A Man for All Seasons

A Man for the All Seasons By Robert Bolt

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A Man for All Seasons
Context THE PLAYWRIGHT ROBERT BOLT was born in 1924 in Manchester, England. In 1941, 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 Seasons for director Fred Zinnemann in 1966, and he won Oscars for both Zhivago and 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 May 19, 1935. A humanist and a friend to Erasmus, More was also author of Utopia (1516), a novel that pictured an ideal

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

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A Man for All Seasons
at alienation in the play comes by way of the character named the Common Man, who periodically addresses the audience and comments on the action, encouraging the audience to identify with him as both a thinker and a participant in the action of the play. Plot Overview The Common Man figures prominently both in the plot of the play and also as a narrator and commentator. Although treated in more detail in other sections, in the following plot summary, his presence is indicated only when he interacts directly with the other characters in the play. Sir Thomas More, a scholar and statesman, objects to King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce and remarry in order to father a male heir. But More, ever the diplomat, keeps quiet about his feelings in the hopes that Henry will not bother him about the matter. At a meeting with Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, More reviews the letter to Rome that requests the pope’s approval of Henry’s divorce. More points out that the pope provided a dispensation, or exemption, in order for Henry to get married in the first place, since Catherine, the woman Henry married, was the widow of Henry’s brother. More doubts that the pope will agree to overturn his first dispensation. Wolsey accuses More of being too moralistic and recommends that he be more practical. After conversing with Wolsey, More runs into Thomas Cromwell, the king’s confidante. Cromwell, recently promoted to the position of cardinal’s secretary, insincerely tells More he is one of More’s greatest admirers. More also meets Signor Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador to England. 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. Chapuys stresses Christian morals and Catholic dogma and seems most concerned that Henry does not insult Henry’s wife, Catherine, who is also the king of Spain’s aunt. Chapuys thinks he has found an ally in More. Back at More’s home, More’s daughter, Margaret, has received a visit from Roper, her Lutheran boyfriend, despite the late hour. Roper asks More for Margaret’s hand, but More refuses to allow a Lutheran, in his eyes a heretic, into his family. Meanwhile, Wolsey dies, leaving the position of Lord Chancellor vacant. The king was displeased with Wolsey’s failure to secure a papal dispensation to annul his marriage to Catherine, and Wolsey died in disgrace. More is appointed as Wolsey’s replacement. Cromwell meets with Richard Rich, a low-level functionary whom More helped establish and to whom More gave a silver cup he was given as a bribe. (More did not realize that the cup was a bribe when he received it.) Cromwell tempts Rich with an

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A Man for All Seasons
opportunity for advancement, and the spineless Rich seems all too eager to accept the job in exchange for information he has about More. Rich and Chapuys, who has just entered, ask Cromwell what his current position is, and Cromwell announces simply that he does whatever the king wants done. He mentions that the king has planned a boat ride down the Thames to visit More. Meanwhile, More’s manservant, Matthew (played by the Common Man), has entered the room, and Cromwell, Rich, and Chapuys are eager to bribe him for information. Matthew tells them only the most well known facts about his master, but the trio pays him off anyway. Back at More’s home in London’s Chelsea district, the king is set to arrive, but More is nowhere to be found. After fretting over his absence, the family eventually finds him busy at vespers (evening prayers). When the king arrives, all are on their best behavior, and More comes off as the most flattering of all. However, More does tell the king that More cannot agree to the divorce, 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. Alice, More’s wife, is angry at his behavior and thinks her husband should do as Henry wants. Rich arrives to tell More that Cromwell and Chapuys are collecting information about him. He asks for employment, but More turns him away. At a local pub called the Loyal Subject, Cromwell meets Rich to conspire against More. Rich is reluctant and guilt-ridden, but he ultimately agrees to tell Cromwell about the bribe that More received and passed on to him. In exchange, Cromwell offers Rich a job. Parliament passes the Act of Supremacy, 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, he will resign as Lord Chancellor. Both Chapuys and Roper call it a remarkable “gesture,” but More, dead set against the act, thinks of it as a practical necessity. He refuses to explain himself to anyone but the king. Even his wife and daughter cannot know his reasons, because he does not want to put them in the position of having to testify against him later. Cromwell meets with the Duke of Norfolk and tells him of his plan to bring More up on bribery charges. Norfolk proves that More gave the cup to Rich as soon as More realized it was a bribe, and Cromwell is forced to come up with some other way to entrap More. He tells Norfolk, however, that the king expects him to participate in the persecution of More. A now impoverished More refuses to receive a letter of appreciation from the king of Spain, and he turns down the bishops’ sincere offer of charity. Cromwell calls More to his office and attempts to malign More by accusing him of sympathizing with the Holy Maid of Kent, who was executed for treason. Cromwell also accuses him of having written a book attributed to King Henry. More deconstructs both these

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A Man for All Seasons
charges, but when Cromwell reads a letter from King Henry calling More a villain, More is genuinely shaken. Meeting Norfolk outside, More insists that if he wishes to remain in the king’s favor, Norfolk should cease to be his friend, since by this point it is dangerous to know a man like More. Parliament passes another act, 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. The next time we see More, he is in jail for having refused to take the oath. Cromwell, Norfolk, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, interrogate More in prison, but they cannot trick him into signing the oath or divulging his opinions on the king’s behavior. As long as More refuses to talk or sign the oath, Cromwell can keep him locked up but cannot have him executed. He removes More’s books but lets his family visit, hoping that they will be able to reason with him. Though More’s daughter, Margaret, tries to convince her father he has done all he can, More refuses to relent. Alice finally sympathizes fully with More’s predicament, and, displaying their full love toward each other, they reconcile just before the jailer (the Common Man) insists that the visit is over. Cromwell gives Rich the office of attorney general for Wales in exchange for Rich’s false testimony at More’s trial. Though More never opened his mouth, Rich claims he heard More deny the king’s authority over the Church. 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. More goes to his death with dignity and composure, and the play ends with his beheading.

Character List Sir Thomas More - The protagonist of the play. More’s historical refusal to swear to Parliament’s Act of Supremacy is the play’s main subject, but Bolt intentionally does not depict More as the saint or martyr of legend. Bolt does not see More as a person who takes a stand and sacrifices himself for a cause. Rather, Bolt’s More is a man who gives up his life because he cannot sacrifice his own commitment to his conscience, which dictates that he not turn his back on what he believes is right or on God. To More, a man’s conscience is his self, so he refuses to betray his own conscience even on pain of death. Significantly, 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. Only after Cromwell condemns him does Thomas reveal his true opinions. Sir Thomas More (In-Depth Analysis) The Common Man - The Common Man sporadically narrates the play, and he plays the roles of most of the lower-class characters: More’s steward Matthew, the boatman,

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A Man for All Seasons
the publican (innkeeper), the jailer, the jury foreman, and the headsman (executioner). Bolt explains in his preface that he intends the Common Man to personify attitudes and actions that are common to everyone, but ultimately the Common Man shows that by common, Bolt implies base. In most instances, 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. Therefore, most of these characters end up betraying their own personal moral values. Over the course of the play, the characters the Common Man plays become more and more guilt-ridden. In the end, the Common Man silences his guilty conscience by finding solace in the fact that he is alive. He ends the play by implying that most people do the same thing. The Common Man (In-Depth Analysis) Richard Rich - A low-level functionary whom More helped establish. Rich seeks to gain employment, but More denies him a high-ranking position and suggests that Rich become a teacher. Rich, however, 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, Rich serves as a foil, or character contrast, for Sir Thomas. In particular, Rich’s meteoric rise to wealth and power is simultaneous with More’s fall from favor. Unlike More, Rich conquers and destroys his conscience rather than obeying it. The repetition of the word rich in his name signals Rich’s Machiavellian willingness to sacrifice his moral standards for wealth and status. Richard Rich (In-Depth Analysis) Duke of Norfolk - More’s close friend. Norfolk is ultimately asked by Cromwell, and even encouraged by More himself, to betray his friendship with More. A large and rather simpleminded man, he is often too stupid to know what’s going on, and he is innocent relative to Cromwell. Alice More - More’s wife. A conflicted character, Alice spends most of the play questioning why her husband refuses to give in to the king’s wishes. Her attitude shifts from anger to confusion. Eventually, More shows her that he cannot go to his death until he knows that she understands his decision. When she visits her husband in prison, Alice finally shows him unconditional love, saying that the fact that “God knows why” More must die is good enough for her. Thomas Cromwell - A crafty lawyer who is the primary agent plotting against More. Whereas Rich and the Common Man are driven to their immoral actions (conspiracy, execution, and so on) somewhat reluctantly at times, Cromwell is motivated more by an evil nature. He facilitates More’s downfall with only a minimum of guilt. Cardinal Wolsey - The Lord Chancellor of England, who dies suddenly following his

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A Man for All Seasons
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. Though Bolt’s character descriptions claim Wolsey is ambitious and intelligent, Wolsey’s character is not well developed, and his primary function relates to the plot. Wolsey’s sudden death hangs over the rest of the play as a warning to anyone who would court the king’s disapproval. Chapuys - The Spanish ambassador to England. Chapuys is loyal to his country and intent on assuring that the divorce between King Henry and Catherine, which would dishonor Catherine, does not go through. When questioning More, Chapuys displays his aptitude for hiding his political agenda under the guise of religious fervor. William Roper - An overzealous young man who is a staunch Lutheran at the beginning of the play and later converts to Catholicism. Roper is also Margaret’s boyfriend and, after he converts to Catholicism, her husband. Roper’s high-minded ideals contrast with More’s level-headed morality, making Roper yet another foil for More. Each of Roper’s scenes shows him taking a public stance on a new issue, in opposition to More, who prefers to keep his opinions to himself. In a conversation with Roper, More argues that high-minded ideals, which he dubs “seagoing principles” are inconsistent at best, and he advocates human law as a better guide to morality. Margaret Roper - More’s well-educated and inquisitive daughter. Also called Meg, Margaret is in love with and later marries William Roper. She shows that she understands her father perhaps better than anyone else in the play (except for More himself, of course). However, like her mother, Margaret questions her father’s actions. King Henry VIII - The king of England, who only briefly appears onstage but is a constant presence in the speech and the thoughts of the other characters. It is very important to Henry that others think of him as a moral person, and he therefore cares greatly about what More, a man of great moral repute, thinks of him. Henry, who believes that he can force everyone, including the pope, into validating his desires, wants to put his conscience at ease by forcing More to sanction the king’s divorce from Catherine.

