok like a fierce wind. The Gilded Cup In the first scene in Act One. In other words. More offers Rich a cup that More received as a bribe. More tries to set an example by throwing away the cup. Acknowledging that the cup is tainted. Rich takes the cup from More and pawns it for money and a new set of fashionable clothes. and it also symbolizes More’s attempt to test Rich and teach him by example. but Rich quickly shows that he does not share More’s intentions.a guide to action. More tells Rich that he wishes to be rid of it. The cup symbolizes corruption. . More’s attempt to test Rich with the cup actually sets in motion the events that lead to More’s conviction at the end of the play—a conviction that Rich helps secure by lying under oath in court.

More points out that the dean of St. and he shows Rich an Italian silver cup . but he is intrigued when Rich implies that a man can be bought with suffering. and declares the sixteenth century “the Century of the Common Man. Rich reveals. Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad. and the two engage in an argument as to whether every man is capable of being bribed. and he’ll be out of practice. because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep. and he asks who recommended that Rich read Machiavelli’s books. Richard Rich follows More into the room. but he says he will present his own version. . but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad . Rich means that men wish to avoid suffering and are attracted to the possibility of escape. . He puts on the costume of Matthew. but Rich has no interest in what he deems a dead-end opportunity. status. (See Important Quotations Explained) The play opens with a monologue by the Common Man. More warns that holding an administrative office is full of temptations. More dismisses Rich’s belief that money. but Rich bemoans his joblessness and his generally low social standing. Thomas More’s servant. The Common Man carts around a basket of costumes and props that he uses in his various roles in the play. Rich admits that Master Cromwell recommended he read Machiavelli. More playfully asks Matthew how the wine tastes. As it turns out. Cromwell. More immediately recognizes this idea as one of the theories of Machiavelli.” Matthew treats himself to some of the wine he is putting out for his master and then introduces us to More as he enters. or women can bribe anyone. offered Rich a job or a favor of some sort. He thinks himself unsuited to the task at hand. Paul’s school has a comfortable teacher’s job available. a character meant to represent traits and attitudes common to us all. The Common Man laments having to open a play about royalty and the noble class.Act One. knowing full well that Matthew sampled it. scene one Summary My Master Thomas More would give anything to anyone.

that a litigant used to try to bribe him. This brand of thought was popularized about a decade before Bolt’s play by thinkers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Margaret. the Common Man plays many roles. Matthew moves to stop him from taking it. The trust More places in his sense of self resonates with the existentialist idea that human beings are defined above all by their inner selves. and everyone is surprised that such a lowborn and generally disliked man could get such a job. Throughout the play. Norfolk announces that Cromwell has been promoted to the position of cardinal’s secretary. Rich runs back in to snatch up the silver cup that he left on the table. but the characters in the play. which emphasizes that he represents all humanity. Norfolk baits Alice into a bet of thirty shillings. Rich pleads that he would rather work for More than for Cromwell. but he playfully adds that he does not necessarily “recommend” Rich. more respectable clothing. Rich says he will sell the cup to buy new. The cardinal wants to see More immediately. he sends his family off to bed with a prayer and arranges for Norfolk to take Rich home. although More refuses to let her ride off with Norfolk to see who wins. he wishes to get rid of it. More playfully tells everyone that Rich has been reading Machiavelli under Cromwell’s tutelage. arguing over whether a falcon can stoop from 500 feet to kill a heron. Analysis The Common Man initiates us to a story that might otherwise seem too far removed in time to connect with modern audiences. More points out that Rich’s relationship with Cromwell is now more valuable and that Rich will not need any help from More at finding a job. Alice. but Rich explains that it was a gift. Again. Just before the scene ends. More’s daughter. by their unique perspectives on existence. He functions as a common denominator against which the other characters in the play can be judged. Matthew closes the scene by predicting that Rich will amount to nothing and that More is altogether too generous. and now that he does. More advises Rich to teach. The duke of Norfolk and More’s wife. Meanwhile. More did not realize at the time that the cup was a bribe. but a letter from the cardinal interrupts him. As More prepares to leave. has entered. which is set in . and Rich begins to flatter Norfolk. enter. More tells the duke that Rich needs a job.

will spare no one to achieve success later in the play. In addition to the Machiavelli reference. Bolt shows More to be a morally ambiguous teacher who does not stop. The Common Man shows us how we all end up betraying ourselves by just doing our jobs—by serving in our professions as kings. which represents corruption. However. More seems to understands the implications when he offers the cup. and a teaching position. but rather by testing others. which represents a way of benefiting society.the sixteenth century. Rich’s reference to Machiavelli foreshadows the way he and his mentor. More’s gift of the silver cup to Rich has dangerous implications for More later. but Machiavelli advises the opposite. cardinals. he reveals his immoral character. Thomas Cromwell. and in fact almost encourages. While offering the teaching position to Rich. More adopts the role of teacher. Matthew’s remarks at the end of the scene that More has been too generous in giving Rich the cup also foreshadow More’s downfall. More teaches not by speaking his mind. several other instances of foreshadowing pop up in this scene. who was most famous for his political treatise The Prince. As he illustrates in his conversation with Rich. More operates in the play primarily as a servant—to his own conscience and to God. Nicolo Machiavelli (1469–1527). even though the gift marks the beginning of Rich’s corruption. Rich’s moral descent. however. Machiavelli’s morals differ greatly from More’s. The fact that Rich has read Machiavelli puts Rich’s actions in a historical and intellectual context. When he interacts with other people. which advocated a kind of common-sense approach to government that put political expediency ahead of ethical and moral concerns. or even commoners—before being true to our inner selves. More reveres his private conscience above things like personal advancement. More provides a glimpse into his own nature. He tests Rich by offering him both the tainted cup. find More’s beliefs foreign. . When Rich shuns the teaching job and accepts the cup.

More is shaken but responds that he prays every day that Catherine will conceive an heir. Catherine of Aragón. scenes two–three Summary: Scene two Well . Anne Boleyn. in favor of Anne. Wolsey presents More with a message to be sent to the pope. Wolsey claims that if the king does not produce an heir to the throne.Act One. .” and Wolsey bemoans what he calls More’s “plodding” moralism. Wolsey retorts that he personally appointed a “ninny” to the office of ambassador expressly so that he could write to the cardinal directly. . who Henry suspects will be more successful at providing him a male heir. to allow Henry and Catherine (who is Henry’s brother’s widow) to marry in the first place. More reminds the cardinal that it took a papal dispensation. Wolsey conveys to More the potentially detrimental implications of opposing Henry’s divorce. Wolsey is skeptical. He wonders at the sensibility or feasibility of discarding the pope’s first dispensation. and he wants assurance that More will not oppose the action. when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . explaining that since More seemed so opposed to the dispatch. Wolsey must now secure the pope’s authorization of Henry’s divorce and remarriage. More comments that Wolsey’s maneuver is “devious. More mentions that the message is addressed to a Cardinal Campeggio and not to the English ambassador to Rome. he should look it over. Wolsey states that King Henry has just returned from a rendezvous with his mistress. More diplomatically comments on the style of the message. Getting down to business. I believe. and the cardinal asks More what took him so long. (See Important Quotations Explained) More arrives at Cardinal Wolsey’s office. . but Wolsey is more interested in what More has to say about the message’s content. they lead their country by a short route to chaos. or exemption to Catholic laws. Intrigued. Henry means to divorce his current wife. But More has already expressed his opinion that the divorce should not be enacted without the pope’s willing approval. According to Wolsey. . a change of dynasty or a bloody war of succession will ensue. .

As More prepares to leave. because Pope Clement VII showed his allegiance to Catherine’s nephew. who is the king of Spain’s aunt. Wolsey wonders aloud who might replace him as Lord Chancellor when he is gone. More simply replies that he and the cardinal parted “amicably. When Wolsey suggests Cromwell. the Spanish ambassador. Cromwell announces that he is on his way to see the cardinal. Anticipating his own death. in turn. Cromwell arrives to remind the boatman that the fares are fixed. Wolsey reveals his role as the go-between for the English king and the pope in Rome. But More retorts that by listening to their own consciences. statesmen avoid leading their country into chaos. his secretary. the ambassador exits. archbishop of York. and he says that the cardinal is not in the best mood. Wolsey again bemoans More’s moralism. so he cannot charge More a higher price just because of the late hour. Chapuys announces that his king would take personal offence if the divorce goes through. The king preferred living in the countryside and hunting to the tedium of leading. the boatman complains about fixed fares and his wife’s weight. wonders at More’s willingness to put his own private conscience above the interests of his country. With a nod and a wink (disregarded by More). Analysis: Scenes two–three Historically. Wolsey fell out of Henry’s favor when he failed to secure a papal dispensation for Henry’s divorce.” if not in agreement. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey.Wolsey. Cromwell pays More an insincere compliment and heads in to see the cardinal. arrives and tries to wheedle information out of More about his meeting with the cardinal. As More returns home in the boat. Charles V of Spain. Wolsey says More would need to be more practical to fill the chancellor’s post and tells More he should have been a cleric. More quibbles with the boatman over the fare for a trip back to his home in Chelsea. More admits as much. Wolsey must juggle the needs of the state . Just then. was virtually in charge of England at the beginning of Henry’s reign. and he guesses that More has just come from the cardinal’s office. The ambassador interprets More’s comment to mean that More will oppose King Henry’s divorce from Catherine. More is shocked and says that he would rather do it himself than see Cromwell appointed. Signor Chapuys. Summary: Scene three Outside. In his conversation with More.

