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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 thentenuous 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 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 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.

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 deep-rooted 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 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.

More uses silence to his advantage. he means that man must cleverly escape death for as long as he legitimately and lawfully can. he attempts to teach others to do the same.” By this. but the statement also emphasizes the importance of a sense of humor. Chapuys wrongly assumes that More’s straightforward answers are double talk and gives him a knowing wink that is completely out of place. He appears to be more of a teacher than a friend or a lover. More was as witty as he was saintly. Cromwell has a similar exchange with Rich. Above all. More insists that man is born to serve God “wittily. the play examines the extent to which one can be true to oneself and a good friend to others. More spends most of his time making light of the dangerous situations he encounters. 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. then. In More’s conversations with Norfolk and Alice. However. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. Much to Alice’s chagrin. More also protects his family from legal persecution . not dissent. More’s wit establishes his humanity. More looks inwardly for his strength and comfort. More also tells Matthew that he will miss him. according to the Bible. Historically. In Cromwell’s exchange with the innkeeper. and through tests and through the example he sets. scene seven. the characters with ties to the court participate in confused and misinterpreted exchanges of dialogue. contrasts. He relies on his own conscience as his guide.The Self and Friendship Through its depiction of More’s personal relationships. More’s instructive instinct results in relationships that are not overtly heartfelt. he shows that he truly cares about them as his friend and wife. Silence More is remarkable as much for his silence as for his statements.” but More argues that he gives his instruction because of the friendship the two men share. in which he tries to assess just how trustworthy and how bribable Rich might be. 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. or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. Satire and Wit Throughout the play. respectively. In the play. More tells Norfolk to “cease knowing him. The play shows that More’s self-reliance is not completely incompatible with friendship and love. He maintains that if he does not speak his opinion concerning his disapproval of the king’s intention to divorce his wife. These exchanges both satirize the court and portray the way corrupt morals lead to corrupt and ambiguous speech. One could also argue that More shows his friendship and love by teaching others. his silence will connote consent. refusing to incriminate himself in a way that resembles invoking the fifth amendment in a United States court of law. In Act One.

Guilt Guilt receives much attention in the play. and. who clamor at all times about ideals. More recognizes God’s will as impossible. More understands guilt as a personal judgment made by one’s own conscience. Matthew. Norfolk. To emphasize his belief in law as a guide to action.by staying silent about his opinions in their presence. Norfolk is obviously wracked with a sense of guilt when he tells More of Cromwell’s plot and his own association with it. like Roper. Cromwell’s argument to the jury equates More’s silence with complicity in a crime. Water and Dry Land In his preface. Symbols Symbols are objects. He does not criticize Norfolk until he is sure that Norfolk needs to be criticized and enraged. As the jailer. More compares the realm of human law to a forest filled with protective trees firmly rooted in the earth. 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 is silent in other ways as well. Unlike Henry and Roper. Characters who establish their actions on such an uncertain base include King Henry. When speaking with Roper. and Roper. the Common Man noticeably feels guilt on some level when More shows affection for him. based upon one’s perspective. When he is Matthew. for the play shows how many other characters— primarily those played by the Common Man—remain silent when they could tell More about the plot against him. the same action could be guilty or innocent. Cromwell’s claim is ironic. 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. More tells Roper that removing all the laws in pursuit of . At the trial. which symbolizes the uncertain moral territory of the great beyond. 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. 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 office. particularly in the characters of Rich. who holds what More calls “seagoing” principles. and More therefore prefers to root his actions in his own conscience and in the law. characters. More prefers to listen to the voice within. which is associated with the plot against More. 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. Bolt announces that his play is rife with water and seafaring imagery. whose shaky moral ground is symbolized by the way he sails down the Thames in order to visit More. his conscience. and even in More himself. the unknowable realm of God and the devil. or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. He disparages people. the jailer. figures.