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, symbolism turns out to be a major force driving the action of the play, as most characters are motivated by More’s reputation as a moral man, not by More’s individual characteristics. Perhaps, in fact, More stands for

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A Man for All Seasons
the perils of being perceived as a saint or a moral man. Throughout the play, characters—including Chapuys, Roper, Cromwell, and the king—view More as a representative of a concept rather than as a person. His consent is important to the king and to Norfolk because it would make them feel and appear moral. 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. In his preface to the play, Bolt calls More “a hero of selfhood.” More refuses to sacrifice his self, which he defines by his moral conscience, even as he sacrifices his life. Though More was much later sainted for his refusal to swear an oath to King Henry’s supremacy to the pope, Bolt does not depict More as someone who ascribes to religious dogma of any sort. In fact, Bolt disparages such people, who are represented by Will Roper. As a hero, More is more existential than religious, because he looks inwardly for his motivations and does not rely on any external ideals to guide his speech and actions. In fact, More’s morals are continually shifting, and he surprises Chapuys and other characters with his sharp wit and unexpected pragmatism. If an ideal agrees with his conscience, More will do his best to live up to it; if not, he will discard it. More’s reverence for being practical, however, is rooted in his love for the law. According to Bolt, the letter of the law held an important place in More’s conscience, albeit a notch below that held by the Church of Christ and the kingdom of heaven. Bolt explains that he uses More’s reverence for heaven as a metaphor for humanity’s reverence for the “terrifying cosmos,” 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, Bolt contends, More put his faith in society’s system of judgment—the law. The great beyond, symbolized in the play by the sea and water, remains unknown to humankind. Earthly society and laws, symbolized by dry land, offer the only shelter from the uncertainties of the universe. The Common Man In his preface, Bolt explains that he intended “common” to be understood to mean “universal,” but many people ascribe the pejorative connotations of vulgar and low class to the word as well. Bolt laments the fact that upper class and even lower-status people, who resented such an image, failed or refused to view the Common Man as a representative of themselves. However, regardless of how Bolt viewed his character, the Common Man embodies both universality and baseness. In fact, the Common Man shows that the “common” human being is base and immoral. Although the Common Man acts in many different roles in order to establish his universal nature, he actually develops into a coherent character as the play

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A Man for All Seasons
progresses. Initially, he portrays Matthew and the boatman, who are forgotten figures of the lower class who judge the noble characters in the play and make them look like fools. Yet as the play progresses, even the characters played by the Common Man begin to lose their moral footing. Matthew, for example, tries to suppress his guilty conscience for having sold out More after More expresses his affection for Matthew.

Eventually, the Common Man’s characters become more aware of the excuses they make for their immoral acts. When the jailer deliberates about whether to set More free, he speaks directly to the audience about the futility of trying to do the right thing. By the end of the play, the Common Man affirms the notion that to be alive— regardless of the nature of one’s actions—is the only thing that counts. As a whole, the Common Man’s role in the play shows his complicity in More’s persecution. Because the Common Man represents humanity in general, he is intended to draw us all into the play’s central moral dilemma. Richard Rich Again, even though Bolt claims that he did not want his characters to stand for anything in particular, Rich symbolizes the tendency to succumb to the temptation of wealth and status. Rich is a Machiavellian hero, someone who seeks to advance himself politically and socially, whatever the cost. Despite his selfishness, Rich reveals his humanity when he wrestles with his own conscience while he sells out his friend More. In Rich’s awareness of his moral shortcomings, he is similar to the Common Man. Like Cromwell, Rich serves as a foil to More, highlighting More’s superior character. Rich also illuminates More’s character in less obvious ways. For instance, in the opening scene, More tells Rich that he should be a teacher. More shows great interest in Rich’s moral fiber and wishes for him to quell his petty, self-interested urge to gain wealth and status. 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. In his interaction with Rich in the first scene, More teaches by testing Rich by offering him the goblet, letting Rich know that the goblet was a bribe and is therefore tainted. More understands Rich’s faults from the very opening of the play, but he tries to nurture Rich anyway. It is therefore tragic that Rich eventually perjures himself to condemn More to death.

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A Man for All Seasons
Themes, Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Types of Moral Guides In his preface, Robert Bolt addresses the apparent contradiction between Thomas More’s upright moral sense and his periodic attempts to find legal and moral loopholes. More strongly opposes Henry’s divorce, yet he hopes to avoid rather than speak out against the Oath of Supremacy. More explains his actions when he says to Will Roper, “God’s my god. . . . But I find him rather too . . . subtle.” More respects God’s law above all else, but he also does not pretend to understand it. Therefore, he sees man’s law as the best available guide to action, even if it occasionally contradicts God’s law or lets some evildoers off the hook.

In his approach to moral action, More is thoroughly pragmatic, but not, like Cromwell or Rich, at the expense of his beliefs. If More sometimes seems hypocritical, it is because he is trying to balance his respect for the law and society with his deeprooted sense of self. He obeys the law fully, and, in the end, the prosecution has to come up with false charges to execute him. More’s pragmatic maneuvering through society contrasts with what More calls Roper’s “seagoing” principles. Roper follows ideals instead of a his conscience or the law, and More argues that attempting to navigate high-minded ideals is akin to being lost at sea. Roper switches willy-nilly from Catholicism to Lutheranism and back again, each time utterly convinced of his own righteousness. Bolt implies that because we cannot comprehend the moral alignment of the universe, much less wrap it up in a tidy theory, we should focus our energy on improving ourselves and our society. Corruption A Man for All Seasons focuses on the rise of Richard Rich as much as it follows the fall of Sir Thomas More. As More’s steadfast selfhood earns him a spot on the chopping block, Rich acquires more and more wealth and greater status by selling out his friend and his own moral principles. Although Rich at first bemoans his loss of innocence, by the end of the play he has no qualms about perjuring himself in exchange for a high-ranking position. In Act One, scene eight, Rich gives Cromwell information about the silver cup in exchange for a job. Rich laments that he has lost his innocence, and the scene suggests that Rich has sold his soul to the devil. Cromwell himself evokes the devil as he

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A Man for All Seasons
craftily cajoles Rich into selling out before cramming Rich’s hand into a candle flame. Although Act One, scene eight recalls many cautionary religious tales about the seductive powers of the devil, Bolt does not depict Rich’s corruption to warn us that people like Rich go to hell. Rather, Rich’s corruption, set against More’s hard and fast sense of self, shows the damage Rich has done to his own life. Rich has sacrificed the goodness of his own self, which the play argues is the only thing for which life is worth living. The Self and Friendship Through its depiction of More’s personal relationships, the play examines the extent to which one can be true to oneself and a good friend to others. Above all, More looks inwardly for his strength and comfort. He appears to be more of a teacher than a friend or a lover. He relies on his own conscience as his guide, and through tests and through the example he sets, he attempts to teach others to do the same. However, More’s instructive instinct results in relationships that are not overtly heartfelt. One could also argue that More shows his friendship and love by teaching others. The play shows that More’s self-reliance is not completely incompatible with friendship and love. In More’s conversations with Norfolk and Alice, he shows that he truly cares about them as his friend and wife, respectively. More tells Norfolk to “cease knowing him,” but More argues that he gives his instruction because of the friendship the two men share. 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. More also tells Matthew that he will miss him. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Satire and Wit Throughout the play, the characters with ties to the court participate in confused and misinterpreted exchanges of dialogue. These exchanges both satirize the court and portray the way corrupt morals lead to corrupt and ambiguous speech. In Cromwell’s exchange with the innkeeper, 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, in which he tries to assess just how trustworthy and how bribable Rich might be. Chapuys wrongly assumes that More’s straightforward answers are double talk and gives him a knowing wink that is completely out of place. Historically, More was as witty as he was saintly. Much to Alice’s chagrin, More

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A Man for All Seasons
spends most of his time making light of the dangerous situations he encounters. In the play, More’s wit establishes his humanity. In Act One, scene seven, More insists that man is born to serve God “wittily.” By this, he means that man must cleverly escape death for as long as he legitimately and lawfully can, but the statement also emphasizes the importance of a sense of humor. Silence More is remarkable as much for his silence as for his statements. He maintains that if he does not speak his opinion concerning his disapproval of the king’s intention to divorce his wife, then, according to the Bible, his silence will connote consent, not dissent. More uses silence to his advantage, refusing to incriminate himself in a way that resembles invoking the fifth amendment in a United States court of law. More also protects his family from legal persecution by staying silent about his opinions in their presence. More is silent in other ways as well. He disparages people, like Roper, who clamor at all times about ideals. More prefers to listen to the voice within, his conscience. He does not criticize Norfolk until he is sure that Norfolk needs to be criticized and enraged. At the trial, Cromwell’s argument to the jury equates More’s silence with complicity in a crime. Cromwell’s claim is ironic, 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. Guilt Guilt receives much attention in the play, particularly in the characters of Rich, Norfolk, the jailer, Matthew, and even in More himself. 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. When he is Matthew, the Common Man noticeably feels guilt on some level when More shows affection for him. As the jailer, 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. Norfolk is obviously wracked with a sense of guilt when he tells More of Cromwell’s plot and his own association with it. 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. More understands guilt as a personal judgment made by one’s own conscience, and, based upon one’s perspective, the same action could be guilty or innocent. 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. This flexibility is particularly true with respect to Norfolk. More says that he and More could part as friends even if Norfolk were to remain in his

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A Man for All Seasons
office, which is associated with the plot against More. Symbols Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. Water and Dry Land In his preface, Bolt announces that his play is rife with water and seafaring imagery, which symbolizes the uncertain moral territory of the great beyond, the unknowable realm of God and the devil. Characters who establish their actions on such an uncertain base include King Henry, whose shaky moral ground is symbolized by the way he sails down the Thames in order to visit More, and Roper, who holds what More calls “seagoing” principles. Unlike Henry and Roper, More recognizes God’s will as impossible, and More therefore prefers to root his actions in his own conscience and in the law. When speaking with Roper, More compares the realm of human law to a forest filled with protective trees firmly rooted in the earth. To emphasize his belief in law as a guide to action, More tells Roper that removing all the laws in pursuit of the devil would be like cutting down all the trees in the land, letting the devil run amok like a fierce wind. In other words, More views society as a bulwark against the moral mysteries of the cosmos. The Gilded Cup In the first scene in Act One, More offers Rich a cup that More received as a bribe. Acknowledging that the cup is tainted, More tells Rich that he wishes to be rid of it. More tries to set an example by throwing away the cup, but Rich quickly shows that he does not share More’s intentions. Rich takes the cup from More and pawns it for money and a new set of fashionable clothes. The cup symbolizes corruption, and it also symbolizes More’s attempt to test Rich and teach him by example. 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.

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A Man for All Seasons
Act One, scene one Summary My Master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad, but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad . . . because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep; and he’ll be out of practice. (See Important Quotations Explained) The play opens with a monologue by the Common Man, a character meant to represent traits and attitudes common to us all. The Common Man carts around a basket of costumes and props that he uses in his various roles in the play.

The Common Man laments having to open a play about royalty and the noble class. He thinks himself unsuited to the task at hand, but he says he will present his own version. He puts on the costume of Matthew, Thomas More’s servant, and declares the sixteenth century “the Century of the Common Man.” Matthew treats himself to some of the wine he is putting out for his master and then introduces us to More as he enters. More playfully asks Matthew how the wine tastes, knowing full well that Matthew sampled it. Richard Rich follows More into the room, and the two engage in an argument as to whether every man is capable of being bribed. More dismisses Rich’s belief that money, status, or women can bribe anyone, but he is intrigued when Rich implies that a man can be bought with suffering. As it turns out, Rich means that men wish to avoid suffering and are attracted to the possibility of escape. More immediately recognizes this idea as one of the theories of Machiavelli, and he asks who recommended that Rich read Machiavelli’s books. Rich admits that Master Cromwell recommended he read Machiavelli. Cromwell, Rich reveals, offered Rich a job or a favor of some sort, but Rich bemoans his joblessness and his generally low social standing. More points out that the dean of St. Paul’s school has a comfortable teacher’s job available, but Rich has no interest in what he deems a deadend opportunity. More warns that holding an administrative office is full of temptations, and he shows Rich an Italian silver cup that a litigant used to try to bribe him. More did not realize at the time that the cup was a bribe, and now that he does, he wishes to get rid of it. Rich says he will sell the cup to buy new, more respectable clothing. The duke of Norfolk and More’s wife, Alice, enter, arguing over whether a falcon can

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A Man for All Seasons
stoop from 500 feet to kill a heron. Norfolk baits Alice into a bet of thirty shillings, although More refuses to let her ride off with Norfolk to see who wins. Meanwhile, More’s daughter, Margaret, has entered, and Rich begins to flatter Norfolk. More playfully tells everyone that Rich has been reading Machiavelli under Cromwell’s tutelage. Norfolk announces that Cromwell has been promoted to the position of cardinal’s secretary, and everyone is surprised that such a lowborn and generally disliked man could get such a job. 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. Rich pleads that he would rather work for More than for Cromwell, but a letter from the cardinal interrupts him. The cardinal wants to see More immediately.