Wolsey (and later Cromwell) bears responsibility for assuaging Henry’s conscience when he has deliberately done something sinful. Henry’s absence from most of play implicates the characters. even as he attacks More. he establishes Henry’s role as a man whose uneasy conscience needs to be satisfied.with those of the Church. Cromwell. he is constantly present in the thoughts and the speech of the other characters. Though Henry is responsible for More’s persecution. and after Wolsey dies. and they couch their performances in a falsely deferential tone. Although King Henry appears in the play only once. When Wolsey announces Henry’s offstage return from his visit with Anne Boleyn. Cromwell and Chapuys personify the devious and duplicitous characters necessary to remain in Henry’s good favor. who enact Henry’s persecution of More. . such as Wolsey. Consequently. for instance. insincerely calls himself More’s admirer. including Wolsey’s attempts to threaten and cajole More into agreement. they also personify the kind of groveling that More cannot stand. He makes the same claim later in the play. scene two. Henry’s behavior accounts for Wolsey own questionable conduct. In a way. They are political and calculating. Henry’s actions are responsible for More’s persecution. in Act One. Wolsey’s willingness to accomodate Henry’s hypocrisy makes him just as guilty as the king. his successor must bear the burden of Henry’s disapproval.

points out that he is going to be a lawyer and that his family is well-off. reminding Roper of the late hour. More explains the situation. scene four Summary Back at home. Margaret attempts to keep everyone’s temper in check. More is playful. and Alice knows not to ask any more questions. and she announces that he should have beaten his daughter for receiving Roper at such an hour. More says he wants nothing to do with the office. suspecting that More objects to his social standing. and once again he changes the subject. Alice .” which is expensive and difficult to obtain. saying that Roper’s father was just like his son. Alice asks about More’s meeting. which he suspects the pope will allow. which More considers to be heretical. but More changes the subject back to the Ropers. More objects to Roper’s Lutheran faith. Roper. Alice runs onstage. Roper even goes so far as to call the pope the Antichrist. When Margaret returns with the tea. but she realizes that her husband is trying to divert her and asks again what Wolsey wanted. Alice mentions that Norfolk suggested More should replace Wolsey as Lord Chancellor. When Margaret announces that Roper has asked for her hand in marriage. Roper. Suddenly. Margaret asks about her father’s meeting with the cardinal. Margaret’s boyfriend.Act One. As the group heads off to bed. More sends Roper home on Alice’s horse. Angry. More discovers that despite the late hour. He brings up Henry’s divorce. More resolutely refuses. More and Margaret discuss Roper and his family. having seen Roper taking off with her horse. saying Margaret is too “full of education. More tells Roper there is nothing wrong with his family. there will not be any replacement Lord Chancellor. Alice is shocked to learn of Roper’s marriage proposal. is paying a visit. When the pair enters. Roper balks at the title of heretic and claims that it is the Catholic Church that is heretical. and he predicts that while Wolsey is alive. While Margaret goes to get her father some tea. More finally admits that Wolsey wanted him to read over a dispatch to Rome. he ends up a Catholic once again. Left alone. More disagrees. More points out to Roper that Roper was a passionate Catholic just two years earlier and says he hopes that when Roper finishes with his religious wavering. Rather.

To More. More retorts that such talk is dangerously seditious. Though characters like Wolsey accuse him of . In trying to quell her father’s and Roper’s tempers. Viewing the Catholic Church as morally bankrupt in many ways. even going so far as to call the pope the Antichrist. according to More. But his actions. Margaret says to Roper. Roper’s passion in this scene illustrates how lofty ideals are unstable moral guideposts compared to one’s own moral conscience. insincere idealism. practical details of a situation before making a decision based on one’s ideals. Luther’s sympathizers spread his message. Roper passionately argues that the Catholic Church needs reform. More appears to have much in common with the Protestant faith. while Roper more closely resembles the Catholicism to which Protestants objected. Protestantism (or Lutheranism. Bolt shows a strong commitment to the pope and to the laws of God as he understands them.” harkening the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Analysis Some background on the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism makes More’s objections to Roper understandable. private faith in God. However. as its initial form was called) took as its main tenet the idea that outward displays of faith as practiced by the Catholic Church could never take the place of a personal. personal moral footing. Martin Luther posted his list of ninety-five theses on the “Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. they did not repent. ideals are unrelated to circumstance and they adhere to ideals despite obvious indications that their ideals do not apply to particular circumstances. are simply outward displays of ideals and are not necessarily grounded on firm. More’s commitment to Catholicism is based upon what his conscience tells him to do. In the play. it is important to consider the specific. To most people. a saint who represents a deepseated commitment to Catholicism. even if. since great and common men alike catch colds. Bolt plays with the popular understanding of More. not upon some lofty ideal.insists that More drink his tea. in their hearts and souls. Martin Luther objected to the idea that people could purchase pardons from their church as penance for their sins. and the Protestant faith expanded across Europe. In 1517. More’s morals contrast with Roper’s high-minded. Ironically. however. “You’ve no sense of the place!” Margaret’s exclamation introduces another important aspect of More’s morality—his practicality.

which was officially attributed to pulmonary pneumonia but. and even then (as later scenes show). Alice foreshadows Wolsey’s death when she comments about how colds affect great and common men alike. He objects to an act only if it impedes his sense of self. remaining a conscientious yet solitary man. More places more weight on the practical considerations of the matter than on even his love and respect for his family. for all intents and purposes. The Common Man jokes that More is considered by some to be a saint and that if one acknowledges his stubborn disregard of ordinary reality. Belittling Rich’s new job—Rich is now Norfolk’s secretary and librarian—Cromwell mentions that he himself was promoted into the king’s service. and his death seems an implicit affirmation of Alice’s statement. He asks Rich why he does not have a better job since the new Lord Chancellor. he objects only as much as he absolutely has to. he leaves them out of them.being overly moralistic. More constantly considers the details of an act or an oath to see if he can abide by it without violating his conscience. was caused by the king’s displeasure with Wolsey’s handling of the divorce. Sir Thomas More. More’s unwillingness to talk about his meeting with the cardinal foreshadows his later refusal to discuss his opinions about the Act of Supremacy. Act One. Not wanting to implicate them in his affairs. Summary: Scene six Cromwell and Rich run into each other at Hampton Court. Again. is his old friend. Wolsey soon dies. was appointed Wolsey’s successor. . When Rich sheepishly replies that he and More are not really friends. Thomas More. The Common Man enters to describe Cardinal Wolsey’s death. Wolsey died on his way to jail for the crime of high treason. the Common Man reports. Though Alice understands in this instance not to press the matter. Though Roper might reject an act on principle. scenes five–six Summary: Scene five A single spotlight reveals a red robe and the cardinal’s hat lying on the floor. she eventually takes offense at not being allowed into her husband’s confidence. then he probably was one. More reserves judgment.

Chapuys also pays off Matthew and leaves. that Wolsey’s death was effectively the result of Henry’s displeasure foreshadows the dangers of More’s appointment as Wolsey’s replacement. Matthew explains that he told Chapuys what he wanted to hear. and all three men are eager to talk to him. presumably in exchange for some service. The Common Man’s announcement in Act One. Matthew tells him that More is so anxious that he turns white as a sheet whenever the subject is mentioned. Alone. Analysis: Scenes five–six Wolsey’s death sets into motion the clash between More and the king that has been building for the play’s first four scenes. Cromwell tells Chapuys that the king plans to sail the ship to More’s house to discuss the king’s divorce. and just then Signor Chapuys enters and asks the same question. Cromwell mentions that he recently arranged Henry’s trip down the Thames on the maiden voyage of a new battleship. From Matthew. he learns that More is a religiously observant. appears. and Rich points out that the information is common knowledge. We realize that More must now take on the prickly situation of securing Henry’s divorce or else find a way to avoid the same dire consequence . Finally. and heads off in the other direction.Cromwell takes the opportunity to dangle a job offer before him. Rich asks Cromwell what exactly he does for the king. Meanwhile. Rich returns and asks Matthew what he told Chapuys. Chapuys has returned. He imagines that the men will make a big deal and a big secret out of their discoveries so that they do not feel duped. Rich protests that he knows nothing. Shocked. Cromwell insists that the king hopes to make More change his mind. Matthew tells him. Matthew (played by the Common Man). Cromwell pushes Chapuys out of view and questions Matthew about More’s opinions concerning the divorce. Cromwell pays Matthew for his information and beckons Rich to come with him as he leaves. More’s steward. Suddenly suspicious. the Great Harry. reveling in the fact that he tricked three men into paying him off for little bits of common knowledge. After Chapuys reminds Cromwell that the ship has fewer guns than Cromwell has claimed.” As an example. scene five. Signor Chapuys complains that More has already expressed his opinion on the matter. holding up a coin for Matthew to see. Matthew addresses the audience. Cromwell skirts the issue but finally explains that he does whatever the king “wants done.

but he does so only for the audience’s eyes. of being even craftier than himself when the innkeeper plays dumb about Cromwell’s conspiracy. as though they were one person. He engages with others in a manner that is dishonest on the surface. A sixteenth-century butler. he serves as a magnet for the doubledealings of kings and cardinals. double talk. showing that even More buys into the stereotypes of his time. was assumed to have no moral scruples. and deceit in scene six showcase the political environment that More will have to contend with as Lord Chancellor. and common. meaning universal. exits. and in doing so he questions the assumptions frequently made about the lower class’s lack of morality. the Common Man does not tell More about the people who are plotting against him. Yet Matthew turns bribe-taking into a means of attack. Throughout the play. also played by the Common Man.that Wolsey faced. bribery. Although the Common Man plays many roles. The Common Man’s joke about the incompatibility of sainthood and high office provides a lighthearted moment that acknowledges the price More pays for his unwillingness to sacrifice his own conscience for the sake of his life or the demands of others. the Common Man (or rather. These exchanges link with a later scene in the play when Cromwell suspects a lowly innkeeper. the Common Man’s bribing of Chapuys. At the same time. By playing lower-class characters. Cromwell. and Rich poses no actual threat to More but satirizes those who do not know how to operate except through lies and deception. However. As the play progresses. . More himself takes it for granted that Matthew has betrayed him. The dramatic use of a spotlight to focus attention on Wolsey’s garments. meaning lowly. all his characters develop in a unified fashion. underlines the position’s tenuousness. he dupes More’s adversaries. a lower class individual. Matthew takes advantage of all three men by offering them nothing but the most well known information about More. the characters he plays) has a harder time reconciling his acts with More’s kind treatment of him. The Common Man is both common. The entrances. but he does so to cheat his bribers with information that is not technically secret. which are symbolic of More’s new position. Later.