but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad . scene one Summary My Master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. but he says he will present his own version. . offered Rich a job or a favor of some sort.” Matthew treats himself to some of the wine he is putting out for his master and then introduces us to More as he enters. Thomas More’s servant. status. and it also symbolizes More’s attempt to test Rich and teach him by example. knowing full well that Matthew sampled it. More tries to set an example by throwing away the cup. but Rich bemoans his joblessness and his generally low social standing. 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. Acknowledging that the cup is tainted. Rich admits that Master Cromwell recommended he read Machiavelli. but Rich quickly shows that he does not share More’s intentions. The Common Man carts around a basket of costumes and props that he uses in his various roles in the play. and he’ll be out of practice. More immediately recognizes this idea as one of the theories of Machiavelli. Rich takes the cup from More and pawns it for money and a new set of fashionable clothes. More dismisses Rich’s belief that money. . and he asks who recommended that Rich read Machiavelli’s books. letting the devil run amok like a fierce wind. Act One.the devil would be like cutting down all the trees in the land. The Gilded Cup In the first scene in Act One. More views society as a bulwark against the moral mysteries of the cosmos. He thinks himself unsuited to the task at hand. because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep. Rich reveals. Cromwell. More points out . Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad. As it turns out. More playfully asks Matthew how the wine tastes. (See Important Quotations Explained) The play opens with a monologue by the Common Man. He puts on the costume of Matthew. More offers Rich a cup that More received as a bribe. Rich means that men wish to avoid suffering and are attracted to the possibility of escape. The Common Man laments having to open a play about royalty and the noble class. or women can bribe anyone. The cup symbolizes corruption. In other words. but he is intrigued when Rich implies that a man can be bought with suffering. a character meant to represent traits and attitudes common to us all. and declares the sixteenth century “the Century of the Common Man. Richard Rich follows More into the room. More tells Rich that he wishes to be rid of it. and the two engage in an argument as to whether every man is capable of being bribed.

Again. As More prepares to leave. More playfully tells everyone that Rich has been reading Machiavelli under Cromwell’s tutelage. has entered. the Common Man plays many roles. more respectable clothing. 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. The Common Man shows us how we all end up betraying ourselves by just doing our jobs—by serving in our professions as kings. and now that he does. or even commoners—before being true to our inner selves. He functions as a common denominator against which the other characters in the play can be judged. More reveres his private conscience above things like personal advancement. and he shows Rich an Italian silver cup that a litigant used to try to bribe him. Analysis The Common Man initiates us to a story that might otherwise seem too far removed in time to connect with modern audiences. More’s daughter. Rich says he will sell the cup to buy new. he sends his family off to bed with a prayer and arranges for Norfolk to take Rich home. Paul’s school has a comfortable teacher’s job available. but Machiavelli . but the characters in the play. which emphasizes that he represents all humanity. although More refuses to let her ride off with Norfolk to see who wins. The cardinal wants to see More immediately. he wishes to get rid of it. Nicolo Machiavelli (1469–1527). Just before the scene ends. More tells the duke that Rich needs a job. The fact that Rich has read Machiavelli puts Rich’s actions in a historical and intellectual context. Matthew moves to stop him from taking it. Meanwhile. but a letter from the cardinal interrupts him. More warns that holding an administrative office is full of temptations. Throughout the play. cardinals. but he playfully adds that he does not necessarily “recommend” Rich. Norfolk baits Alice into a bet of thirty shillings. arguing over whether a falcon can stoop from 500 feet to kill a heron. and Rich begins to flatter Norfolk. by their unique perspectives on existence. Matthew closes the scene by predicting that Rich will amount to nothing and that More is altogether too generous. and everyone is surprised that such a lowborn and generally disliked man could get such a job. but Rich has no interest in what he deems a dead-end opportunity. who was most famous for his political treatise The Prince. Margaret. Norfolk announces that Cromwell has been promoted to the position of cardinal’s secretary. find More’s beliefs foreign.that the dean of St. enter. More advises Rich to teach. but Rich explains that it was a gift. which is set in the sixteenth century. Machiavelli’s morals differ greatly from More’s. The duke of Norfolk and More’s wife. This brand of thought was popularized about a decade before Bolt’s play by thinkers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Rich pleads that he would rather work for More than for Cromwell. Alice. 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. which advocated a kind of common-sense approach to government that put political expediency ahead of ethical and moral concerns. Rich runs back in to snatch up the silver cup that he left on the table. More did not realize at the time that the cup was a bribe.