As More prepares to leave, he sends his family off to bed with a prayer and arranges for Norfolk to take Rich home. More tells the duke that Rich needs a job, but he playfully adds that he does not necessarily “recommend” Rich. Again, More advises Rich to teach. Just before the scene ends, Rich runs back in to snatch up the silver cup that he left on the table. Matthew moves to stop him from taking it, but Rich explains that it was a gift. Matthew closes the scene by predicting that Rich will amount to nothing and that More is altogether too generous. Analysis The Common Man initiates us to a story that might otherwise seem too far removed in time to connect with modern audiences. Throughout the play, the Common Man plays many roles, which emphasizes that he represents all humanity. He functions as a common denominator against which the other characters in the play can be judged. 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, by their unique perspectives on existence. This brand of thought was popularized about a decade before Bolt’s play by thinkers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, but the characters in the play, which is set in the sixteenth century, find More’s beliefs foreign. The Common Man shows us how we all end up betraying ourselves by just doing our jobs—by serving in our professions as kings, cardinals, or even commoners—before being true to our inner selves. The fact that Rich has read Machiavelli puts Rich’s actions in a historical and intellectual context. Nicolo Machiavelli (1469–1527), who was most famous for his

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A Man for All Seasons
political treatise The Prince, which advocated a kind of common-sense approach to government that put political expediency ahead of ethical and moral concerns. Machiavelli’s morals differ greatly from More’s. More reveres his private conscience above things like personal advancement, but Machiavelli advises the opposite. Rich’s reference to Machiavelli foreshadows the way he and his mentor, Thomas Cromwell, will spare no one to achieve success later in the play. In addition to the Machiavelli reference, several other instances of foreshadowing pop up in this scene. More’s gift of the silver cup to Rich has dangerous implications for More later. 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. However, even though the gift marks the beginning of Rich’s corruption, More seems to understands the implications when he offers the cup. He tests Rich by offering him both the tainted cup, which represents corruption, and a teaching position, which represents a way of benefiting society. When Rich shuns the teaching job and accepts the cup, he reveals his immoral character. While offering the teaching position to Rich, More provides a glimpse into his own nature. More operates in the play primarily as a servant—to his own conscience and to God. When he interacts with other people, however, More adopts the role of teacher. As he illustrates in his conversation with Rich, More teaches not by speaking his mind, but rather by testing others. Bolt shows More to be a morally ambiguous teacher who does not stop, and in fact almost encourages, Rich’s moral descent.

Act One, scenes two–three Summary: Scene two

Well . . . I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . . they country by a short route to chaos. (See Important Quotations Explained)

More arrives at Cardinal Wolsey’s office, and the cardinal asks More what took him so long. Wolsey

More with a message to be sent to the pope, explaining that since More seemed so opposed to the di

should look it over. More diplomatically comments on the style of the message, but Wolsey is more int

what More has to say about the message’s content. More mentions that the message is addressed to a

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A Man for All Seasons

Campeggio and not to the English ambassador to Rome. Wolsey retorts that he personally appointed a “ Wolsey’s maneuver is “devious,” and Wolsey bemoans what he calls More’s “plodding” moralism.

the office of ambassador expressly so that he could write to the cardinal directly. Intrigued, More comm

Getting down to business, Wolsey states that King Henry has just returned from a rendezvous with his

Anne Boleyn. According to Wolsey, Henry means to divorce his current wife, Catherine of Aragón, i

Anne, who Henry suspects will be more successful at providing him a male heir. Wolsey must now s

pope’s authorization of Henry’s divorce and remarriage, and he wants assurance that More will not o willing approval.

action. But More has already expressed his opinion that the divorce should not be enacted without t

Wolsey conveys to More the potentially detrimental implications of opposing Henry’s divorce. Wolsey c

if the king does not produce an heir to the throne, a change of dynasty or a bloody war of succession w

More is shaken but responds that he prays every day that Catherine will conceive an heir. Wolsey is Catherine (who is Henry’s brother’s widow) to marry in the first place. He wonders at the sensibility or of discarding the pope’s first dispensation.

More reminds the cardinal that it took a papal dispensation, or exemption to Catholic laws, to allow H

Wolsey, in turn, wonders at More’s willingness to put his own private conscience above the intere

country. But More retorts that by listening to their own consciences, statesmen avoid leading their co

chaos. Wolsey again bemoans More’s moralism. Anticipating his own death, Wolsey wonders aloud w

replace him as Lord Chancellor when he is gone. When Wolsey suggests Cromwell, his secretary, More i more practical to fill the chancellor’s post and tells More he should have been a cleric. Summary: Scene three Outside, More quibbles with the boatman over the fare for a trip back to his home in Chelsea. Just then,

and says that he would rather do it himself than see Cromwell appointed. Wolsey says More would n

arrives to remind the boatman that the fares are fixed, so he cannot charge More a higher price just beca from the cardinal’s office. More admits as much, and he says that the cardinal is not in the best mood. pays More an insincere compliment and heads in to see the cardinal.

late hour. Cromwell announces that he is on his way to see the cardinal, and he guesses that More has

As More prepares to leave, Signor Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, arrives and tries to wheedle in if not in agreement. The ambassador interprets More’s comment to mean that More will oppose K

out of More about his meeting with the cardinal. More simply replies that he and the cardinal parted “a

divorce from Catherine, who is the king of Spain’s aunt. Chapuys announces that his king would take

offence if the divorce goes through. With a nod and a wink (disregarded by More), the ambassador exits

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A Man for All Seasons
returns home in the boat, the boatman complains about fixed fares and his wife’s weight. Analysis: Scenes two–three

Historically, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, archbishop of York, was virtually in charge of England at the beg

Henry’s reign. The king preferred living in the countryside and hunting to the tedium of leading. Wols

of Henry’s favor when he failed to secure a papal dispensation for Henry’s divorce, because Pope Cl

showed his allegiance to Catherine’s nephew, Charles V of Spain. In his conversation with More, Wols

his role as the go-between for the English king and the pope in Rome. Wolsey must juggle the needs o

with those of the Church, and after Wolsey dies, his successor must bear the burden of Henry’s disappro

Although King Henry appears in the play only once, he is constantly present in the thoughts and the spe scene two, he establishes Henry’s role as a man whose uneasy conscience needs to be satisfied. Wolsey

other characters. When Wolsey announces Henry’s offstage return from his visit with Anne Boleyn, in

Cromwell) bears responsibility for assuaging Henry’s conscience when he has deliberately done someth

In a way, Henry’s behavior accounts for Wolsey own questionable conduct, including Wolsey’s at

threaten and cajole More into agreement. Henry’s actions are responsible for More’s persecution. Henry

from most of play implicates the characters, such as Wolsey, who enact Henry’s persecution of More just as guilty as the king.

Henry is responsible for More’s persecution, Wolsey’s willingness to accomodate Henry’s hypocrisy m

Cromwell and Chapuys personify the devious and duplicitous characters necessary to remain in Hen

favor. Consequently, they also personify the kind of groveling that More cannot stand. They are po calls himself More’s admirer. He makes the same claim later in the play, even as he attacks More.

calculating, and they couch their performances in a falsely deferential tone. Cromwell, for instance, i

Act One, scene four Summary Back at home, More discovers that despite the late hour, Margaret’s boyfriend, Roper, is paying a visit. When the pair enters, More is playful, reminding Roper of the late hour. When Margaret announces that Roper has asked for her hand in marriage, More resolutely refuses. Roper, suspecting that More objects to his social standing, points out that he is going to be a lawyer and that his family is well-off. More tells Roper there is nothing wrong with his family. Rather, More objects to Roper’s Lutheran faith, which More considers to be heretical. Roper balks at the title of heretic and claims that it is the Catholic Church that is heretical. He brings up Henry’s divorce, which he suspects the pope will allow. Roper even goes so far as to call the pope the Antichrist. Angry, More points out to Roper that Roper was a passionate Catholic just two years earlier and says he hopes that when Roper finishes

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A Man for All Seasons
with his religious wavering, he ends up a Catholic once again. Margaret attempts to keep everyone’s temper in check. More sends Roper home on Alice’s horse. Left alone, More and Margaret discuss Roper and his family. Margaret asks about her father’s meeting with the cardinal, but More changes the subject back to the Ropers, saying that Roper’s father was just like his son. Suddenly, Alice runs onstage, having seen Roper taking off with her horse. More explains the situation, and she announces that he should have beaten his daughter for receiving Roper at such an hour. More disagrees, saying Margaret is too “full of education,” which is expensive and difficult to obtain. While Margaret goes to get her father some tea, Alice asks about More’s meeting, and once again he changes the subject. Alice is shocked to learn of Roper’s marriage proposal, but she realizes that her husband is trying to divert her and asks again what Wolsey wanted. More finally admits that Wolsey wanted him to read over a dispatch to Rome, and Alice knows not to ask any more questions. When Margaret returns with the tea, Alice mentions that Norfolk suggested More should replace Wolsey as Lord Chancellor. More says he wants nothing to do with the office, and he predicts that while Wolsey is alive, there will not be any replacement Lord Chancellor. As the group heads off to bed, Alice insists that More drink his tea, since great and common men alike catch colds. More retorts that such talk is dangerously seditious. Analysis Some background on the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism makes More’s objections to Roper understandable. In 1517, Martin Luther posted his list of ninety-five theses on the “Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” harkening the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Protestantism (or Lutheranism, 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, private faith in God. Martin Luther objected to the idea that people could purchase pardons from their church as penance for their sins, even if, in their hearts and souls, they did not repent. Viewing the Catholic Church as morally bankrupt in many ways, Luther’s sympathizers spread his message, and the Protestant faith expanded across Europe. Ironically, More appears to have much in common with the Protestant faith, while Roper more closely resembles the Catholicism to which Protestants objected. Roper passionately argues that the Catholic Church needs reform, even going so far as to call the pope the Antichrist. But his actions, according to More, are simply outward displays of ideals and are not necessarily grounded on firm, personal moral footing. Roper’s passion in this scene illustrates how lofty ideals are unstable moral guideposts compared to one’s own moral conscience. Bolt plays with the popular understanding of More, a saint who represents a deep-seated commitment to Catholicism. In the play, Bolt shows a strong commitment to the pope and to the laws of God as he understands them. However, More’s commitment to Catholicism

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A Man for All Seasons
is based upon what his conscience tells him to do, not upon some lofty ideal. More’s morals contrast with Roper’s high-minded, insincere idealism. In trying to quell her father’s and Roper’s tempers, Margaret says to Roper, “You’ve no sense of the place!” Margaret’s exclamation introduces another important aspect of More’s morality—his practicality. To most people, ideals are unrelated to circumstance and they adhere to ideals despite obvious indications that their ideals do not apply to particular circumstances. To More, however, it is important to consider the specific, practical details of a situation before making a decision based on one’s ideals. Though characters like Wolsey accuse him of 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. Though Roper might reject an act on principle, More reserves judgment. He objects to an act only if it impedes his sense of self, and even then (as later scenes show), he objects only as much as he absolutely has to. More’s unwillingness to talk about his meeting with the cardinal foreshadows his later refusal to discuss his opinions about the Act of Supremacy. Though Alice understands in this instance not to press the matter, she eventually takes offense at not being allowed into her husband’s confidence. Again, More places more weight on the practical considerations of the matter than on even his love and respect for his family. Not wanting to implicate them in his affairs, he leaves them out of them, remaining a conscientious yet solitary man. Alice foreshadows Wolsey’s death when she comments about how colds affect great and common men alike. Wolsey soon dies, and his death seems an implicit affirmation of Alice’s statement.