Henry then asks Alice what she has available for dinner. Matthew says he knows nothing. area . where I must rule myself. Alice tries to fix it. More retorts that he is not dishonoring any office by serving God. although the family has known about it for some time. the king mentions his book on the seven sacraments. Suddenly.” Back on the subject of scholarship. having been occupied at vespers (evening prayers). and as Margaret laughs. When Norfolk chastises More for disrespecting the king and his office. Margaret nonetheless goes on to speak Latin with the king.Act One. . Norfolk. More helped to write. Though Alice has obviously prepared a feast. When Matthew appears. . little. that More disrespects the king. all three ask him where More might be. More bows but Henry insists he be received in a casual manner. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . which. Alice. and the king says he has heard that Margaret is a scholar. He playfully attempts to dance with Margaret. More and Henry discuss Henry’s trip on his new battleship. More arrives. asking More if they are friends and telling him that Wolsey himself named More his successor. including his chain of office. When it becomes clear that her Latin is better than his. scene seven Summary I neither could nor would rule my King. When King Henry arrives. and everyone fretfully tries to get him to put on more appropriate attire. the king changes the subject. . . and Margaret prepare for King Henry’s arrival. It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court. When . Norfolk complains that More has taken things too far. she promises only a “very simple supper. he admits. and. (See Important Quotations Explained) Back at More’s home in Chelsea. Modestly dismissing the compliment. More introduces Alice and Margaret. Then he pulls More aside to discuss the divorce but not before impressing Margaret with the orchestra he has brought with him. and the king beats around the bush. but as usual. The visit is intended as a surprise. Alone. but More is nowhere to be found. More is reverent and modest. More’s gown is caught up in his stockings. and that no good can come of it. He is dressed simply. he attempts to wrestle with Norfolk. commenting on the strength of Norfolk’s legs.

He also suggests that the king may have left to be with Anne Boleyn— not because he was angry. though. Henry grows angry and then sad. He says that he does not hope to “rule” the king but that he must absolutely rule himself. Roper arrives and asks More whether he should take a seat that he has been offered in the next Parliament. He still has concerns about Catholicism but considers the Catholic Church itself to be sacred. He admits that his views have changed on Church reform. His first marriage to Catherine. there are “certain things” he cannot hear. and Henry laments the greedy authority of the English cardinals. so God is punishing him by denying him an heir. knowing full well what he thought. Henry opts not to stay for dinner after all. He cannot understand why his friend would deny his request. and he leaves in a huff. has learned to flatter the court and the king. . he broaches the subject of the divorce. Just as suddenly. More argues that Henry should not need his support if everyone else consents. Roper accuses More of corruption. Henry finally decides that though he will not insist that More consent to the marriage. however. More protests that his opinion is actually of little importance to Henry. saying that More. Henry contends. Henry complains that Wolsey failed him and needed to be broken. Henry. After some more small talk. He suggests that Wolsey wanted to be pope. in maintaining his position. sensing that he has gotten ahead of himself. changes the subject back to his battleship. and when More admits that he cannot agree with the divorce. since the book of Leviticus condemns any man who sleeps with his brother’s wife. But Henry admits he needs More to back him up because of his honest reputation. was sinful. When Roper grows passionate in his stance against reformations like the one Henry is implementing. More reminds Roper that as chancellor. The king. He wonders why More remains staunch when everyone else has consented to the marriage. Frustrated. but of grave importance to himself. Alice chastises More for having angered the king. he will insist that he keep quiet on the issue. More reminds the king that he promised not to bother him about the divorce. More explains that he would readily have his arm cut off if it meant he could agree to the divorce with a clear conscience.More compliments Wolsey’s ability. pleads that the matter is of grave importance.

and he proves to be an arrogant and unpredictable man.Rich arrives and behaves in a defensive manner. Henry is polite and friendly until he feels that his own power or needs are being undermined. Just as readily as Henry expresses his feelings of friendship for More. he puts his faith in the law. More tells him he is not surprised—such information-gathering is to be expected. Henry’s visit shows that he values appearances over truth. . He is suspicious to find that Roper has heard of him and wrongly suspects that he is no longer welcome in More’s home. not God’s. When Henry first meets Margaret. and he mentions Matthew’s duplicity. . More exits forcefully. even though both sides show that preparation for such a visit is required and expected. . Analysis This lengthy scene contains King Henry’s only appearance in the play. but More reminds them that Rich has done nothing illegal. More asserts that he believes in God but that man’s law offers a safe haven in an uncertain universe. For example. Yet he demands both simultaneously. Rich tells More that Cromwell and Chapuys have been checking up on him.” Again. .” More tells Roper that while living on earth. When Rich breaks down and asks again for employment. “God’s my god. . More turns him away. But I find him rather too subtle. . with his “seagoing principles. not in God. but reenters to apologize for criticizing Roper harshly. but as soon as she shows that she knows more Latin than he does. he changes the subject. He says. I don’t know where he is nor what he wants. More denies Roper his daughter’s hand in marriage. He then explains to Alice and Margaret that he considers himself to be safe in the matter of the divorce because he has not broken any law or disobeyed the king. even though they often contradict one another. he tactfully compliments her scholarship. More and Roper argue over the respective places of man’s and God’s laws in human society. Roper accuses More of believing only in the law. (See Important Quotations Explained) Everyone tells More to arrest Rich. Moreover. he . More claims that he stands on firm ground and that Roper is lost at sea. This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws. The entire company plays along with the idea that Henry’s visit is a surprise. he shouts and storms offstage.

The comment suggests that Henry needs More’s approval more for the calm it will give his conscience than for public opinion. Imagery of land and water is used to illustrate the difference between More’s lawabiding nature and Roper’s religious idealism. Henry believes that he can have both. he wants to do whatever he likes and at the same time feel morally upright. King Henry is not simply content to do whatever is most convenient for his political advantage. More’s honest reputation means that his consent could prove the king right. . He expects Margaret to take a compliment tactfully and at the same time to hide the fact that it is tact that keeps her quiet. In praising the law. . which is sturdy and provides protection. The most important instance of Henry needing moral affirmation comes when he demands More’s approval of the divorce and marriage because More is reputed to be a moral man. as long as doing one’s job does not violate one’s conscience. Instead. More shows there is nothing wrong with devotion to one’s employment. d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?” More emphasizes the inconstancy of Roper’s idealism by calling his morals “seagoing principles. Unlike the Machiavellians Cromwell and Rich. the unknowable. Bolt suggests that Henry needs More’s approval for private as well as public reasons.” invoking the image of the shifting and unstable sea to stress the dangers of looking to God. The exchange between More and Roper reveals the seriousness with which More does his job. insecure temperament suggests he needs More to ease his own guilt. If the other characters can choose only between their personal advancement (chosen by Cromwell and Rich) and their conscience (More). More wishes to rely upon what he knows to be . The play as a whole criticizes people who claim that they are just doing their job as an excuse that allows them to justify behaving in an immoral way in order to gain advancement. not God’s— and if you cut them down .requires More and his family to bear the burden of planning for his surprise and of convincing him that they are indeed surprised. by using his power to influence others to ease his conscience. More compares it to a forest. This idea is supported by Henry’s comment that it will be fine if More simply keeps quiet. He says that England is planted “thick with laws from coast to coast—Man’s laws. Henry’s immature. his lack of consent could prove the king wrong. as a moral guide. More tells Roper that he must watch what he says and remember that More is now chancellor.

.certain and what he can perceive here on earth. but he does not pretend to understand God. He believes in God. except as God is manifest in human laws and justice.

Rich feels guilty for betraying More. but he goes on to tell Cromwell about the silver cup More received as a bribe and passed on to Rich. he will get one. and he gets Rich to admit that he can be bought. Cromwell wants to insure that there are not “too many little dark corners. and More will either have to bend to his will or get out of the way. Rich laments his loss of innocence. Cromwell promises that the next bribe will be even easier to take. of a pub called the Loyal Subject. Cromwell suspects that the man is being disingenuous. whose opinion is inviolable. Cromwell announces that men like More try to hold fast to their principles. He even divulges the price of the item and agrees to take Cromwell to the shop where he sold it. Cromwell accuses him of being too tactful—of saying less than he knows. The major problem is More. he adds. Cromwell makes a joke at the king’s expense. Cromwell predicts. Rich wonders what Cromwell plans to do with the information. Cromwell explains that if Henry wants a divorce. bewildered. Rich’s) job to make it as convenient as possible. which he will offer to Rich in exchange for information.Act One. his corruptibility) to get the information he needs. Cromwell arrives at the Loyal Subject and asks the publican if his pub is a good place to launch a conspiracy. Rich’s admission is just what Cromwell wants to hear. He says that he is not a deep thinker like More and that he should not be expected to act with deep principles. men like More are only fit for heaven. scene eight Summary The Common Man enters as the publican. Cromwell adds. or innkeeper. because Cromwell is counting on Rich’s “common sense” (in other words. Cromwell beckons for Rich to come into the room.” and the publican. Otherwise. and he announces that he has secured the position of collector of revenues for York. and asks the publican if he knows who Cromwell is. answers that there are only four corners in the room. Cromwell . When the publican replies that he does not. the king will get a divorce whether or not More approves. not earth. But. but he admits that it was not as hard as he had expected. but if they have any sense they get out of the way of a situation beyond their control. and it is Cromwell’s (and.