but Wolsey is more interested in what More has to say about the message’s content. Getting down to business. . Rich’s moral descent. and he wants assurance that More will not oppose the action. While offering the teaching position to Rich. As he illustrates in his conversation with Rich. More operates in the play primarily as a servant—to his own conscience and to God. . When Rich shuns the teaching job and accepts the cup. Wolsey presents More with a message to be sent to the pope. Bolt shows More to be a morally ambiguous teacher who does not stop. Act One. . when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . Wolsey must now secure the pope’s authorization of Henry’s divorce and remarriage. 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. in favor of Anne.” and Wolsey bemoans what he calls More’s “plodding” moralism. More adopts the role of teacher. explaining that since More seemed so opposed to the dispatch. however. Rich’s reference to Machiavelli foreshadows the way he and his mentor. but rather by testing others.advises the opposite. and a teaching position. and in fact almost encourages. he should look it over. will spare no one to achieve success later in the play. Wolsey states that King Henry has just returned from a rendezvous with his mistress. Intrigued. and the cardinal asks More what took him so long. Catherine of Aragón. (See Important Quotations Explained) More arrives at Cardinal Wolsey’s office. scenes two–three Summary: Scene two Well . I believe. However. More provides a glimpse into his own nature. Henry means to divorce his current wife. But More has already expressed his opinion that the divorce should not be enacted without the pope’s willing approval. which represents corruption. several other instances of foreshadowing pop up in this scene. Anne Boleyn. who Henry suspects will be more successful at providing him a male heir. Thomas Cromwell. . More diplomatically comments on the style of the message. even though the gift marks the beginning of Rich’s corruption. More’s gift of the silver cup to Rich has dangerous implications for More later. he reveals his immoral character. they lead their country by a short route to chaos. More comments that Wolsey’s maneuver is “devious. When he interacts with other people. In addition to the Machiavelli reference. He tests Rich by offering him both the tainted cup. which represents a way of benefiting society. According to Wolsey. More teaches not by speaking his mind. . More seems to understands the implications when he offers the cup. Wolsey retorts that he personally appointed a “ninny” to the office of ambassador expressly so that he could write to the cardinal directly. More mentions that the message is addressed to a Cardinal Campeggio and not to the English ambassador to Rome.