Act One, scenes five–six Summary: Scene five A single spotlight reveals a red robe and the cardinal’s hat lying on the floor. The Common Man enters to describe Cardinal Wolsey’s death, which was officially attributed to pulmonary pneumonia but, for all intents and purposes, was caused by the king’s displeasure with Wolsey’s handling of the divorce. Wolsey died on his way to jail for the crime of high treason. Thomas More, the Common Man reports, was appointed Wolsey’s successor. 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, then he probably was one. Summary: Scene six Cromwell and Rich run into each other at Hampton Court. 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. He asks Rich why he does not have a

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A Man for All Seasons
better job since the new Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, is his old friend. When Rich sheepishly replies that he and More are not really friends, Cromwell takes the opportunity to dangle a job offer before him, presumably in exchange for some service. Suddenly suspicious, Rich asks Cromwell what exactly he does for the king, and just then Signor Chapuys enters and asks the same question. Cromwell skirts the issue but finally explains that he does whatever the king “wants done.” As an example, Cromwell mentions that he recently arranged Henry’s trip down the Thames on the maiden voyage of a new battleship, the Great Harry. After Chapuys reminds Cromwell that the ship has fewer guns than Cromwell has claimed, Cromwell tells Chapuys that the king plans to sail the ship to More’s house to discuss the king’s divorce. Shocked, Signor Chapuys complains that More has already expressed his opinion on the matter. Cromwell insists that the king hopes to make More change his mind. More’s steward, Matthew (played by the Common Man), appears, and all three men are eager to talk to him. Cromwell pushes Chapuys out of view and questions Matthew about More’s opinions concerning the divorce, holding up a coin for Matthew to see. Matthew tells him that More is so anxious that he turns white as a sheet whenever the subject is mentioned. Cromwell pays Matthew for his information and beckons Rich to come with him as he leaves. Rich protests that he knows nothing, and heads off in the other direction. Meanwhile, Chapuys has returned. From Matthew, he learns that More is a religiously observant. Chapuys also pays off Matthew and leaves. Finally, Rich returns and asks Matthew what he told Chapuys. Matthew tells him, and Rich points out that the information is common knowledge. Matthew explains that he told Chapuys what he wanted to hear. Alone, Matthew addresses the audience, reveling in the fact that he tricked three men into paying him off for little bits of common knowledge. 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. 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. The Common Man’s announcement in Act One, scene five, that Wolsey’s death was effectively the result of Henry’s displeasure foreshadows the dangers of More’s appointment as Wolsey’s replacement. 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 that Wolsey faced. The dramatic use of a spotlight to focus attention on Wolsey’s garments, which are symbolic of More’s new position, underlines the position’s tenuousness. The Common Man’s joke about the incompatibility of sainthood and high office provides

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

Act One, scenes five–six Summary: Scene five A single spotlight reveals a red robe and the cardinal’s hat lying on the floor. The Common Man enters to describe Cardinal Wolsey’s death, which was officially attributed to pulmonary pneumonia but, for all intents and purposes, was caused by the king’s displeasure with Wolsey’s handling of the divorce. Wolsey died on his way to jail for the crime of high treason. Thomas More, the Common Man reports, was appointed Wolsey’s successor. 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, then he probably was one.

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A Man for All Seasons
Summary: Scene six Cromwell and Rich run into each other at Hampton Court. 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. He asks Rich why he does not have a better job since the new Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, is his old friend. When Rich sheepishly replies that he and More are not really friends, Cromwell takes the opportunity to dangle a job offer before him, presumably in exchange for some service. Suddenly suspicious, Rich asks Cromwell what exactly he does for the king, and just then Signor Chapuys enters and asks the same question. Cromwell skirts the issue but finally explains that he does whatever the king “wants done.” As an example, Cromwell mentions that he recently arranged Henry’s trip down the Thames on the maiden voyage of a new battleship, the Great Harry. After Chapuys reminds Cromwell that the ship has fewer guns than Cromwell has claimed, Cromwell tells Chapuys that the king plans to sail the ship to More’s house to discuss the king’s divorce. Shocked, Signor Chapuys complains that More has already expressed his opinion on the matter. Cromwell insists that the king hopes to make More change his mind. More’s steward, Matthew (played by the Common Man), appears, and all three men are eager to talk to him. Cromwell pushes Chapuys out of view and questions Matthew about More’s opinions concerning the divorce, holding up a coin for Matthew to see. Matthew tells him that More is so anxious that he turns white as a sheet whenever the subject is mentioned. Cromwell pays Matthew for his information and beckons Rich to come with him as he leaves. Rich protests that he knows nothing, and heads off in the other direction. Meanwhile, Chapuys has returned. From Matthew, he learns that More is a religiously observant. Chapuys also pays off Matthew and leaves. Finally, Rich returns and asks Matthew what he told Chapuys. Matthew tells him, and Rich points out that the information is common knowledge. Matthew explains that he told Chapuys what he wanted to hear. Alone, Matthew addresses the audience, reveling in the fact that he tricked three men into paying him off for little bits of common knowledge. 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. 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. The Common Man’s announcement in Act One, scene five, that Wolsey’s death was effectively the result of Henry’s displeasure

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

Act One, scene seven Summary I neither could nor would rule my King. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . . . little, area . . . where I must rule myself. It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court.

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A Man for All Seasons
(See Important Quotations Explained) Back at More’s home in Chelsea, Alice, Norfolk, and Margaret prepare for King Henry’s arrival, but More is nowhere to be found. When Matthew appears, all three ask him where More might be, but as usual, Matthew says he knows nothing. Norfolk complains that More has taken things too far, that More disrespects the king, and that no good can come of it. Suddenly, More arrives, having been occupied at vespers (evening prayers). He is dressed simply, and everyone fretfully tries to get him to put on more appropriate attire, including his chain of office. When Norfolk chastises More for disrespecting the king and his office, More retorts that he is not dishonoring any office by serving God. More’s gown is caught up in his stockings, and as Margaret laughs, Alice tries to fix it. When King Henry arrives, More bows but Henry insists he be received in a casual manner. The visit is intended as a surprise, although the family has known about it for some time. More introduces Alice and Margaret, and the king says he has heard that Margaret is a scholar. Modestly dismissing the compliment, Margaret nonetheless goes on to speak Latin with the king. When it becomes clear that her Latin is better than his, the king changes the subject. He playfully attempts to dance with Margaret, and, commenting on the strength of Norfolk’s legs, he attempts to wrestle with Norfolk. Henry then asks Alice what she has available for dinner. Though Alice has obviously prepared a feast, she promises only a “very simple supper.” Back on the subject of scholarship, the king mentions his book on the seven sacraments, which, he admits, More helped to write. Then he pulls More aside to discuss the divorce but not before impressing Margaret with the orchestra he has brought with him. Alone, More and Henry discuss Henry’s trip on his new battleship. More is reverent and modest, and the king beats around the bush, asking More if they are friends and telling him that Wolsey himself named More his successor. When More compliments Wolsey’s ability, Henry complains that Wolsey failed him and needed to be broken. He suggests that Wolsey wanted to be pope, and Henry laments the greedy authority of the English cardinals. Henry, sensing that he has gotten ahead of himself, changes the subject back to his battleship. Just as suddenly, though, he broaches the subject of the divorce, and when More admits that he cannot agree with the divorce, Henry grows angry and then sad. He cannot understand why his friend would deny his request. More explains that he would readily have his arm cut off if it meant he could agree to the divorce with a clear conscience.

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More reminds the king that he promised not to bother him about the divorce, knowing full well what he thought. The king, however, pleads that the matter is of grave importance, since the book of Leviticus condemns any man who sleeps with his brother’s wife. His first marriage to Catherine, Henry contends, was sinful, so God is punishing him by denying him an heir. He wonders why More remains staunch when everyone else has consented to the marriage. More argues that Henry should not need his support if everyone else consents. But Henry admits he needs More to back him up because of his honest reputation. After some more small talk, Henry finally decides that though he will not insist that More consent to the marriage, he will insist that he keep quiet on the issue. Frustrated, Henry opts not to stay for dinner after all, and he leaves in a huff. Alice chastises More for having angered the king. More protests that his opinion is actually of little importance to Henry, but of grave importance to himself. He says that he does not hope to “rule” the king but that he must absolutely rule himself. He also suggests that the king may have left to be with Anne Boleyn—not because he was angry. Roper arrives and asks More whether he should take a seat that he has been offered in the next Parliament. He admits that his views have changed on Church reform. He still has concerns about Catholicism but considers the Catholic Church itself to be sacred. When Roper grows passionate in his stance against reformations like the one Henry is implementing, More reminds Roper that as chancellor, there are “certain things” he cannot hear. Roper accuses More of corruption, saying that More, in maintaining his position, has learned to flatter the court and the king. Rich arrives and behaves in a defensive manner. He is suspicious to find that Roper has heard of him and wrongly suspects that he is no longer welcome in More’s home. Rich tells More that Cromwell and Chapuys have been checking up on him, and he mentions Matthew’s duplicity. More tells him he is not surprised—such information-gathering is to be expected. When Rich breaks down and asks again for employment, More turns him away. This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s. (See Important Quotations Explained) Everyone tells More to arrest Rich, but More reminds them that Rich has done nothing illegal. 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, not in God.