Bolt’s play is something of a cautionary tale. Cromwell demonstrates how far he is willing to go by holding Rich’s hand in a candle flame. we have to assume. one can argue that Cromwell represents the occupational hazards of working for a corrupt king. The Common Man. done for its own sake. speaking against More. and dim-witted outlook. for example. Alice. The amusing exchange between Cromwell and the publican emphasizes Cromwell’s unsophisticated. and Margaret. primarily because he plays numerous characters who are privy to the shady dealings performed behind More’s back and who do not say anything. moral figures such as More. narrow. He represents the morally risky notion of just going along with the flow of life without considering the consequences of one’s actions. Overall. In a play more about the struggle between conscience and convenience than about morality and religion. will continue to aid and abet More’s downfall.suspects. As . He has become the guardian of the king’s conscience. If the Common Man and Rich show us step by step how a person can disregard his conscience for material gain. however. and bribing and torturing Rich—are acts of a stock character who represents evil. When Rich retorts that More cannot be frightened. and Henry. Cromwell is also performing some of the same functions as Wolsey. the scene seems to have the character of melodrama and morality tales rather than serious drama. is always hovering over him. Cromwell remains silent but looks proud and exultant. After all. Alternatively. suggesting that heaven is where he intends to send More. His characters possess obvious flaws that lead to More’s condemnation. Cromwell refers to King Henry’s “ravenous” conscience. Later on in the play. Rich screams and accuses Cromwell of having enjoyed torturing him. that More has plenty of “sense” and can be easily scared into changing his mind. Cromwell mentions lightly that an innocent person like More is only fit for heaven. it is odd to see a character so devoid of conscience as Cromwell. The comedic. When he burns Rich he unsubtly evokes the devil and the flames of hell. satirical nature of this scene creates the sense that Cromwell and Rich are buffoons. set apart from the intelligent. In a way. Cromwell represents evil in its purest form. Analysis All of Cromwell’s actions in this scene—questioning the publican. Rich represents the dangers of succumbing to the temptations of wealth and status.

Cromwell tries to assess just how trustworthy the Publican might be, he becomes infuriated by the publican’s inability to understand him. Their muddled exchange lampoons the kind of court politics Cromwell embodies, because Cromwell speaks in innuendos and assumes the publican is doing the same, whereas the publican truly does not understand what Cromwell is asking him. As Rich fluctuates between pangs of guilt and immoral actions, he reveals his pathetic, whiny nature, which is established in the play’s first scene. The Common Man is also a satirical character. The publican may appear clever, but his cleverness serves him only in an amoral way. The pub’s name, the Loyal Subject, ironically emphasizes the publican’s immorality. The publican remains loyal to Cromwell and Rich despite the fact that they are plotting villainous crimes in his presence. The fact that the publican points out his own faults without provocation reveals the extent to which he is meant to be a satirical character. He even goes so far as to say that a man in his position cannot be expected to behave like a “deep” man like Thomas More. His unsolicited excuse shows he is covering up his guilt in advance.

Act Two, scenes one–two
Summary: Scene one
The Common Man enters to announce that in the two years that have passed, the Church of England has been established. He wears spectacles and reads from a book that the Church was created by an act of Parliament and not by bloodshed. Only a few people opposed it. These dissenters were dangerously behind the times, the Common Man reads, and they put themselves at risk, since torture was the order of the day.

Summary: Scene two
More and Roper discuss the new Church of England. More makes fun of Roper’s outfit. Now an ardent Catholic, Roper wears all black and a large cross around his neck. He claims that More’s chain, which indicates More’s position as Lord Chancellor, is a disgrace. More reminds Roper that the convocation of bishops is meeting to decide whether to give their allegiance to London, as King Henry requests, or to Rome. More promises to resign if the bishops give in to King Henry. Roper reminds More that regardless of the bishops’ decision, the Act of Supremacy has made the king the head of the English Church. More points out that the act includes the caveat, or warning, “so far as the law of God allows.” Though Roper thinks this caveat is irrelevant, More says it allows him to agree to the act, which is an otherwise repugnant piece of legislation to him. When Roper offers his opinion on More’s interpretation of the act, More quiets Roper down, calling his point of view high treason. He reminds Roper to think of Margaret, who is now Roper’s wife, his children, and his responsibilities. Margaret enters and tells Roper to forget responsibilities and follow his heart. Chapuys arrives and agrees with Margaret’s instruction, calling them all saints for their devotion to the Church. When More asks what Chapuys wants, Chapuys asks demurely whether he cannot simply pay a friendly visit to a “brother in Christ.” But More recognizes that the ambassador is actually on business, so he asks Margaret and Roper to excuse them. Alone with More, Chapuys chastises More for letting himself become associated with the actions of King Henry. He reminds him that as Lord Chancellor, More

bears responsibility for his actions and stances with respect to the king. Finally, he asks More about the bishops and a rumor he has heard that More is going to resign if the bishops submit to Henry’s request. Chapuys would admire More for resigning, but when he calls it a “signal,” More balks. To More, resigning would not be a signal but a moral obligation. Chapuys announces that he has been on a tour of Yorkshire and Northumberland, and he sensed that the people there were displeased with Henry’s actions and ready to resist by force. Just then, Roper and Norfolk rush in. Chapuys excuses himself, claiming to have been visiting simply to borrow a book. Norfolk tells More that the bishops submitted to the king and agreed to cut all ties with Rome. When More starts to take off his chain of office, Norfolk refuses to help him. More declines an offer from Roper to assist him, and he asks Alice to do the honors. Alice refuses. Finally, Margaret helps her father. Alice accuses her husband of behaving “like a printed book.” Norfolk calls the resignation cowardice, but More tells him that he considers Henry’s actions to be war on the Catholic Church. He refuses, however, to tell anyone but the king whether he thinks Catherine is Henry’s true wife. More replies vaguely when Norfolk asks why More would sacrifice his station in life for a theory. More says, “I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that Ibelieve it.” More tells Norfolk that he is afraid, but Norfolk curtly announces that the king is disappointed but will not punish or pursue More. As Norfolk goes to leave, More stops him and repeats what Chapuys has told him about the threat of armed resistance. Norfolk testily applauds More’s desire to be of some service to his country, but he tells him that one of Cromwell’s agents took the tour of the countryside to assess public sentiment with Chapuys, which makes More slightly jealous and uneasy. Alice, angry at what she sees as More’s impractical decision, asks what he intends to do with himself now that he has resigned. Roper congratulates More, calling the resignation a “noble gesture.” More eagerly clarifies that he would not sacrifice his status and his family’s finances simply to make a gesture. He says he would have continued in his post if he could have, but he could not. When More claims that he is practical and therefore would never make a gesture for symbolism, Roper argues that More acted morally rather than practically. More counters that morality is practical, but not gestural. Alice gets angry and accuses Roper of engaging More in a light “dance” to the Tower of London, where, she

explaining that if Cromwell should make them swear on a Bible. When Matthew says he could not. Matthew has a short monologue. and rain being water—don’t you complicate the job by putting things in me for me to miss! (See Important Quotations Explained) At the end of the scene. Alice accuses him of behaving like a “book. Matthew replies that More always saw right through him and that there is nothing to miss.” but More says he does neither. More’s conversations about his resignation provide information to analyze More’s peculiar brand of morality. he will be tortured. More even refuses to tell his family what he thinks. More says with regret that he will miss him. He is abiding by himself. and good luck and bad luck being just exactly even stevens. He is following something much more certain than a printed page or a precept. When More resigns. all the time! I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t! .fears. Matthew complains that life is not always filled with friendship or good luck and that More has no right to complicate things. but More is insistent. and it has importance for both the play’s plot and it’s theme.” and Roper says More makes a “noble gesture. and he leaves the stage chuckling to himself. . But More insists that if they all keep quiet about his motives and opinions. He repeats that he almost fell for More’s offer. More argues that his . And what with not having wings but walkingon two flat feet. More sends Alice off to the kitchen to release most of the servants since the family will no longer be able to afford their services. He wonders what More could possibly miss in him. More approaches Matthew and asks whether Matthew could stay on for less money. People will only be able to guess at his reasons for resigning. I wish we could all have good luck. implying that More was simply complimenting him to persuade him to stay on at the house. no one can accuse him of opposing the king. . He says that he almost “fell for” More’s offer of less money. rather than by ideals or appearances. Analysis: Scenes one–two More’s resignation is the central action of both this scene and the play itself. he wants them to be able to say honestly that they do not know what More thinks.

The actor uses direct conversation with the audience. whereas More’s commitment to his own moral conscience and to the law is steadfast. finds the caveat a small and irrelevant excuse. through alienation. Roper. a devout Lutheran earlier in the play. or other techniques to force the audience to judge him. He discusses how More is just playing the role of an insincere. More demonstrates the difference between himself and Roper when he reminds his son-in-law that the Act of Supremacy’s caveat. It is difficult to discuss Brecht’s alienation technique (see Context). Roper’s criticism of More calls into question More’s practical approach to morality. He claims that he has no choice except to resign. Even though More hopes to protect Alice and Margaret by telling them nothing about his beliefs. money grubbing noble. He therefore refuses to tell even his wife his true feelings in order to protect her from having to perjure or condemn herself in a court of law. but he has no choice only within his understanding of morality. Act Two. for the technique must be experienced. “so far as the law of God allows. The so-called Pilgrimage of Grace erupted in the aftermath of Henry’s break with Rome. The insurrection that the characters talk about in this act is based on a historical event. partly as a result of poor economic conditions. even while he is speaking the lines of the character. Fortunately for Henry. exaggerated movements or gestures. Matthew’s monologue about his distrust of More uses the technique to invite the audience to judge what he’s saying. an actor can make a comment to the audience about the character he is playing. More may live his life in a moral manner. and he tells the audience that Matthew himself is nothing more . Essentially.decision has nothing to do with anyone else. the revolt was ultimately put down. His choice has implications for his family as well. scene two. we see the emotional harm that More’s silence inflicts on them. as well as the strain his resignation will put on their daily life. Roper. as his clothes reveal. begins by reminding us that Roper’s high-minded ideals are always subject to change. but he nevertheless manipulates situations to get what he wants. an ironic tone. is now an ardent Catholic. King Henry did have to contend with an insurrection in the north similar to the one Chapuys threatens to stir up among discontented English subjects.” is what enables More to reconcile his private conscience with the law. on the other hand.

Matthew says he “almost fell for it. Almost laughing. then Matthew has alienated himself from them in such a way that they will think less of him. for instance—we always return to the cold. Matthew seems to assume that the audience will agree with his analysis of man’s nature. actually wants us to question whether he should have fallen for a more optimistic view of life.than emptiness. or the Common Man who is playing Matthew’s character. but if the audience does not. . He says that even though human beings want to believe in things that are not practical—he wishes for rain to be beer.” Matthew. hard fact that life is somewhat miserable and that base men are base and empty men are empty.