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

suspecting that More objects to his social standing. but she realizes that her husband is trying to divert her and asks again what Wolsey wanted. but More changes the subject back to the Ropers. When the pair enters. and they couch their performances in a falsely deferential tone.” which is expensive and difficult to obtain. saying Margaret is too “full of education. Angry. More sends Roper home on Alice’s horse. Left alone. While Margaret goes to get her father some tea. Wolsey (and later Cromwell) bears responsibility for assuaging Henry’s conscience when he has deliberately done something sinful. Cromwell. Margaret attempts to keep everyone’s temper in check. even as he attacks More. He makes the same claim later in the play. When Margaret announces that Roper has asked for her hand in marriage.the thoughts and the speech of the other characters. In a way. When Margaret returns with the tea. More discovers that despite the late hour. having seen Roper taking off with her horse. such as Wolsey. scene four Summary Back at home. is paying a visit. Henry’s absence from most of play implicates the characters. Though Henry is responsible for More’s persecution. and once again he changes the subject. Act One. Roper. which he suspects the pope will allow. reminding Roper of the late hour. Roper balks at the title of heretic and claims that it is the Catholic Church that is heretical. who enact Henry’s persecution of More. points out that he is going to be a lawyer and that his family is well-off. More points out to Roper that Roper was a passionate Catholic just two years earlier and says he hopes that when Roper finishes with his religious wavering. More disagrees. More resolutely refuses. Suddenly. for instance. insincerely calls himself More’s admirer. They are political and calculating. he establishes Henry’s role as a man whose uneasy conscience needs to be satisfied. More objects to Roper’s Lutheran faith. in Act One. Alice runs onstage. Alice asks about More’s meeting. Margaret asks about her father’s meeting with the cardinal. Roper. Rather. More explains the situation. Consequently. Roper even goes so far as to call the pope the Antichrist. they also personify the kind of groveling that More cannot stand. More tells Roper there is nothing wrong with his family. and Alice knows not to ask any more questions. He brings up Henry’s divorce. which More considers to be heretical. Cromwell and Chapuys personify the devious and duplicitous characters necessary to remain in Henry’s good favor. saying that Roper’s father was just like his son. More is playful. Margaret’s boyfriend. scene two. Henry’s behavior accounts for Wolsey own questionable conduct. he ends up a Catholic once again. Alice mentions that . When Wolsey announces Henry’s offstage return from his visit with Anne Boleyn. Henry’s actions are responsible for More’s persecution. More finally admits that Wolsey wanted him to read over a dispatch to Rome. More and Margaret discuss Roper and his family. including Wolsey’s attempts to threaten and cajole More into agreement. Alice is shocked to learn of Roper’s marriage proposal. and she announces that he should have beaten his daughter for receiving Roper at such an hour. Wolsey’s willingness to accomodate Henry’s hypocrisy makes him just as guilty as the king.

In 1517. Margaret says to Roper. Though characters like Wolsey accuse him of being overly moralistic. Ironically. More says he wants nothing to do with the office. Martin Luther objected to the idea that people could purchase pardons from their church as penance for their sins. Alice insists that More drink his tea. ideals are unrelated to circumstance and they adhere to ideals despite obvious indications that their ideals do not apply to particular circumstances. not upon some lofty ideal. More constantly considers the details of an act or an oath to see if he can abide by it without violating his conscience. private faith in God. 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. But his actions. “You’ve no sense of the place!” Margaret’s exclamation introduces another important aspect of More’s morality—his practicality. Bolt shows a strong commitment to the pope and to the laws of God as he understands them. and the Protestant faith expanded across Europe. are simply outward displays of ideals and are not necessarily grounded on firm. More’s commitment to Catholicism is based upon what his conscience tells him to do. In trying to quell her father’s and Roper’s tempers. a saint who represents a deep-seated commitment to Catholicism. More reserves judgment. Analysis Some background on the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism makes More’s objections to Roper understandable. she eventually takes offense at not being allowed into her husband’s confidence. practical details of a situation before making a decision based on one’s ideals. personal moral footing. even going so far as to call the pope the Antichrist. Though Roper might reject an act on principle. Roper passionately argues that the Catholic Church needs reform. More’s morals contrast with Roper’s high-minded. Martin Luther posted his list of ninety-five theses on the “Power and Efficacy of Indulgences. even if. since great and common men alike catch colds. there will not be any replacement Lord Chancellor.Norfolk suggested More should replace Wolsey as Lord Chancellor. according to More. insincere idealism. and he predicts that while Wolsey is alive. and even then (as later scenes show). they did not repent. To More. In the play. it is important to consider the specific. More appears to have much in common with the Protestant faith.” harkening the Protestant Reformation in Europe. More retorts that such talk is dangerously seditious. More places more weight on the practical considerations of the matter than on even his love . As the group heads off to bed. Luther’s sympathizers spread his message. He objects to an act only if it impedes his sense of self. Again. Though Alice understands in this instance not to press the matter. however. while Roper more closely resembles the Catholicism to which Protestants objected. Bolt plays with the popular understanding of More. However. Viewing the Catholic Church as morally bankrupt in many ways. 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. in their hearts and souls. Protestantism (or Lutheranism. To most people. Roper’s passion in this scene illustrates how lofty ideals are unstable moral guideposts compared to one’s own moral conscience.