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More asserts that he believes in God but that man’s law offers a safe haven in an uncertain universe. He says, “God’s my god. . . . But I find him rather too subtle. . . . I don’t know where he is nor what he wants.” More tells Roper that while living on earth, he puts his faith in the law. Moreover, More claims that he stands on firm ground and that Roper is lost at sea, with his “seagoing principles.” Again, More denies Roper his daughter’s hand in marriage. More exits forcefully, but reenters to apologize for criticizing Roper harshly. 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. Analysis This lengthy scene contains King Henry’s only appearance in the play, and he proves to be an arrogant and unpredictable man. 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 shouts and storms offstage. When Henry first meets Margaret, he tactfully compliments her scholarship, but as soon as she shows that she knows more Latin than he does, he changes the subject. The entire company plays along with the idea that Henry’s visit is a surprise, even though both sides show that preparation for such a visit is required and expected. Henry’s visit shows that he values appearances over truth. Yet he demands both simultaneously, even though they often contradict one another. For example, he requires More and his family to bear the burden of planning for his surprise and of convincing him that they are indeed surprised. 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. Unlike the Machiavellians Cromwell and Rich, King Henry is not simply content to do whatever is most convenient for his political advantage. Instead, he wants to do whatever he likes and at the same time feel morally upright. If the other characters can choose only between their personal advancement (chosen by Cromwell and Rich) and their conscience (More), Henry believes that he can have both, by using his power to influence others to ease his conscience. 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. More’s honest reputation means that his consent could prove the king right; his lack of consent could prove the king wrong. Bolt suggests that Henry needs More’s approval for private as well as public reasons. Henry’s immature, insecure temperament suggests he needs More to ease his own guilt. This idea is supported by Henry’s comment that it will be fine if More simply keeps quiet. The comment

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suggests that Henry needs More’s approval more for the calm it will give his conscience than for public opinion. The exchange between More and Roper reveals the seriousness with which More does his job. More tells Roper that he must watch what he says and remember that More is now chancellor. 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. More shows there is nothing wrong with devotion to one’s employment, as long as doing one’s job does not violate one’s conscience. Imagery of land and water is used to illustrate the difference between More’s lawabiding nature and Roper’s religious idealism. In praising the law, More compares it to a forest, which is sturdy and provides protection. He says that England is planted “thick with laws from coast to coast—Man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down . . . 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,” invoking the image of the shifting and unstable sea to stress the dangers of looking to God, the unknowable, as a moral guide. More wishes to rely upon what he knows to be certain and what he can perceive here on earth. He believes in God, but he does not pretend to understand God, except as God is manifest in human laws and justice. Act One, scene eight Summary The Common Man enters as the publican, or innkeeper, of a pub called the Loyal Subject. He says that he is not a deep thinker like More and that he should not be expected to act with deep principles. Cromwell arrives at the Loyal Subject and asks the publican if his pub is a good place to launch a conspiracy. Cromwell wants to insure that there are not “too many little dark corners,” and the publican, bewildered, answers that there are only four corners in the room. Cromwell suspects that the man is being disingenuous, and asks the publican if he knows who Cromwell is. When the publican replies that he does not, Cromwell accuses him of being too tactful—of saying less than he knows. Cromwell beckons for Rich to come into the room, and he announces that he has secured the position of collector of revenues for York, which he will offer to Rich in exchange for information. Cromwell makes a joke at the king’s expense, and he gets Rich to admit that he can be bought. Rich’s admission is just what Cromwell wants to hear, because

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Cromwell is counting on Rich’s “common sense” (in other words, his corruptibility) to get the information he needs. Cromwell explains that if Henry wants a divorce, he will get one, and it is Cromwell’s (and, he adds, Rich’s) job to make it as convenient as possible. The major problem is More, whose opinion is inviolable. But, Cromwell adds, the king will get a divorce whether or not More approves, and More will either have to bend to his will or get out of the way. Rich laments his loss of innocence, but he goes on to tell Cromwell about the silver cup More received as a bribe and passed on to Rich. He even divulges the price of the item and agrees to take Cromwell to the shop where he sold it. Rich feels guilty for betraying More, but he admits that it was not as hard as he had expected. Cromwell promises that the next bribe will be even easier to take. Rich wonders what Cromwell plans to do with the information. Cromwell announces that men like More try to hold fast to their principles, but if they have any sense they get out of the way of a situation beyond their control. Otherwise, Cromwell predicts, men like More are only fit for heaven, not earth. Cromwell suspects, however, that More has plenty of “sense” and can be easily scared into changing his mind. When Rich retorts that More cannot be frightened, Cromwell demonstrates how far he is willing to go by holding Rich’s hand in a candle flame. Rich screams and accuses Cromwell of having enjoyed torturing him. Cromwell remains silent but looks proud and exultant. Analysis All of Cromwell’s actions in this scene—questioning the publican, speaking against More, and bribing and torturing Rich—are acts of a stock character who represents evil. Cromwell mentions lightly that an innocent person like More is only fit for heaven, suggesting that heaven is where he intends to send More. When he burns Rich he unsubtly evokes the devil and the flames of hell. In a play more about the struggle between conscience and convenience than about morality and religion, it is odd to see a character so devoid of conscience as Cromwell. Overall, the scene seems to have the character of melodrama and morality tales rather than serious drama. In a way, Bolt’s play is something of a cautionary tale. His characters possess obvious flaws that lead to More’s condemnation. The Common Man, for example, will continue to aid and abet More’s downfall, primarily because he plays numerous characters who are privy to the shady dealings performed behind More’s back and who do not say anything. He represents the morally risky notion of just going along with the flow of life without considering the consequences of one’s actions. Rich represents the dangers of succumbing to the temptations of wealth and status. If the Common Man and Rich show us step by step how a person can disregard his conscience for material gain, Cromwell represents evil in its purest form, done for its own sake.

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Alternatively, one can argue that Cromwell represents the occupational hazards of working for a corrupt king. After all, Cromwell is also performing some of the same functions as Wolsey. He has become the guardian of the king’s conscience, and Henry, we have to assume, is always hovering over him. Later on in the play, Cromwell refers to King Henry’s “ravenous” conscience. The comedic, satirical nature of this scene creates the sense that Cromwell and Rich are buffoons, set apart from the intelligent, moral figures such as More, Alice, and Margaret. The amusing exchange between Cromwell and the publican emphasizes Cromwell’s unsophisticated, narrow, and dim-witted outlook. As 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

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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

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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 I believe 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 fears, he will be tortured. But More insists that if they all keep quiet about his motives and opinions, no one can accuse him of opposing the king. People will only be able to guess at his reasons for resigning. More even refuses to tell his family what he thinks, explaining that if Cromwell should make them swear on a Bible, he wants them to be able to say honestly that they do not know what More thinks. 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. More approaches Matthew and asks whether Matthew could stay on for less money. When Matthew says he could not, More says with regret that he will miss him. Matthew replies that More always saw right through him and that there is nothing to miss, but More is insistent. I wish we could all have good luck, all the time! I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t! . . . And what with not having wings but walking-on two flat feet; and good luck and bad luck being just exactly even stevens; 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, Matthew has a short monologue. He wonders what More could possibly miss in him. He says that he almost “fell for” More’s offer of less

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money, implying that More was simply complimenting him to persuade him to stay on at the house. Matthew complains that life is not always filled with friendship or good luck and that More has no right to complicate things. He repeats that he almost fell for More’s offer, and he leaves the stage chuckling to himself. Analysis: Scenes one–two More’s resignation is the central action of both this scene and the play itself, and it has importance for both the play’s plot and it’s theme. More’s conversations about his resignation provide information to analyze More’s peculiar brand of morality. When More resigns, Alice accuses him of behaving like a “book,” and Roper says More makes a “noble gesture,” but More says he does neither. He is following something much more certain than a printed page or a precept. He is abiding by himself, rather than by ideals or appearances. More argues that his decision has nothing to do with anyone else. 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. Act Two, scene two, begins by reminding us that Roper’s high-minded ideals are always subject to change, whereas More’s commitment to his own moral conscience and to the law is steadfast. Roper, a devout Lutheran earlier in the play, is now an ardent Catholic, as his clothes reveal. More demonstrates the difference between himself and Roper when he reminds his son-in-law that the Act of Supremacy’s caveat, “so far as the law of God allows,” is what enables More to reconcile his private conscience with the law. Roper, on the other hand, finds the caveat a small and irrelevant excuse. Roper’s criticism of More calls into question More’s practical approach to morality. More may live his life in a moral manner, but he nevertheless manipulates situations to get what he wants. He claims that he has no choice except to resign, but he has no choice only within his understanding of morality. His choice has implications for his family as well. Even though More hopes to protect Alice and Margaret by telling them nothing about his beliefs, 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. The insurrection that the characters talk about in this act is based on a historical event. 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. The socalled Pilgrimage of Grace erupted in the aftermath of Henry’s break with Rome,

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partly as a result of poor economic conditions. Fortunately for Henry, the revolt was ultimately put down. It is difficult to discuss Brecht’s alienation technique (see Context), for the technique must be experienced. Essentially, through alienation, an actor can make a comment to the audience about the character he is playing, even while he is speaking the lines of the character. The actor uses direct conversation with the audience, an ironic tone, exaggerated movements or gestures, or other techniques to force the audience to judge him. Matthew’s monologue about his distrust of More uses the technique to invite the audience to judge what he’s saying. He discusses how More is just playing the role of an insincere, money grubbing noble, and he tells the audience that Matthew himself is nothing more than emptiness. He says that even though human beings want to believe in things that are not practical—he wishes for rain to be beer, for instance—we always return to the cold, hard fact that life is somewhat miserable and that base men are base and empty men are empty. Almost laughing, Matthew says he “almost fell for it.” Matthew, or the Common Man who is playing Matthew’s character, actually wants us to question whether he should have fallen for a more optimistic view of life. Matthew seems to assume that the audience will agree with his analysis of man’s nature, but if the audience does not, then Matthew has alienated himself from them in such a way that they will think less of him. Act Two, scenes three–four Summary: Scene three Norfolk protests Cromwell’s intention to pursue More, claiming that since More does not actively oppose Henry’s divorce, they do not need to bother him. But Cromwell contends that everyone understands More’s silence to be disapproval. Since More has shown himself to be a patriot by passing on information about Chapuys’s rebellion, Cromwell contends, More should have no problem swearing an oath of loyalty to the administration. When Norfolk protests again, Cromwell points out that he has instructions from the king to get More to consent. Cromwell plans to use the information Rich provided about the silver cup to blackmail More into submission. When Norfolk refuses to believe that More has ever accepted a bribe, Cromwell brings in Rich and the woman who gave More the cup. Though the woman did not get the judgment she wanted from More, she nonetheless admits that she sent him the silver cup. Rich attests that More received the cup, and Cromwell has enlisted Matthew to corroborate the fact that More gave the cup to Rich. Norfolk, however, remembers the night that Rich received the cup, and he reminds Rich that he got the cup the same month that More

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did. Thus, Norfolk asserts, as soon as More realized the cup was a bribe, he got rid of it. Cromwell admits that the scenario Norfolk proposes is possible, but he promises to find some better gossip that he can use to force More’s hand. When Norfolk insists he wants nothing to do with Cromwell’s campaign to discredit More, Cromwell mentions that the king particularly wants Norfolk to participate because Norfolk is known to be More’s friend. Norfolk’s involvement will make Cromwell’s campaign look less like malicious prosecution and more like a fair investigation of facts. When Norfolk exits, Cromwell turns on Rich and rebukes him for not remembering that the duke was present the night More gave Rich the cup. Just as Cromwell and Rich are leaving, Matthew appears and reminds Rich that he said that he might need a steward. Rich hesitates since he feels that Matthew treated him poorly back when he was More’s servant. But Matthew insists that Rich’s memories are incorrect, and as he follows Rich offstage, he announces that he thinks Rich will be a good match for him. Summary: Scene four Back at More’s home, the family’s fortunes have dwindled. Chapuys has come to pay a visit, and he and his attendant chat about how cold and poor More’s house suddenly seems. Chapuys speculates that More supports Spain and seems to be against Cromwell. When More arrives, Chapuys promises that his fortunes are sure to change, implying that an alliance with Spain could be very profitable. He hands More a letter from the king of Spain, but More refuses to take it. Chapuys assures More that no one saw him coming to his house, but More feels that opening the letter would be unseemly and that he would feel obliged to take it straight to Henry. He warns Chapuys not to be so sure about More’s views on the divorce and points out his patriotism. More even has Alice witness that he has not accepted the letter or broken its seal. Departing, Chapuys announces that he suspects his king will admire More all the more for having refused the letter. Meanwhile, Margaret has entered with a pile of bracken to burn to heat the house. More calls it a luxury, but Alice is unconvinced. More announces that though the bishops offered him some money by way of charity, he cannot accept it since it will make him appear to be in their service. Alice gets angry again, complaining about their poverty, her husband’s refusal to explain his motives, and his sudden preoccupation with how things appear. More replies that he has to consider appearances in such dangerous times, though he hopes his fears are misplaced. Roper arrives and announces that someone has come to take More to Hampton Court to answer some charges. Alice is alarmed, but More is stoic and even jokes that he will bring Cromwell back for dinner later that night.