Norfolk asserts. Rich hesitates since he feels that Matthew treated him poorly back when he was More’s servant. and he reminds Rich that he got the cup the same month that More did. Cromwell mentions that the king particularly wants Norfolk to participate because Norfolk is known to be More’s friend. More should have no problem swearing an oath of loyalty to the administration. he got rid of it. When Norfolk refuses to believe that More has ever accepted a bribe. Cromwell plans to use the information Rich provided about the silver cup to blackmail More into submission. Cromwell points out that he has instructions from the king to get More to consent. they do not need to bother him. but he promises to find some better gossip that he can use to force More’s hand. Cromwell admits that the scenario Norfolk proposes is possible. But Matthew insists that . Thus. But Cromwell contends that everyone understands More’s silence to be disapproval. as soon as More realized the cup was a bribe. scenes three–four Summary: Scene three Norfolk protests Cromwell’s intention to pursue More. however. When Norfolk insists he wants nothing to do with Cromwell’s campaign to discredit More. Cromwell contends. Cromwell turns on Rich and rebukes him for not remembering that the duke was present the night More gave Rich the cup. remembers the night that Rich received the cup. Norfolk. Matthew appears and reminds Rich that he said that he might need a steward.Act Two. Norfolk’s involvement will make Cromwell’s campaign look less like malicious prosecution and more like a fair investigation of facts. Cromwell brings in Rich and the woman who gave More the cup. Rich attests that More received the cup. Since More has shown himself to be a patriot by passing on information about Chapuys’s rebellion. When Norfolk protests again. she nonetheless admits that she sent him the silver cup. Just as Cromwell and Rich are leaving. and Cromwell has enlisted Matthew to corroborate the fact that More gave the cup to Rich. claiming that since More does not actively oppose Henry’s divorce. When Norfolk exits. Though the woman did not get the judgment she wanted from More.

but More feels that opening the letter would be unseemly and that he would feel obliged to take it straight to Henry. More announces that though the bishops offered him some money by way of charity. Departing. he cannot accept it since it will make him appear to be in their service. Chapuys has come to pay a visit. the family’s fortunes have dwindled. though he hopes his fears are misplaced. complaining about their poverty. Chapuys promises that his fortunes are sure to change. He definitely . Meanwhile. Chapuys assures More that no one saw him coming to his house. Chapuys speculates that More supports Spain and seems to be against Cromwell. More calls it a luxury. her husband’s refusal to explain his motives. and as he follows Rich offstage. but More refuses to take it. and he and his attendant chat about how cold and poor More’s house suddenly seems. When More arrives. The knowing look in his eye and the tone of his comment as he exits the stage indicate that Matthew believes he has duped Rich into taking him on as a servant.Rich’s memories are incorrect. Margaret has entered with a pile of bracken to burn to heat the house. he announces that he thinks Rich will be a good match for him. Analysis: Scenes three–four The scene between Matthew and Rich demonstrates an instance in which the Common Man believes he truly figures out what another man is all about. More even has Alice witness that he has not accepted the letter or broken its seal. but Alice is unconvinced. Chapuys announces that he suspects his king will admire More all the more for having refused the letter. He hands More a letter from the king of Spain. Alice is alarmed. Alice gets angry again. Roper arrives and announces that someone has come to take More to Hampton Court to answer some charges. More replies that he has to consider appearances in such dangerous times. He senses Rich’s pride and gullibility. but More is stoic and even jokes that he will bring Cromwell back for dinner later that night. Summary: Scene four Back at More’s home. perhaps concluding that with Rich he would never be accused of being missed as he was with More. and his sudden preoccupation with how things appear. implying that an alliance with Spain could be very profitable. He warns Chapuys not to be so sure about More’s views on the divorce and points out his patriotism.

and both politically and religiously he has more in common with Spain. by all indications More owes nothing to the king. . and so he sees himself as the most faithful of subjects that a king could hope to have. More’s demonstration of loyalty to the king when he refuses Chapuys’s letter seems out of step with More’s character. His choice to refuse the Spanish king’s letter seems impractical and unrelated to his morality. More disproves the claim that Wolsey and others made that More ignores practical concerns. His concern shows that although he sees resignation as the only moral choice he can make. but rather a testament to his commitment to the king’s best interests. In More’s eyes. it is a statesman’s duty to consider his private conscience. Even at his trial at the end of the play. country. unless he views patriotism as a moral duty in and of itself. the safety of his family. More clings at least as surely to king.” Intellectually and ethically. and law as he does to the mysteries of faith. More’s disagreement with his king is not tantamount to disloyalty. Once again. In the first place. More operates as much as a teacher in the play as he does a practical man concerned with his own moral salvation. he prays for Henry and calls himself a loyal subject. Just as the doctrine of freedom of speech must allow for those to speak out against it. and the law. Matthew thinks himself better than Rich. as his sentence is pronounced. he recognizes that he must also weigh other concerns—his own safety. More’s concern with appearances when he refuses to take money from the bishops also seems out of keeping with More’s character.feels a sense of power over his new “master.

as a man of conscience. much less be seen with him. Cromwell changes the subject. Getting down to business. a work attributed to King Henry himself. Summary: Scene six Outside. More says that the king told him not to inquire about that anymore. Norfolk enters and says he has been following More. More compliments Rich’s fancy outfit. He points out that it is dangerous even to know More. who calls More a villain and a traitor. More is finally unsettled. But Norfolk protests that such a thing is impossible. He even says he knows people who can testify to the fact that they were completely innocent. More asks Rich to record the fact that there are no charges. but he denies that he wrote the book. Cromwell stops him. Cromwell then produces a letter from the king. the king cannot abide what he sees as More’s disapproval. and Cromwell excuses him. More insists that Norfolk must forget their friendship and do his duty. but as Rich starts to write that down. Cromwell tells Rich that the king has said More will die if he does not consent. but no one will stop for him. bringing up the Holy Maid of Kent. More asks what the charges against him are. but Cromwell insists there are no charges. Cromwell says that. He calls Cromwell’s accusations empty threats. but he tells More about Cromwell’s smear campaign and his own role in it. More admits that he answered a few of the king’s questions on canon law. More tries to hail a boat. Cromwell admits that he greatly admires More. When Cromwell finally broaches the subject of Queen Anne. a woman who was executed for sermonizing against the king. Cromwell announces that the king is not pleased with More and would reward More handsomely if he would only change his mind. . but when Cromwell accuses him of having withheld information about her treasonous talk. just questions. scenes five–six Summary: Scene five Cromwell tells More that Rich will be recording their conversation. More admits that he knew her and sympathized with her. Cromwell then accuses More of having written A Defense of the Seven Sacraments. More refuses. More assures him that their conversations were not political in nature. which defends the pope’s authority in England.Act Two.

men can rant and “clamor like champions. When men finally die. and duty. Norfolk finally gets angry. Norfolk sarcastically protests that the only thing steadfast in this world is the fact that More will not give in to the king. More’s most faithful friend. and More replies that he thinks highly of friendship but must remain loyal above all to his own self. has not refused to help prosecute More. shows the complexity of More’s convictions with regard to friendship. More asks about the wording of the oath. and throughout the rest of the play. in the tangle of his mind!” More goes on to say that man’s lot is to try to escape death for as long as possible. “to serve him wittily. More’s comment about Rich’s attire recalls Rich’s grumbling in his first scene with More about his shabby clothes. The contrast between the servile. More describes for them his philosophy about man’s struggle for life. More says that God made angels to show him splendor. . however. and plants to display simplicity. so he is understandably flustered and confused as he wrestles with his own conscience. The meeting between More and Norfolk in Act Two. and departs. Norfolk. More picks a fight with Norfolk that is playful but that has serious undertones. an idea that More finds impossible. until it becomes evident that his time has come.Norfolk announces that the only solution is for More to change his mind. Just then. hits More. Analysis: Scenes five–six Rich’s fancy costumes highlight his slow but steady rise through the ranks of the royal administration. and he suggests that Norfolk is not fit for heaven. More’s reaction to Norfolk reveals that More never assumes that he truly knows someone else. More proposes. He accuses Norfolk of neglecting his own conscience by giving in to the amoral actions of the state. conscience.” showing God splendor. God made man. He may like people and wish to help and teach them. they go home and look over the king’s new act. More clarifies to Roper. hoping he will be able to take it with a clear conscience. we watch as he reaps the benefits of his evil ways. pathetic Rich in Act One and Rich the haughty administrator in Act Two continues throughout subsequent scenes. animals to show innocence. We have witnessed Rich’s moral undoing. Margaret and Roper arrive to announce a new act in Parliament that calls for the administration of an oath regarding the king’s marriage. scene six. Until then.

including his patriotic and familial duties. More feels Norfolk should follow his conscience. More decides to unleash his criticisms of Norfolk only after he has decided that the two should no longer be friends. In this scene. More knows that Norfolk would be justified in his actions for several reasons. If so. More’s command that Norfolk “cease to know” him implies that Norfolk needs to consider the implications of obeying his king if doing so means living with a guilty conscience for betraying his friend. since More’s advice that Norfolk should “cease to know” him accords to More’s strong sense of patriotic duty. More advises Norfolk to cease their friendship so that Norfolk may obey his patriotic duty to the king without a guilty conscience. On the other hand. a comment that illustrates More’s love of family. More asks the confused and troubled Norfolk what he should do. More attacks Norfolk for being a spineless traitor to his own conscience while defending the irreligious. as a friend” can be interpreted in different ways. More goes even further to make it easy on Norfolk’s conscience by showing that if Norfolk simply parts company with him. On the one hand. and he does not judge others until they truly impinge upon his conscience. he will be doing so as a friend. guilt-free life even if Norfolk plays a role in More’s persecution. More cannot tolerate the fact that Norfolk’s priorities are not clear. Norfolk will set a poor example for his son. There is a striking parallel between More’s behavior here and in the final scene of the play. Moreover.but he can know only himself. More finally becomes confrontational and harsh. More’s allusion to Norfolk’s son might suggest that by sacrificing his conscience for his irreligious king. More even tries to show Norfolk that he could live a content. . “rat-dog pedigree” that the king and the state have become. When Norfolk can only ask More to submit to the king’s wishes and go against More’s own conscience. In contrast. Also. in the . More’s decision to pick a fight could mean that he was never sincere in the first place. In the middle of their conversation. whether it tells him to be loyal to his king or to his friend. Later in the scene. More might be sincere in speaking these words to Norfolk. More’s comment that Norfolk should cease knowing him might be insincere. More follows this statement by telling Norfolk to think about the safety of Norfolk’s son. . Absurdly. More’s statement to Norfolk “[Y]ou must cease to know me .