was appointed Wolsey’s successor. Cromwell skirts the issue but finally explains that he does whatever the king “wants done. Matthew tells him. Cromwell insists that the king hopes to make More change his mind. and heads off in the other direction. Summary: Scene six Cromwell and Rich run into each other at Hampton Court. Wolsey died on his way to jail for the crime of high treason. Sir Thomas More. Finally. Cromwell pushes Chapuys out of view and questions Matthew about More’s opinions concerning the divorce. was caused by the king’s displeasure with Wolsey’s handling of the divorce. and Rich . he leaves them out of them. Chapuys also pays off Matthew and leaves. After Chapuys reminds Cromwell that the ship has fewer guns than Cromwell has claimed. The Common Man enters to describe Cardinal Wolsey’s death. and just then Signor Chapuys enters and asks the same question. then he probably was one. Rich asks Cromwell what exactly he does for the king. More’s steward. Signor Chapuys complains that More has already expressed his opinion on the matter. Matthew tells him that More is so anxious that he turns white as a sheet whenever the subject is mentioned. he learns that More is a religiously observant. Rich returns and asks Matthew what he told Chapuys. Chapuys has returned. scenes five–six Summary: Scene five A single spotlight reveals a red robe and the cardinal’s hat lying on the floor. Thomas More. Meanwhile. the Great Harry. Shocked. Wolsey soon dies. Alice foreshadows Wolsey’s death when she comments about how colds affect great and common men alike. remaining a conscientious yet solitary man. appears. presumably in exchange for some service.and respect for his family. Suddenly suspicious. and his death seems an implicit affirmation of Alice’s statement. holding up a coin for Matthew to see. Matthew (played by the Common Man).” As an example. He asks Rich why he does not have a better job since the new Lord Chancellor. Cromwell pays Matthew for his information and beckons Rich to come with him as he leaves. the Common Man reports. Cromwell mentions that he recently arranged Henry’s trip down the Thames on the maiden voyage of a new battleship. Cromwell takes the opportunity to dangle a job offer before him. 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. Act One. which was officially attributed to pulmonary pneumonia but. for all intents and purposes. From Matthew. Cromwell tells Chapuys that the king plans to sail the ship to More’s house to discuss the king’s divorce. and all three men are eager to talk to him. When Rich sheepishly replies that he and More are not really friends. Not wanting to implicate them in his affairs. 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. is his old friend. Rich protests that he knows nothing.

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

the king changes the subject. Henry. area . and. including his chain of office. little. she promises only a “very simple supper.” Back on the subject of scholarship. More helped to write. When it becomes clear that her Latin is better than his. . all three ask him where More might be. Modestly dismissing the compliment. More introduces Alice and Margaret. Alice tries to fix it. More explains that he would readily have his arm cut off if it meant he could agree to the divorce with a clear conscience. The king. More arrives. though. he attempts to wrestle with Norfolk. The visit is intended as a surprise. and the king says he has heard that Margaret is a scholar. he admits. It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court. although the family has known about it for some time. and Margaret prepare for King Henry’s arrival. When Matthew appears. and the king beats around the bush. so God is punishing him by denying him an heir. When King Henry arrives. More’s gown is caught up in his stockings. Norfolk. Margaret nonetheless goes on to speak Latin with the king. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . When More compliments Wolsey’s ability. pleads that the matter is of grave importance. Alice. and when More admits that he cannot agree with the divorce. . changes the subject back to his battleship. having been occupied at vespers (evening prayers). He cannot understand why his friend would deny his request. . Then he pulls More aside to discuss the divorce but not before impressing Margaret with the orchestra he has brought with him. Henry then asks Alice what she has available for dinner. commenting on the strength of Norfolk’s legs. and that no good can come of it. knowing full well what he thought. Norfolk complains that More has taken things too far. asking More if they are friends and telling him that Wolsey himself named More his successor. but More is nowhere to be found. He suggests that Wolsey wanted to be pope. Just as suddenly. and as Margaret laughs. When Norfolk chastises More for disrespecting the king and his office. he broaches the subject of the divorce. and everyone fretfully tries to get him to put on more appropriate attire. the king mentions his book on the seven sacraments. Matthew says he knows nothing. however. which. More and Henry discuss Henry’s trip on his new battleship.Summary I neither could nor would rule my King. More is reverent and modest. where I must rule myself. (See Important Quotations Explained) Back at More’s home in Chelsea. Henry complains that Wolsey failed him and needed to be broken. and Henry laments the greedy authority of the English cardinals. More retorts that he is not dishonoring any office by serving God. was sinful. He is dressed simply. sensing that he has gotten ahead of himself. Though Alice has obviously prepared a feast. but as usual. that More disrespects the king. His first marriage to Catherine. since the book of Leviticus condemns any man who sleeps with his brother’s wife. Henry grows angry and then sad. . More reminds the king that he promised not to bother him about the divorce. Henry contends. Alone. Suddenly. He wonders why More remains staunch when everyone else has consented to the marriage. He playfully attempts to dance with Margaret. More bows but Henry insists he be received in a casual manner. .