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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. 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. He senses Rich’s pride and gullibility, perhaps concluding that with Rich he would never be accused of being missed as he was with More. He definitely feels a sense of power over his new “master.” Intellectually and ethically, Matthew thinks himself better than Rich. More’s demonstration of loyalty to the king when he refuses Chapuys’s letter seems out of step with More’s character. In the first place, by all indications More owes nothing to the king, and both politically and religiously he has more in common with Spain. His choice to refuse the Spanish king’s letter seems impractical and unrelated to his morality, unless he views patriotism as a moral duty in and of itself. More clings at least as surely to king, country, and law as he does to the mysteries of faith. Even at his trial at the end of the play, as his sentence is pronounced, he prays for Henry and calls himself a loyal subject. In More’s eyes, it is a statesman’s duty to consider his private conscience, and so he sees himself as the most faithful of subjects that a king could hope to have. Just as the doctrine of freedom of speech must allow for those to speak out against it, More’s disagreement with his king is not tantamount to disloyalty, but rather a testament to his commitment to the king’s best interests. More operates as much as a teacher in the play as he does a practical man concerned with his own moral salvation. More’s concern with appearances when he refuses to take money from the bishops also seems out of keeping with More’s character. His concern shows that although he sees resignation as the only moral choice he can make, he recognizes that he must also weigh other concerns—his own safety, the safety of his family, and the law. Once again, More disproves the claim that Wolsey and others made that More ignores practical concerns.

Act Two, scenes five–six Summary: Scene five Cromwell tells More that Rich will be recording their conversation. More compliments Rich’s fancy outfit. Cromwell admits that he greatly admires More, but as Rich starts to write that down, Cromwell stops him. More asks what the charges against him are, but Cromwell insists there are no charges, just questions. More asks Rich to record the fact that there are no charges.

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A Man for All Seasons
Getting down to business, Cromwell announces that the king is not pleased with More and would reward More handsomely if he would only change his mind. More refuses. Cromwell changes the subject, bringing up the Holy Maid of Kent, a woman who was executed for sermonizing against the king. More admits that he knew her and sympathized with her, but when Cromwell accuses him of having withheld information about her treasonous talk, More assures him that their conversations were not political in nature. He even says he knows people who can testify to the fact that they were completely innocent. Cromwell then accuses More of having written A Defense of the Seven Sacraments, a work attributed to King Henry himself. More admits that he answered a few of the king’s questions on canon law, but he denies that he wrote the book, which defends the pope’s authority in England. When Cromwell finally broaches the subject of Queen Anne, More says that the king told him not to inquire about that anymore. He calls Cromwell’s accusations empty threats. Cromwell then produces a letter from the king, who calls More a villain and a traitor. More is finally unsettled, and Cromwell excuses him. Cromwell tells Rich that the king has said More will die if he does not consent. Cromwell says that, as a man of conscience, the king cannot abide what he sees as More’s disapproval. Summary: Scene six Outside, More tries to hail a boat, but no one will stop for him. Norfolk enters and says he has been following More. He points out that it is dangerous even to know More, much less be seen with him, but he tells More about Cromwell’s smear campaign and his own role in it. More insists that Norfolk must forget their friendship and do his duty. But Norfolk protests that such a thing is impossible. Norfolk announces that the only solution is for More to change his mind, an idea that More finds impossible. Norfolk sarcastically protests that the only thing steadfast in this world is the fact that More will not give in to the king, and More replies that he thinks highly of friendship but must remain loyal above all to his own self. More picks a fight with Norfolk that is playful but that has serious undertones. He accuses Norfolk of neglecting his own conscience by giving in to the amoral actions of the state, and he suggests that Norfolk is not fit for heaven. Norfolk finally gets angry, hits More, and departs. Just then, Margaret and Roper arrive to announce a new act in Parliament that calls for the administration of an oath regarding the king’s marriage. More asks about the wording of the oath, hoping he will be able to take it with a clear conscience. More describes for them his philosophy about man’s struggle for life. More says that God made angels to show him splendor, animals to show innocence, and plants to display simplicity. God made man, however, “to serve him wittily, 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, until it becomes evident that his time has come. When men finally die, More clarifies to Roper, men can rant and “clamor like

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A Man for All Seasons
champions,” showing God splendor. Until then, More proposes, they go home and look over the king’s new act. Analysis: Scenes five–six Rich’s fancy costumes highlight his slow but steady rise through the ranks of the royal administration. More’s comment about Rich’s attire recalls Rich’s grumbling in his first scene with More about his shabby clothes. We have witnessed Rich’s moral undoing, and throughout the rest of the play, we watch as he reaps the benefits of his evil ways. The contrast between the servile, pathetic Rich in Act One and Rich the haughty administrator in Act Two continues throughout subsequent scenes. The meeting between More and Norfolk in Act Two, scene six, shows the complexity of More’s convictions with regard to friendship, conscience, and duty. Norfolk, More’s most faithful friend, has not refused to help prosecute More, so he is understandably flustered and confused as he wrestles with his own conscience. More’s reaction to Norfolk reveals that More never assumes that he truly knows someone else. He may like people and wish to help and teach them, but he can know only himself, and he does not judge others until they truly impinge upon his conscience. More’s statement to Norfolk “[Y]ou must cease to know me . . . as a friend” can be interpreted in different ways. More advises Norfolk to cease their friendship so that Norfolk may obey his patriotic duty to the king without a guilty conscience. On the one hand, More might be sincere in speaking these words to Norfolk, since More’s advice that Norfolk should “cease to know” him accords to More’s strong sense of patriotic duty. Also, More follows this statement by telling Norfolk to think about the safety of Norfolk’s son, a comment that illustrates More’s love of family. On the other hand, More’s comment that Norfolk should cease knowing him might be insincere. Later in the scene, More attacks Norfolk for being a spineless traitor to his own conscience while defending the irreligious, “rat-dog pedigree” that the king and the state have become. More’s decision to pick a fight could mean that he was never sincere in the first place. 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. Moreover, More’s allusion to Norfolk’s son might suggest that by sacrificing his conscience for his irreligious king, Norfolk will set a poor example for his son. In the middle of their conversation, More asks the confused and troubled Norfolk what he should do. When Norfolk can only ask More to submit to the king’s wishes and go against More’s own conscience, More finally becomes confrontational and harsh. More cannot tolerate the fact that Norfolk’s priorities are not clear. More feels

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A Man for All Seasons
Norfolk should follow his conscience, whether it tells him to be loyal to his king or to his friend. Absurdly, More even tries to show Norfolk that he could live a content, guilt-free life even if Norfolk plays a role in More’s persecution. More knows that Norfolk would be justified in his actions for several reasons, including his patriotic and familial duties. More goes even further to make it easy on Norfolk’s conscience by showing that if Norfolk simply parts company with him, he will be doing so as a friend. There is a striking parallel between More’s behavior here and in the final scene of the play. In this scene, More decides to unleash his criticisms of Norfolk only after he has decided that the two should no longer be friends. In contrast, in the play’s final scene, he begins to speak his mind only after he has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death. 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 arrived. 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. The oath discussed at the end of scene six was administered by Henry’s government in 1536. All Church and lay government officials were required to swear their allegiance to Henry as the head of the Church of England, and to recognize and approve the Church’s break with Rome. 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.

Act Two, scene seven Summary Better a live rat than a dead lion. (See Important Quotations Explained) The Common Man, now playing a jailer, introduces us to More’s new home in the Tower of London. He insists that he would let More out if he could but then they would both end up in jail. An envelope falls in front of the jailer, and he takes the letter from it and reads out loud. The letter predicts the convictions of Cromwell, Norfolk, and Cranmer, who is the archbishop of Canterbury, for high treason, and the executions of Cromwell and Cranmer. The letter reveals that Rich, by contrast, fares very well, living a long life and ultimately becoming Lord Chancellor before dying in his bed. The jailer wishes us the same good luck.

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A Man for All Seasons
Of course, all these events have not yet occurred in the play. Cromwell, Cranmer, and Norfolk have just arrived at the tower to question More. The jailer wakes the now haggard More and escorts him to the interrogation, where Cromwell presents More with the Act of Succession. The document invalidates the king’s first marriage and the pope’s right to sanction it, and the decree also confirms Queen Anne’s children as the rightful heirs to the throne. More agrees to the second part of the oath but refuses to answer to the first part. All attempts to persuade More to change his mind fail. More explains that as long as he is silent about why he refuses to swear to the oath, they have no way to be sure he is not holding out just to give them trouble. They can lock him up for life, but they cannot convict him of treason, a death-penalty offense. When Norfolk points to the long list of signatories and asks More to sign for the sake of fellowship, More points out that though they may very well have signed with clear consciences, he cannot do so, and as such would be damned to hell. Norfolk excuses More. As More leaves, he asks for some more books, but Cromwell, not having realized he had books at all, promises instead to take away the ones he already has. More asks to see his family, but Cromwell refuses. After More has left, Cromwell approaches the jailer to ask if More has said anything about the divorce, the Church of England, or the remarriage. The jailer has not heard anything, but he swears an oath that he will report anything that he hears. When Cromwell promises fifty guineas in exchange for any information, Cranmer adds that the jailer should not just make something up in exchange for the money. In a brief aside, the jailer frets over such a large sum of money, which signals to him that much is at stake and that the great reward could easily turn to a great penalty, perhaps even death. Cromwell instructs Rich to return the following day to remove More’s books, and he informs Norfolk that the king is getting impatient with them because of More’s silence. Rich approaches Cromwell to inquire whether he might obtain the nowvacant post of the attorney general for Wales, but Cromwell is preoccupied. Cromwell claims that More’s silence troubles the king’s conscience but that More’s execution would trouble his own. He toys with the rack, a torture device, as he contemplates how to get More to submit. Analysis In this scene, the Common Man doubts his conduct toward More for the first time. Obliged now not only to divulge information about More but also to be his jailer, the Common Man finds that his complicity in More’s persecution begins to chafe at his conscience. As Matthew, he could still dodge the guilt he felt when More confided that More would miss Matthew. As the jailer, the Common Man is conscious of that guilt and excuses his complicity in More’s persecution by saying, “Better a live rat than a dead lion”—better to be alive and guilty than dead and a hero.