All Church and lay government officials were required to swear their allegiance to Henry as the head of the Church of England. Henry’s conduct in this matter reflected a shift from the time-honored medieval tradition in which rulers were the arbiters of lawmaking and civil conduct toward the more modern custom in which kings are also the ideological figureheads of their countries. Perhaps More feels similarly about his friendship with Norfolk and tries to make Norfolk fully aware of Norfolk’s ill-behavior only once More knows their friendship has come to an end. and to recognize and approve the Church’s break with Rome. . The oath discussed at the end of scene six was administered by Henry’s government in 1536. More’s philosophical lesson to Margaret and Roper at the close of scene six shows that men are allowed to “clamor” only once they know that their predestined end has’s final scene. he begins to speak his mind only after he has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death.

now playing a jailer. As More leaves. not having realized he had books at all. Of course. and Norfolk have just arrived at the tower to question More. promises instead to take away the ones he already has. When Norfolk points to the long list of signatories and asks More to sign for the sake of fellowship. introduces us to More’s new home in the Tower of London. but Cromwell refuses. The document invalidates the king’s first marriage and the pope’s right to sanction it. they have no way to be sure he is not holding out just to give them trouble. and as such would be damned to hell. all these events have not yet occurred in the play. and he takes the letter from it and reads out loud. who is the archbishop of Canterbury. The jailer wakes the now haggard More and escorts him to the interrogation. Cromwell. he asks for some more books. Cranmer. but Cromwell. (See Important Quotations Explained) The Common Man. He insists that he would let More out if he could but then they would both end up in jail. Cromwell . and Cranmer. Norfolk. where Cromwell presents More with the Act of Succession. for high treason. by contrast. More explains that as long as he is silent about why he refuses to swear to the oath. he cannot do so. but they cannot convict him of treason. living a long life and ultimately becoming Lord Chancellor before dying in his bed. and the decree also confirms Queen Anne’s children as the rightful heirs to the throne. Norfolk excuses More. a death-penalty offense. More asks to see his family. fares very well. More agrees to the second part of the oath but refuses to answer to the first part. The letter predicts the convictions of Cromwell. All attempts to persuade More to change his mind fail. and the executions of Cromwell and Cranmer. After More has left. An envelope falls in front of the jailer. The jailer wishes us the same good luck. The letter reveals that Rich. More points out that though they may very well have signed with clear consciences. scene seven Summary Better a live rat than a dead lion. They can lock him up for life.Act Two.

Rich approaches Cromwell to inquire whether he might obtain the nowvacant post of the attorney general for Wales. the Common Man finds that his complicity in More’s persecution begins to chafe at his conscience. but it does not compare to other characters’ sacrifice of their own selves and convictions. he could still dodge the guilt he felt when More confided that More would miss Matthew. Cromwell instructs Rich to return the following day to remove More’s books.approaches the jailer to ask if More has said anything about the divorce. the Common Man doubts his conduct toward More for the first time. In a brief aside. or the remarriage. The jailer has not heard anything. which signals to him that much is at stake and that the great reward could easily turn to a great penalty. As Matthew. “better a live dog than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). Obliged now not only to divulge information about More but also to be his jailer. When Cromwell promises fifty guineas in exchange for any information. the Common Man is conscious of that guilt and excuses his complicity in More’s persecution by saying. More’s life is his final and perhaps greatest sacrifice. At the end of the play. a torture device. the play implicitly implies that an immoral life is not always worth the guilt-ridden consequences. “Better a live rat than a dead lion”—better to be alive and guilty than dead and a hero. and he informs Norfolk that the king is getting impatient with them because of More’s silence. Cromwell claims that More’s silence troubles the king’s conscience but that More’s execution would trouble his own. Cranmer adds that the jailer should not just make something up in exchange for the money. perhaps even death. the Common Man’s statement actually misquotes the biblical saying. the Common Man points out that staying alive is actually rather easy. He toys with the rack. In general. As the jailer. the Church of England. but he swears an oath that he will report anything that he hears. as he contemplates how to get More to submit. the jailer frets over such a large sum of money. The Common Man’s mistake shows how he and others who live by this philosophy deceive themselves. Analysis In this scene. Moreover. but Cromwell is preoccupied. A Man for All Seasons argues against the idea that staying alive is the ultimate good. but through his statement. .

implying that. yet Bolt inserts them just before the play’s climax.In his opening monologue. the jailer tells us about the historical fates of Cromwell. a live rat is not always alive for that long. All of these facts about the eventual fates of the characters in the play should belong in an epilogue. . and Cranmer. By including this recap of history. Bolt makes certain that we know what ultimately happens to the play’s antagonists as well as its protagonist. Norfolk. at least in Henry’s court. The information is important because it suggests that unsavory characters receive what they deserve. turning history into a sort of divine justice.

because if he dies without her full understanding it would be worse than any torture to which the authorities could subject him. and More realizes that the only reason they have been allowed to see him is that they have promised to persuade him to concede. The prison disgusts her. but his comments only make her more angry and upset. and Margaret resist. More and Alice part with emotion. They have brought him cheese. Margaret. Suddenly. He is overjoyed to see his family after a year in prison. More figures he will not be allowed to see them again anyway. but he is resolute. quotes scripture and suggests that More speak the words of the oath even if he believes otherwise in his heart. that she does not think all this had to happen. unwavering in his insistence that it is time for the visitors to go. Margaret goes on to describe how miserable they are without him. Margaret points out that the state is evil and that her father has already done more than can be expected of him. insisting that she must understand. scene eight Summary In the morning. the jailer returns. Alice hugs her husband and tells him he is the best man she has ever known. More’s family arrives at the Tower of London. and even Alice’s insults do no good.Act Two. however. and the jailer lets More out of his cell. Finally. Alice. More wants to be sure that Alice understands why he does not cave-in to the king. then tells Margaret and Alice to leave the country. to whom the oathtaker gives his own self as collateral. and he replies that he would escape if he could. Alice accuses More of choosing prison over home life. Alice is still angry. More sends Roper off with the wine to try to distract him. More. However. More. The jailer returns to give the visitors a two-minute warning. More compliments Alice’s custard and then her dress. Just then. custard. More breaks down. and that she suspects she may resent him when he is gone. Turning his attention to the food they have brought. claims that oaths are by definition spoken to God. ever the scholar. moved by More’s display of anguish. She replies that she does not understand. and the jailer . Roper blurts out that More should take the oath. and wine. and she addresses her husband coldly. but More is either too stoic or too excited to care about his surroundings.

In this scene. having essentially let go of all his earthly positions. could not understand the motivations behind her husband’s refusal to obey the king. Her reaction to More contrasts with Norfolk’s in Act Two. evoking the Common Man’s earlier statement. Though the Common . More also bemoans “simple men” for doing what they are told to do instead of living their lives according to what they believe. scene six. Most of the characters in the play. however. More shouts out in frustration and then says.” To More. and in particular those the Common Man plays. she shows that she understands that her husband’s actions are rooted in his faith in God when she says. lion-like people still exist. “Why it’s a lion I married! A lion! A lion!” Analysis More’s final climactic meeting with his family affirms their union and love as eternal. In particular. he shows that even the lowest-level functionary on the long ladder of his oppressors cannot escape reproach.” Because Alice truly knows her husband. “Better a live rat than a dead lion. Even though she does not seem to recognize why More does not give in to Henry.apologizes to More. At the end of the scene. Alice reveals her unconditional love for her husband. Alice affirms that strong. More repeats the word “lion” to describe his wife. Alice. she can respect his choices. even if she cannot comprehend their significance rationally. he will know that God has willed him to die. At the end of this scene. are included in More’s indictment. More’s encounter with Alice resolves their previous conflict and acts as a kind of rejuvenating redemption just before More faces his accusers. courageous. Now. More points out to Margaret and Roper that he must fight death as long as he can “escape” it in good conscience. including his position as a husband and a father. Suddenly furious. Alice’s actions also contrast with those of the Common Man. despite their imminent earthly separation. and when he no longer can do that. In an earlier scene. More has spent the entire play carefully assessing what aspects of his duties he could perform without betraying his conscience. in which Norfolk was unable to overcome his confusion and respect More’s choice to end their friendship. claiming to be a simple man who is just doing his job. “God knows why I suppose. who was not present during this discussion of More’s ideas on predestination.

Man might be the most pardonable of the offenders. . he exemplifies the morally bankrupt attitudes of most people.

Cranmer and Norfolk preside over the trial. insisting that he has to play the foreman of the jury. More remembers that two other people were there at the time of his conversation with Rich. He swears on oath that he never denied that Henry was the head of the Church and reminds everyone how highly he regards an oath. Shocked. As Rich is excused from the stand. More is accused of high treason. In such a case. and . More denounces the Act of Supremacy. More counters that. When Norfolk tells the jury to consider the evidence. More laments Rich’s perjury. But Cromwell argues that silence can indicate disapproval. Cromwell reads the charges. which claim that More conspired to undermine Henry’s authority as the supreme head of the Church of England. The jury finds More guilty. Finally deciding to speak his mind. legally. Cromwell decides they should not need to retire to decide such an open-and-shut case. his silence does not signify denial. More asks to see the chain of office he is wearing. More replies that he never denied Henry’s title.Act Two. More interrupts. More and Cromwell argue about conscience and the soul. More chides Rich for having sold his soul. but More refuses. Norfolk offers More one last opportunity to take the oath. but Cromwell points out that he refused to take the oath. Cromwell asserts that everyone knows what More’s silence suggests. but before Norfolk can pronounce the sentence. As he gets ready to leave. and Rich testifies that he heard More say that Parliament had no power to declare Henry the head of the Church in England. He discusses the silence of a roomful of people who have just witnessed a murder. but Cromwell presents a deposition from the two men. Cromwell says that what More calls minding his conscience and his soul is in fact a conceited obsession with his own self and his personal opinions. the witnesses are complicit in the murder for failing to speak or try to stop it. scenes nine–ten Summary: Scene nine The Common Man sets up the stage as a courtroom. but More tells the jury that under the law silence does not imply consent. Cromwell stops him. placing hats on poles to stand for jurymen. When he recognizes it as the chain of the attorney general for Wales. Cromwell calls Rich to the stand. saying that they were out of earshot when More denied the king’s title.

he has become nothing more than a mouthpiece for Cromwell. . The final scene shows that More’s attempt to teach Rich in the first scene has ultimately failed. Norfolk condemns More to death. The Common Man. Just then. the Common Man removes his executioner’s mask and says to the audience. . he tells Cranmer. He tells the executioner not to feel bad about having to kill him. and he tells the court that he is not on trial for denying the Act of Supremacy but rather because he refused to recognize the marriage. this time cast as the executioner. As More approaches the block.he points out that both the Magna Carta and the Coronation Oath guarantee the Catholic Church’s authority. . the woman who tried to bribe More appears in the crowd. that he will go to God. Cromwell’s argument to the jury that silence can signify guilt ends up affirming the courtroom audience’s guilt for More’s murder. Even though they will not have to hold the ax to chop off More’s head.” Analysis: Scenes nine–ten Ironically. he refuses Norfolk’s offer of wine and Cranmer’s offer to perform the last rites. everyone would be complicit in the murder. Summary: Scene ten A crowd has gathered at the Tower of London to watch More’s beheading. because More chose not to chastise Rich openly for his petty desires for status and wealth. Rich sticks fast to his false story because in exchange for a highranking office. recognize me. something that More would never do. dons a black mask. Rich has sacrificed his moral conscience. accusing him of giving her an incorrect judgment in her case. distraught. Rich has completed his transformation into a Machiavellian prince—he is corrupt and successful. He is sure. “It isn’t difficult to keep alive. but More comforts her. If we should bump into one another. Cromwell suggests as an example that if he were to stab More and no one in the courtroom spoke out. Ironically. friends—just don’t make trouble. More dismisses the malicious woman and walks up to the block. and the scene quickly changes. After a blackout indicating the execution. . Margaret runs up. He announces that he remains a loyal subject of King Henry. Rich fell victim to temptation and then cut down More himself. their role as silent witnesses to More’s condemnation makes them as guilty as the Cromwell.

More finally feels he can teach by speaking out. hoping they will listen to their own consciences. and the innkeeper proves to be an accomplice as well. and he believes others ought to do the same. Still. his advice is not moral but mean in nature. recognize me. when he said that we may “clamor” only once we know that God has chosen the correct time. More does not want to usurp the rightful place of God. This comment associates the audience directly with his title and his characters. the Common Man says that he is still breathing and asks the audience members if they too are breathing. scene six. More’s final outburst also exemplifies the philosophy More explained to Roper and Margaret in Act Two. His question makes the audience aware of the fact that each person could have his or her head on the chopping block. The Common Man’s job is to do his job. The Common Man’s command is rather absurd in one sense because he plays so many characters that it would be difficult to recognize him among us. As in his conversation with Norfolk earlier in the play. More defines himself by his conscience and his relationship with the law and with God. But the Common Man’s warning implies that people will have no . but the Common Man’s roles as jailer.” recalls More’s statements about how people can only guess at what he is throughout the play and that very few people can actually truly know him. to fit any number of social roles without rocking the boat. If there is any question over how one can stay alive. Immediately after the execution. and executioner implicate the Common Man in a less ambiguous manner. Matthew betrays More in a roundabout way in the first act. Sentenced to death and assured that God has willed that he must die. juryman. in line with the various roles he plays.More’s style of teaching by way of tests and examples seems ineffective in Rich’s case. The Common Man’s final command to his audience. he does not teach others outright. the Common Man becomes increasingly complicit in More’s death. “If we should bump into one another. but rather tests them. They also implicate the audience. Since More advocates that people should not care what others say or think. More becomes fervent about his opinions concerning Henry only after a ruling has already been made. Throughout the play. so he rarely speaks his opinions. then implies that his advice is not a secret but rather common knowledge understood by common men and women. and the final scene elucidates More’s belief that people need to teach themselves. the Common Man offers advice.

problem recognizing who has a common nature. most real people are base. a man of conscience. for just as most of the characters in the play are base. . the Common Man wishes us to understand that we can recognize and preferably avoid shallowness and “common” qualities when we see them. Whereas More indicates that we cannot reallyknow him.

More thinks of his behavior as the most practical and realistic option. the central conflict in the play stems from More’s refusal to give up his sense of self. More sees it as utterly impossible to relinquish his beliefs. and even his freedom. and he’ll be out of practice. . when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . For More. Though characters like Roper and Chapuys see More’s actions as noble but impractical gestures. (Act One. scene two) Explanation for Quotation 2 >> . which is rooted in his faith in the Catholic Church and in God. Well . his friendship with Norfolk. scene one) Explanation for Quotation 1 >> In this excerpt from a monologue at the end of the play’s first scene. the characters the Common Man plays seem to be insightful and clever members of the lower class. . but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad . In fact. his self. . (Act One. Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad. to double cross his conscience would be to disown his soul. who astutely critique and satirize the nobility. Close 2. causing us to rethink the opinions we have had of him all along. It is important that Matthew’s prediction seems insightful but proves incorrect at the end of the play.Important Quotations Explained 1. they lead their country by a short route to chaos. Yet Matthew’s statement that More is out of practice is wrong. My Master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. since More seems to be the only character with enough practice to know that there are certain things that he cannot sacrifice. I believe. his family. because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep. . Matthew. . Yet at the play’s close. In the beginning of the play. predicts the conflict More will face in the play. even the Common Man has unraveled and behaves in a reprehensible way. More’s servant. After relinquishing his career.

. as he says. (Quietly) I neither could nor would rule my King. the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws. but More believes a statesman’s duty is to weigh his “own private conscience” because doing so will ultimately lead to the common good. Unlike Roper. . This statement of More’s reveals that he is not really an idealist. He does not try to prove a point or to be a hero. scene two. Roper. little. Close 3. his conscience believes in them. Alice urges More either to rule or be ruled.In this pronouncement from Act One. except in matters pertaining to his conscience. And when the last law was down. We often find More desperately searching for a loophole in some act or oath. not God’s—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? (Act One. but More argues that he will allow himself to be ruled. Close 4. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court. and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide. More does not do things just because he believes in them but because. (Act One. scene seven) . More tears apart Wolsey’s common-sense approach to politics. scene seven) Explanation for Quotation 3 >> More speaks these words to his wife. but there are certain points he feels he cannot concede without sacrificing his own self. . where I must rule myself. Wolsey believes a person should take the most convenient and advantageous option in political matters. . and at such times we may wonder whether this moral man is trying to skirt the issue. Alice. following King Henry’s visit to their home. area .

Bolt suggests here that the Common Man could be any of us just doing our jobs. so he’s down on his luck! I’m sorry. particularly those regarding his boss. and ultimately. Matthew sees no reason for More to miss him and resents feeling he has to worry about personal relations and responsibilities. Close 5. and a lawless earth is signified by images of a barren wasteland. juryman. More delivers this defense of his actions. he tells him he’ll be missed. executioner. scene two) Explanation for Quotation 5 >> When More lets Matthew go. and rain being water—don’t you complicate the job by putting things in me for me to miss! (Act Two. More’s suggestion that they share a bond of friendship makes Matthew feel guilty for how he behaved. even if we feel there’s nothing we can do. but Matthew is skeptical. Throughout the rest of the play. . all the time! I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t! . In a world that celebrates history as a series of trends. . he also recognizes that he has no right and no means to make judgments that are better left to God. the Common Man (who plays Matthew and many other characters) becomes more directly involved in More’s undoing—as jailer. we should all accept personal responsibility and pay attention to our consciences. More’s vision of a stable.Explanation for Quotation 4 >> After Roper accuses More of respecting man’s law over God’s. even if it lets people like Rich off the hook from time to time. the moral universe that Roper aims to navigate. Though More believes in the afterlife. I don’t mind saying that: I’m sorry! Bad luck! If I’d any good luck to spare he could have some. Matthew disregarded his conscience. . I wish we could all have good luck. And what with not having wings but walking-on two flat feet. More respects man’s law as the best available means of protecting against evil. Matthew has spent the entire play acting for his own financial gain. All right. In this passage. the very thing that More refuses to do. lawful earthly existence is signified by images of the forest. and good luck and bad luck being just exactly even stevens. accepting bribes for information on More and others. Bolt explains in his preface that he uses seafaring and water metaphors to signify the uncertainty of the great beyond.