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A Man for All Seasons

In general, A Man for All Seasons argues against the idea that staying alive is the ultimate good. More’s life is his final and perhaps greatest sacrifice, but it does not compare to other characters’ sacrifice of their own selves and convictions. At the end of the play, the Common Man points out that staying alive is actually rather easy, but through his statement, the play implicitly implies that an immoral life is not always worth the guilt-ridden consequences. Moreover, the Common Man’s statement actually misquotes the biblical saying, “better a live dog than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). The Common Man’s mistake shows how he and others who live by this philosophy deceive themselves. In his opening monologue, the jailer tells us about the historical fates of Cromwell, Norfolk, and Cranmer, implying that, at least in Henry’s court, a live rat is not always alive for that long. The information is important because it suggests that unsavory characters receive what they deserve. All of these facts about the eventual fates of the characters in the play should belong in an epilogue, yet Bolt inserts them just before the play’s climax. 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, turning history into a sort of divine justice. Act Two, scene eight Summary In the morning, More’s family arrives at the Tower of London, and the jailer lets More out of his cell. He is overjoyed to see his family after a year in prison. They have brought him cheese, custard, and wine. However, Alice is still angry, and she addresses her husband coldly. The prison disgusts her, but More is either too stoic or too excited to care about his surroundings. Suddenly, Roper blurts out that More should take the oath, and More realizes that the only reason they have been allowed to see him is that they have promised to persuade him to concede. Margaret, ever the scholar, quotes scripture and suggests that More speak the words of the oath even if he believes otherwise in his heart. More, however, claims that oaths are by definition spoken to God, to whom the oath-taker gives his own self as collateral. Margaret points out that the state is evil and that her father has already done more than can be expected of him. Alice accuses More of choosing prison over home life, and he replies that he would escape if he could. Margaret goes on to describe how miserable they are without him. The jailer returns to give the visitors a two-minute warning. More sends Roper off with the wine to try to distract him, then tells Margaret and Alice to leave the country. More figures he will not be allowed to see them again anyway. Turning his attention to the food they have brought, More compliments Alice’s custard and then

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A Man for All Seasons
her dress, but his comments only make her more angry and upset. More wants to be sure that Alice understands why he does not cave-in to the king, because if he dies without her full understanding it would be worse than any torture to which the authorities could subject him. She replies that she does not understand, that she does not think all this had to happen, and that she suspects she may resent him when he is gone. More breaks down, insisting that she must understand. Finally, moved by More’s display of anguish, Alice hugs her husband and tells him he is the best man she has ever known. Just then, the jailer returns, unwavering in his insistence that it is time for the visitors to go. More, Alice, and Margaret resist, but he is resolute, and even Alice’s insults do no good. More and Alice part with emotion, and the jailer apologizes to More, claiming to be a simple man who is just doing his job. Suddenly furious, More shouts out in frustration and then says, “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, despite their imminent earthly separation. In particular, More’s encounter with Alice resolves their previous conflict and acts as a kind of rejuvenating redemption just before More faces his accusers. In an earlier scene, More points out to Margaret and Roper that he must fight death as long as he can “escape” it in good conscience, and when he no longer can do that, he will know that God has willed him to die. Alice, who was not present during this discussion of More’s ideas on predestination, could not understand the motivations behind her husband’s refusal to obey the king. In this scene, however, Alice reveals her unconditional love for her husband. Even though she does not seem to recognize why More does not give in to Henry, she shows that she understands that her husband’s actions are rooted in his faith in God when she says, “God knows why I suppose.” Because Alice truly knows her husband, she can respect his choices, even if she cannot comprehend their significance rationally. Her reaction to More contrasts with Norfolk’s in Act Two, scene six, in which Norfolk was unable to overcome his confusion and respect More’s choice to end their friendship. Alice’s actions also contrast with those of the Common Man. At the end of this scene, More repeats the word “lion” to describe his wife, evoking the Common Man’s earlier statement, “Better a live rat than a dead lion.” To More, Alice affirms that strong, courageous, lion-like people still exist. At the end of the scene, More also bemoans “simple men” for doing what they are told to do instead of living their lives according to what they believe. Most of the characters in the play, and in particular those the Common Man plays, are included in More’s indictment. More has spent the entire play carefully assessing what aspects of his duties he could perform without betraying his conscience. Now, having essentially let go of all his earthly positions, including his position as a husband and

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A Man for All Seasons
a father, he shows that even the lowest-level functionary on the long ladder of his oppressors cannot escape reproach. Though the Common Man might be the most pardonable of the offenders, he exemplifies the morally bankrupt attitudes of most people. Act Two, scenes nine–ten Summary: Scene nine The Common Man sets up the stage as a courtroom, placing hats on poles to stand for jurymen. As he gets ready to leave, Cromwell stops him, insisting that he has to play the foreman of the jury. Cranmer and Norfolk preside over the trial. Norfolk offers More one last opportunity to take the oath, but More refuses. Cromwell reads the charges, which claim that More conspired to undermine Henry’s authority as the supreme head of the Church of England. More is accused of high treason. Shocked, More replies that he never denied Henry’s title, but Cromwell points out that he refused to take the oath. More counters that, legally, his silence does not signify denial. But Cromwell argues that silence can indicate disapproval. He discusses the silence of a roomful of people who have just witnessed a murder. In such a case, the witnesses are complicit in the murder for failing to speak or try to stop it. Cromwell asserts that everyone knows what More’s silence suggests, but More tells the jury that under the law silence does not imply consent. More and Cromwell argue about conscience and the soul. 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. Cromwell calls Rich to the stand, and Rich testifies that he heard More say that Parliament had no power to declare Henry the head of the Church in England. More laments Rich’s perjury. 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. More remembers that two other people were there at the time of his conversation with Rich, but Cromwell presents a deposition from the two men, saying that they were out of earshot when More denied the king’s title. As Rich is excused from the stand, More asks to see the chain of office he is wearing. When he recognizes it as the chain of the attorney general for Wales, More chides Rich for having sold his soul. When Norfolk tells the jury to consider the evidence, Cromwell decides they should not need to retire to decide such an open-and-shut case. The jury finds More guilty, but before Norfolk can pronounce the sentence, More interrupts. Finally deciding to speak his mind, More denounces the Act of Supremacy, and he points out that both the Magna Carta and the Coronation Oath guarantee the Catholic Church’s authority. He announces that he remains a loyal subject of King Henry, 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.

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A Man for All Seasons

Norfolk condemns More to death, and the scene quickly changes. Summary: Scene ten A crowd has gathered at the Tower of London to watch More’s beheading. The Common Man, this time cast as the executioner, dons a black mask. As More approaches the block, he refuses Norfolk’s offer of wine and Cranmer’s offer to perform the last rites. Margaret runs up, distraught, but More comforts her. Just then, the woman who tried to bribe More appears in the crowd, accusing him of giving her an incorrect judgment in her case. More dismisses the malicious woman and walks up to the block. He tells the executioner not to feel bad about having to kill him. He is sure, he tells Cranmer, that he will go to God. After a blackout indicating the execution, the Common Man removes his executioner’s mask and says to the audience, “It isn’t difficult to keep alive, friends—just don’t make trouble. . . . If we should bump into one another, recognize me.” Analysis: Scenes nine–ten Ironically, Cromwell’s argument to the jury that silence can signify guilt ends up affirming the courtroom audience’s guilt for More’s murder. Cromwell suggests as an example that if he were to stab More and no one in the courtroom spoke out, everyone would be complicit in the murder. Even though they will not have to hold the ax to chop off More’s head, their role as silent witnesses to More’s condemnation makes them as guilty as the Cromwell.

Rich has completed his transformation into a Machiavellian prince—he is corrupt and successful. Rich sticks fast to his false story because in exchange for a highranking office, he has become nothing more than a mouthpiece for Cromwell. Rich has sacrificed his moral conscience, something that More would never do. The final scene shows that More’s attempt to teach Rich in the first scene has ultimately failed. Ironically, because More chose not to chastise Rich openly for his petty desires for status and wealth, Rich fell victim to temptation and then cut down More himself. More’s style of teaching by way of tests and examples seems ineffective in Rich’s case, and the final scene elucidates More’s belief that people need to teach themselves. More defines himself by his conscience and his relationship with the law and with God, and he believes others ought to do the same. Since More advocates that people should not care what others say or think, he does not teach others outright, but rather tests them, hoping they will listen to their own consciences. More does not want to usurp the rightful place of God, so he rarely speaks his opinions.

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A Man for All Seasons
As in his conversation with Norfolk earlier in the play, More becomes fervent about his opinions concerning Henry only after a ruling has already been made. More’s final outburst also exemplifies the philosophy More explained to Roper and Margaret in Act Two, scene six, when he said that we may “clamor” only once we know that God has chosen the correct time. Sentenced to death and assured that God has willed that he must die, More finally feels he can teach by speaking out. Throughout the play, the Common Man becomes increasingly complicit in More’s death. Matthew betrays More in a roundabout way in the first act, and the innkeeper proves to be an accomplice as well, but the Common Man’s roles as jailer, juryman, and executioner implicate the Common Man in a less ambiguous manner. They also implicate the audience. Immediately after the execution, the Common Man says that he is still breathing and asks the audience members if they too are breathing. His question makes the audience aware of the fact that each person could have his or her head on the chopping block. If there is any question over how one can stay alive, the Common Man offers advice, then implies that his advice is not a secret but rather common knowledge understood by common men and women. This comment associates the audience directly with his title and his characters. Still, his advice is not moral but mean in nature, in line with the various roles he plays. The Common Man’s job is to do his job, to fit any number of social roles without rocking the boat. The Common Man’s final command to his audience, “If we should bump into one another, recognize me,” 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. 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. But the Common Man’s warning implies that people will have no problem recognizing who has a common nature, for just as most of the characters in the play are base, most real people are base. Whereas More indicates that we cannot really know him, a man of conscience, the Common Man wishes us to understand that we can recognize and preferably avoid shallowness and “common” qualities when we see them.

Important Quotations Explained 1. My Master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad, but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad . . . because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep; and he’ll be out of practice. (Act One, scene one) Explanation for Quotation #1 In this excerpt from a monologue at the end of the play’s first scene, More’s servant, Matthew, predicts the conflict More will face in the play. Yet Matthew’s statement

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A Man for All Seasons
that More is out of practice is wrong, since More seems to be the only character with enough practice to know that there are certain things that he cannot sacrifice. In fact, the central conflict in the play stems from More’s refusal to give up his sense of self, which is rooted in his faith in the Catholic Church and in God. After relinquishing his career, his family, his friendship with Norfolk, and even his freedom, More sees it as utterly impossible to relinquish his beliefs. Though characters like Roper and Chapuys see More’s actions as noble but impractical gestures, More thinks of his behavior as the most practical and realistic option. For More, to double cross his conscience would be to disown his soul, his self. It is important that Matthew’s prediction seems insightful but proves incorrect at the end of the play. In the beginning of the play, the characters the Common Man plays seem to be insightful and clever members of the lower class, who astutely critique and satirize the nobility. Yet at the play’s close, even the Common Man has unraveled and behaves in a reprehensible way, causing us to rethink the opinions we have had of him all along. 2. Well . . . I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . . . they lead their country by a short route to chaos.