More does feel that life is better than death. Earlier in Act Two. he tells Margaret and Roper that he believes men should fight death until it becomes apparent that death is the only course left to take. no matter how immoral. the play argues an opposite message. More implies that it is important for Norfolk to keep alive and not die by associating himself with More. He says that man’s goal must be to escape death until the predestined moment comes. at which point he welcomes death with open arms. His statement claims that life. . In general. The jailer’s statement is actually a misquoted version of the biblical saying. More.Close 6. is always better than death. Better a live rat than a dead lion (Act Two. gives up his physical existence for the good of his soul. Obviously. invokes this excuse. The Common Man’s deliberate paraphrasing of the Bible underscores his base nature and the base nature of the other men who act like some of his characters.” to justify not living according to his conscience. telling Norfolk to stay away and reminding him that he has a son. More lives his life by fighting death however he can until he believes God has deemed it time for him to depart. “Better a live dog than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). since its hero. scene seven) Explanation for Quotation 6 >> The jailer. like Cromwell. played by the Common Man. Before More is imprisoned. which he calls an “old adage.

a predetermined. More disapproves of King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage. outcome. forces More to speak out. SETTING (TIME) · 1529–1535 · More’s home in London’s Chelsea district and the king’s court at SETTING (PLACE) Hampton PROTAGONIST · Sir Thomas More · Privately. and More is appointed as his replacement.Key Facts FULL TITLE AUTHOR · A Man for all Seasons · Robert Bolt · Play TYPE OF WORK GENRE · Historical drama. historically specific. Henry and. More must either publicly assent to the divorce or die. · The play is narrated by the Common Man in a series of asides · The whole of the play points toward the beheading of its hero. 1960 · 1960 TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION PUBLISHER NARRATOR TONE · William Heinemann Ltd. Publicly. Cromwell press More to take a public stance on RISING ACTION . later. foreboding. As such. satire (a literary work that ridicules human vices and follies) LANGUAGE · English · England. the tone is ominous. MAJOR CONFLICT · After Cardinal Wolsey dies. and suspenseful. through his agent Cromwell. But when Henry. he would prefer to have nothing to do with the matter. Thomas More.

silence. the Common Man’s announcement that Wolsey’s death was effectively the result of Henry’s displeasure foreshadows the conflict More will face as Wolsey’s replacement. the self and friendship · Satire and wit. finally proclaiming his opinions. and his wife. · More’s family visits him in jail. the gilded cup SYMBOLS · Rich’s reference to Machiavelli foreshadows the way he and Cromwell will spare no one to achieve success. CLIMAX FALLING ACTION THEMES MOTIFS · More’s death. corruption. after which he delivers a stirring soliloquy. the Common Man’s summation · Types of moral guides. Wolsey’s and Cromwell’s threats to More foreshadows More’s condemnation. Rich’s corrupt acceptance of the tainted cup More offers him as a test foreshadows More’s eventual condemnation. Alice’s comment that colds kill even great men foreshadows Wolsey’s death. Alice. FORESHADOWING . based on Rich’s perjury. At trial. guilt · Water and dry land. More’s unwillingness to talk with his family about his meeting with Cardinal Wolsey foreshadows his later refusal to discuss his opinions about the Act of Supremacy.the issue of King Henry’s marriage. finally accepts More’s stubborn behavior. More’s family and friends also encourage him to relent. More remains silent until he is condemned to death.

In this sense. “not that I believe it. He says. we know that Thomas More is a saint and a martyr. But Saint Thomas More as characterized in Robert Bolt’s play has other reasons for refusing to agree to King Henry’s oath. What does Roper’s conversion from Catholicism to Lutheranism and back again suggest about Bolt’s opinion of faith? Answer for Study Question 2 >> .Study Questions & Essay Topics Study Questions 1. But More puts realistic considerations ahead of any highminded ideals he might harbor. Rather. Most people consider a saint to be a man of principle. His morals in this case form the bedrock of his sense of self. not because he wants to make a political or religious statement. his diatribe comes only after he has been sentenced to death. and to betray them would be to kill that self. Throughout the play. and a martyr is a man who dies for his beliefs. but what he did not say. He is not concerned with doing what is right according to Christian dogma. showing that he was not killed for what he said. 2. he breaks the mold of what we might expect a martyr to be—More dies because there’s no other way out for him. Why does More refuse to agree to the oath? What is the difference between More’s understanding of what he’s doing and typical expectations of morality and martyrdom? Answer for Study Question 1 >> Going into the play. Even though he speaks out at the end of the play. but that Ibelieve it. other characters expect More to make gestures that symbolize his beliefs.” emphasizing that something within him dictates how he should act. he acts based on his own conscience.

to More’s executioner in rapid succession. the jury foreman. . Starting off the play calling the pope the Antichrist. In each case. the Common Man’s ever-changing roles come on at a faster and faster rate as the play progresses. he ultimately ends up in a dour priest’s uniform. the switch is made abruptly and without much ado and therefore seems omnipresent. the Common Man plays many different roles.” More finds Roper’s willingness to stake everything on something as uncertain as God’s wishes an impractical way of approaching life and morality. the Common Man is meant to reflect all of our actions and attitudes in his. from Roper’s “seagoing principles. At the end. At the same time. he switches from More’s jailer. In fact. to a juryman. Roper’s point of view comes off as so inconsistent as to be funny. He slips into and out of the roles of Matthew. and his culpability and cowardice come to be seen as traits that all of us have had to struggle with at one time or another. He could be any of us at any given time. as Bolt announces in his preface. but he is one who is less clearly reprehensible than men like Thomas Cromwell and Richard Rich. In addition to clarifying More’s own position. complete with a Catholic cross. the innkeeper. More threatens to hide Margaret. and this mounting pace suggests the suddenness with which we often find ourselves cooperating in situations of which we don’t ultimately approve. As More makes fun of Roper’s outfit. and the headsman (executioner).” As a universal character. is intended to be common in the sense of “universal” rather than in the sense of “low class. How does the Common Man character implicate the audience in More’s struggle? Answer for Study Question 3 >> The Common Man. his daughter.In A Man for All Seasons. After Roper returns to Catholicism. we too recognize the folly of blind faith. 3. the jailer. To emphasize his universality. Bolt uses Roper’s ever-changing faith as a comedic device.William Roper serves as a counterpoint to More. Roper is passionate about whatever cause he happens to be championing in any given scene. but his high-minded ideals concerning religion are as inconstant as the wind or water. the boatman.

How does Bolt’s use of water imagery encapsulate one of the central conflicts of the play? 3.The Common Man also implicates the audience by addressing us directly. In particular. Describe the moments when More shows his passion. Discuss Bolt’s approach to history. How does he teach? What do his methods reveal about his character? . What does he choose to focus on and why? What does he omit? 2. and the jailer. Why does More’s wife. Suggested Essay Topics 1. the Common Man speaks to what is common in a base sense. ultimately reconcile with her husband? How does this emotional climax relate to the moral struggles presented in the play? 4. describe the instances in the play in which he tries to teach others. cautionary tale. How do his displays of passion differ from one another? How are they similar? How do they reflect his philosophy about clamoring before God? 5. as an interpreter and commentator. Is Sir Thomas More a teacher? If so. At the end of the play. he wishes us good health and long life. think about his final speech in court. even though More’s character makes it clear that these should not always be one’s primary concerns. and his interactions with Norfolk. Alice. His monologues draw us into his ominous. Alice. In this way.

single malt scotch 3.Quiz 1. Which of the following roles does the Common Man not play? (A) Judge (B) Jury (C) Headsman (D) Jailer 4. What is the name of the boat King Henry sails down the Thames to meet Sir Thomas? . What position does Cromwell offer Rich in exchange for Rich’s false testimony at More’s trial? (A) Lord Chancellor of England (B) Duke of Norfolk (C) Chancellor of Babylon (D) Attorney general of Wales 2. What did a woman use to attempt to bribe More? (A) An Italian silver cup (B) Cash (C) A silver tea service (D) A fine.

What saying does the Common Man come up with to justify the way he treats the imprisoned Thomas More? (A) Better a live rat than a dead lion (B) A rolling stone gathers no moss (C) When the cat’s away.(A) The QE2 (B) The Fast and the Furious (C) The Great Harry (D) Mary. Queen of Scots 5. Twenty-five years 6. How long has More been in jail by the time we see him there in Act Two? (A) Six months (B) One year (C) Two years (D) D. the mice will play (D) A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush 7. Why does More suddenly let Roper marry his daughter? (A) Because he respects Roper’s steadfast moral values (B) Because he needs an heir (C) Because Roper switches back to Catholicism (D) Because Margaret begged him .

Who isn’t mentioned by the Common Man as someone who ends up being executed in the aftermath of the events depicted in the play? (A) Anne Boleyn (B) Thomas Cromwell (C) Thomas Cranmer (D) Richard Rich 10.8. Where is More’s house? (A) Chelsea (B) Westminster (C) Hampton Court (D) Wales 11. Where does the family find Thomas when he should be getting ready for the king’s arrival? (A) In the house (B) At the track . What charge must Cromwell trump up in order to be able to execute Sir Thomas? (A) High treason (B) Aggravated assault (C) First-degree murder (D) Indecent exposure 9.

What book of the Bible does Henry quote to support his claim that his first marriage was invalid? (A) Leviticus (B) Deuteronomy (C) Kings (D) First Corinthians 15. What heretic does Cromwell attempt to associate with More? . so the trial wouldn’t seem unfair (B) More made fun of Norfolk’s son (C) Norfolk wanted to get More out of the way so he could get a papal dispensation to marry Alice (D) He genuinely opposed More’s position 13. Why does Norfolk participate in the persecution of his friend More? (A) The king ordered him to. To which character does More display his passionate side? (A) Alice (B) Roper (C) Jailer (D) All of the above 14.(C) At vespers (D) Sleeping 12.

What is Roper’s religion at the beginning of the play? (A) Jewish (B) Catholic (C) Lutheran (D) Quaker . What does More burn to warm his house when he is poor? (A) Wood (B) Bracken (C) Coal (D) Heretics 18.(A) Martin Luther (B) Galileo (C) The Holy Maid of Kent (D) James Baker 16. Why does Thomas refuse to tell his family what he thinks about the divorce and the Act of Supremacy? (A) Because they can’t be trusted (B) Because he doesn’t want them to have to lie if called to testify against him (C) Because he hopes to pin the whole thing on them (D) Because they probably wouldn’t understand 17.

What position does Rich take after More first refuses his request for work? (A) Cranmer’s steward (B) Roper’s secretary (C) Henry’s housecleaner (D) Norfolk’s librarian 22. What does Rich say he will do with the money he gains from selling the silver cup? (A) Buy new clothes (B) Buy papal indulgences (C) Buy More’s friendship (D) Buy a ticket out of England 21. What job does More recommend that Rich take at the very beginning of the play? (A) Lord Chancellor (B) Attorney general of Wales (C) Schoolteacher (D) Stripper 20. What phrase does the publican repeat in his conversation with Cromwell? (A) “Yes.19. sir” . sir” (B) “No.

(C) “I don’t understand. Henry’s first queen is named (A) Anne (B) Meg (C) Elizabeth (D) Catherine 25. In his preface. sir” (D) “Take a hike. sir” 23. which man does Bolt not cite as an influence in writing his play? (A) Albert Camus (B) Bertolt Brecht (C) Thomas More (D) William Shakespeare . Who tells More that he’s behaving “like a printed book”? (A) Margaret (B) Alice (C) Henry (D) Norfolk 24.