(Act One, scene two) Explanation for Quotation #2 In this pronouncement from Act One, scene two, More tears apart Wolsey’s common-sense approach to politics. Wolsey believes a person should take the most convenient and advantageous option in political matters, but More believes a statesman’s duty is to weigh his “own private conscience” because doing so will ultimately lead to the common good. 3. (Quietly) I neither could nor would rule my King. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . . . little, area . . . where I must rule myself. It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court. (Act One, scene seven) Explanation for Quotation #3 More speaks these words to his wife, Alice, following King Henry’s visit to their home. Alice urges More either to rule or be ruled, but More argues that he will allow himself to be ruled, except in matters pertaining to his conscience. We often find More desperately searching for a loophole in some act or oath, and at such times we may wonder whether this moral man is trying to skirt the issue. This statement of More’s reveals that he is not really an idealist. Unlike Roper, More does not do things just because he believes in them but because, as he says, his conscience believes in them. He does not try to prove a point or to be a hero, but there are certain points he feels he cannot concede without sacrificing his own self.

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A Man for All Seasons

4. And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Act One, scene seven) Explanation for Quotation #4 After Roper accuses More of respecting man’s law over God’s, More delivers this defense of his actions. Though More believes in the afterlife, he also recognizes that he has no right and no means to make judgments that are better left to God. More respects man’s law as the best available means of protecting against evil, even if it lets people like Rich off the hook from time to time. Bolt explains in his preface that he uses seafaring and water metaphors to signify the uncertainty of the great beyond, the moral universe that Roper aims to navigate. In this passage, More’s vision of a stable, lawful earthly existence is signified by images of the forest, and a lawless earth is signified by images of a barren wasteland. 5. All right, so he’s down on his luck! I’m sorry. I don’t mind saying that: I’m sorry! Bad luck! If I’d any good luck to spare he could have some. I wish we could all have good luck, all the time! I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t! . . . And what with not having wings but walking-on two flat feet; and good luck and bad luck being just exactly even stevens; and rain being water—don’t you complicate the job by putting things in me for me to miss! (Act Two, scene two) Explanation for Quotation #5 When More lets Matthew go, he tells him he’ll be missed, but Matthew is skeptical. Matthew sees no reason for More to miss him and resents feeling he has to worry about personal relations and responsibilities, particularly those regarding his boss. Matthew has spent the entire play acting for his own financial gain, accepting bribes for information on More and others. More’s suggestion that they share a bond of friendship makes Matthew feel guilty for how he behaved. Matthew disregarded his conscience, the very thing that More refuses to do. Throughout the rest of the play, the Common Man (who plays Matthew and many other characters) becomes more directly involved in More’s undoing—as jailer, juryman, and ultimately, executioner. Bolt suggests here that the Common Man could be any of us just doing our jobs. In a world that celebrates history as a series of trends, we should all accept personal responsibility and pay attention to our consciences, even if we feel there’s nothing we can do. 6. Better a live rat than a dead lion

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A Man for All Seasons
(Act Two, scene seven) Explanation for Quotation #6 The jailer, played by the Common Man, invokes this excuse, which he calls an “old adage,” to justify not living according to his conscience. His statement claims that life, no matter how immoral, is always better than death. The jailer’s statement is actually a misquoted version of the biblical saying, “Better a live dog than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). 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, like Cromwell. Obviously, the play argues an opposite message, since its hero, More, gives up his physical existence for the good of his soul. In general, More does feel that life is better than death. Earlier in Act Two, More implies that it is important for Norfolk to keep alive and not die by associating himself with More, telling Norfolk to stay away and reminding him that he has a son. Before More is imprisoned, 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. He says that man’s goal must be to escape death until the predestined moment comes. More lives his life by fighting death however he can until he believes God has deemed it time for him to depart, at which point he welcomes death with open arms. Key Facts · A Man for all Seasons · Robert Bolt TYPE OF WORK · Play GENRE · Historical drama; satire (a literary work that ridicules human vices and follies) LANGUAGE · English TIME AND PLACE WRITTEN · England, 1960 DATE OF FIRST PUBLICATION · 1960 PUBLISHER · William Heinemann Ltd. NARRATOR · The play is narrated by the Common Man in a series of asides TONE · The whole of the play points toward the beheading of its hero, Thomas More, a predetermined, historically specific, outcome. As such, the tone is ominous, foreboding, and suspenseful. SETTING (TIME) · 1529–1535 SETTING (PLACE) · More’s home in London’s Chelsea district and the king’s court at Hampton PROTAGONIST · Sir Thomas More MAJOR CONFLICT · Privately, More disapproves of King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage. Publicly, he would prefer to have nothing to do with the matter. But when Henry, through his agent Cromwell, forces More to speak out, More must either publicly assent to the divorce or die. RISING ACTION · After Cardinal Wolsey dies, and More is appointed as his replacement; Henry and, later, Cromwell press More to take a public stance on the
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A Man for All Seasons
issue of King Henry’s marriage; More’s family and friends also encourage him to relent. CLIMAX · More’s family visits him in jail, and his wife, Alice, finally accepts More’s stubborn behavior. At trial, More remains silent until he is condemned to death, after which he delivers a stirring soliloquy, finally proclaiming his opinions. FALLING ACTION · More’s death, the Common Man’s summation THEMES · Types of moral guides; corruption; the self and friendship MOTIFS · Satire and wit; silence; guilt SYMBOLS · Water and dry land; the gilded cup FORESHADOWING · Rich’s reference to Machiavelli foreshadows the way he and Cromwell will spare no one to achieve success; Rich’s corrupt acceptance of the tainted cup More offers him as a test foreshadows More’s eventual condemnation, based on Rich’s perjury; 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; Wolsey’s and Cromwell’s threats to More foreshadows More’s condemnation; Alice’s comment that colds kill even great men foreshadows Wolsey’s death; 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.

Study Questions & Essay Topics Study Questions 1. 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, we know that Thomas More is a saint and a martyr. Most people consider a saint to be a man of principle, and a martyr is a man who dies for his beliefs. But Saint Thomas More as characterized in Robert Bolt’s play has other reasons for refusing to agree to King Henry’s oath. He is not concerned with doing what is right according to Christian dogma. Rather, he acts based on his own conscience. He says, “not that I believe it, but that I believe it,” emphasizing that something within him dictates how he should act. His morals in this case form the bedrock of his sense of self, and to betray them would be to kill that self. Throughout the play, other characters expect More to make gestures that symbolize his beliefs. But More puts realistic considerations ahead of any high-minded ideals he might harbor. In this sense, he breaks the mold of what we might expect a martyr to be—More dies because there’s no other way out for him, not because he wants to make a political or religious statement. Even though he speaks out at the end of the play, his diatribe comes only after he has been sentenced to death, showing that he was not killed for what he said, but what he did not say.

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A Man for All Seasons
2. What does Roper’s conversion from Catholicism to Lutheranism and back again suggest about Bolt’s opinion of faith? Answer for Study Question #2 In A Man for All Seasons, William Roper serves as a counterpoint to More, but he is one who is less clearly reprehensible than men like Thomas Cromwell and Richard Rich. 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. After Roper returns to Catholicism, More threatens to hide Margaret, his daughter, from Roper’s “seagoing principles.” More finds Roper’s willingness to stake everything on something as uncertain as God’s wishes an impractical way of approaching life and morality. In fact, Bolt uses Roper’s ever-changing faith as a comedic device. In addition to clarifying More’s own position, Roper’s point of view comes off as so inconsistent as to be funny. Starting off the play calling the pope the Antichrist, he ultimately ends up in a dour priest’s uniform, complete with a Catholic cross. As More makes fun of Roper’s outfit, we too recognize the folly of blind faith. 3. How does the Common Man character implicate the audience in More’s struggle? Answer for Study Question #3 The Common Man, as Bolt announces in his preface, is intended to be common in the sense of “universal” rather than in the sense of “low class.” As a universal character, the Common Man is meant to reflect all of our actions and attitudes in his. To emphasize his universality, the Common Man plays many different roles. He slips into and out of the roles of Matthew, the boatman, the innkeeper, the jailer, the jury foreman, and the headsman (executioner). In each case, the switch is made abruptly and without much ado and therefore seems omnipresent. He could be any of us at any given time, 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. At the same time, the Common Man’s ever-changing roles come on at a faster and faster rate as the play progresses. At the end, he switches from More’s jailer, to a juryman, to More’s executioner in rapid succession, and this mounting pace suggests the suddenness with which we often find ourselves cooperating in situations of which we don’t ultimately approve. The Common Man also implicates the audience by addressing us directly, as an interpreter and commentator. His monologues draw us into his ominous, cautionary tale. At the end of the play, he wishes us good health and long life, even though More’s character makes it clear that these should not always be one’s primary concerns. In this way, the Common Man speaks to what is common in a base sense. Suggested Essay Topics 1. Discuss Bolt’s approach to history. What does he choose to focus on and why? What does he omit?

Compiled by. Syed Wafiullah "Muslim", Jalalabad, Afghanistan syedwafiullah@gmail.com

A Man for All Seasons
2. How does Bolt’s use of water imagery encapsulate one of the central conflicts of the play? 3. Why does More’s wife, Alice, ultimately reconcile with her husband? How does this emotional climax relate to the moral struggles presented in the play? 4. Describe the moments when More shows his passion. In particular, think about his final speech in court, and his interactions with Norfolk, Alice, and the jailer. 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. Is Sir Thomas More a teacher? If so, describe the instances in the play in which he tries to teach others. How does he teach? What do his methods reveal about his character?

Compiled by. Syed Wafiullah "Muslim", Jalalabad, Afghanistan syedwafiullah@gmail.com

A Man for All Seasons

Quiz

Scroll through the page to review your answers. The correct answer is highlighted in green. Your incorrect answers (if any) are highlighted in red. If you'd like to take the test over again, click the reset button at the end of the test. 1. 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, single malt scotch

3. 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? (A) The

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A Man for All Seasons
QE2 (B) The Fast and the Furious (C) The Great Harry (D) Mary, Queen of Scots

5. 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. Twenty-five years

6. 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, 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

8. What charge must Cromwell trump up in order to be able to execute Sir Thomas?

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A Man for All Seasons
(A) High treason (B) Aggravated assault (C) First-degree murder (D) Indecent exposure

9. 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. 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 (C) At vespers (D) Sleeping

12. Why does Norfolk participate in the persecution of his friend More? (A) The king ordered him to, so the trial wouldn’t

Compiled by. Syed Wafiullah "Muslim", Jalalabad, Afghanistan syedwafiullah@gmail.com

A Man for All Seasons
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. To which character does More display his passionate side? (A) Alice (B) Roper (C) Jailer (D) All of the above

14. 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? (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

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A Man for All Seasons
(D) Because they probably wouldn’t understand

17. What does More burn to warm his house when he is poor? (A) Wood (B) Bracken (C) Coal (D) Heretics

18. What is Roper’s religion at the beginning of the play? (A) Jewish (B) Catholic (C) Lutheran (D) Quaker

19. 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 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 position does Rich take after More first refuses his request for work? (A) Cranmer’s

Compiled by. Syed Wafiullah "Muslim", Jalalabad, Afghanistan syedwafiullah@gmail.com

A Man for All Seasons
steward (B) Roper’s secretary (C) Henry’s housecleaner (D) Norfolk’s librarian

22. What phrase does the publican repeat in his conversation with Cromwell? (A) “Yes, sir” (B) “No, sir” (C) “I don’t understand, sir” (D) “Take a hike, sir”

23. Who tells More that he’s behaving “like a printed book”? (A) Margaret (B) Alice (C) Henry (D) Norfolk

24. Henry’s first queen is named (A) Anne (B) Meg (C) Elizabeth (D) Catherine

25. In his preface, 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

Compiled by. Syed Wafiullah "Muslim", Jalalabad, Afghanistan syedwafiullah@gmail.com

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