Henry finally decides that though he will not insist that More consent to the marriage. and he mentions Matthew’s duplicity. More tells him he is not surprised—such information-gathering is to be expected. I don’t know where he is nor what he wants. . He says. there are “certain things” he cannot hear. saying that More. More turns him away. . but More reminds them that Rich has done nothing illegal. Roper arrives and asks More whether he should take a seat that he has been offered in the next Parliament. . with his “seagoing principles. 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. When Roper grows passionate in his stance against reformations like the one Henry is implementing. Roper accuses More of corruption. Rich tells More that Cromwell and Chapuys have been checking up on him. More reminds Roper that as chancellor. not God’s. This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws. When Rich breaks down and asks again for employment. More protests that his opinion is actually of little importance to Henry. and he proves to be an arrogant and unpredictable man. and he leaves in a huff. He still has concerns about Catholicism but considers the Catholic Church itself to be sacred. . he puts his faith in the law. “God’s my god.” Again. he will insist that he keep quiet on the issue. Henry is polite and friendly . More exits forcefully. He is suspicious to find that Roper has heard of him and wrongly suspects that he is no longer welcome in More’s home. More denies Roper his daughter’s hand in marriage. . More claims that he stands on firm ground and that Roper is lost at sea. Analysis This lengthy scene contains King Henry’s only appearance in the play. Alice chastises More for having angered the king. not in God. More and Roper argue over the respective places of man’s and God’s laws in human society. Rich arrives and behaves in a defensive manner. More asserts that he believes in God but that man’s law offers a safe haven in an uncertain universe. but reenters to apologize for criticizing Roper harshly. But I find him rather too subtle. . Frustrated. in maintaining his position. Henry opts not to stay for dinner after all. Roper accuses More of believing only in the law. He admits that his views have changed on Church reform. After some more small talk. He says that he does not hope to “rule” the king but that he must absolutely rule himself. but of grave importance to himself.More argues that Henry should not need his support if everyone else consents. (See Important Quotations Explained) Everyone tells More to arrest Rich. Moreover. has learned to flatter the court and the king. But Henry admits he needs More to back him up because of his honest reputation. He also suggests that the king may have left to be with Anne Boleyn— not because he was angry.” More tells Roper that while living on earth.

his lack of consent could prove the king wrong.” invoking the image of the shifting and unstable sea to stress the dangers of looking to God. except as God is manifest in human laws and justice. the unknowable. . The comment suggests that Henry needs More’s approval more for the calm it will give his conscience than for public opinion. He believes in God. The exchange between More and Roper reveals the seriousness with which More does his job. even though they often contradict one another. . by using his power to influence others to ease his conscience. Henry’s immature. Unlike the Machiavellians Cromwell and Rich. 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. 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. . which is sturdy and provides protection. but as soon as she shows that she knows more Latin than he does. he wants to do whatever he likes and at the same time feel morally upright. Just as readily as Henry expresses his feelings of friendship for More. Bolt suggests that Henry needs More’s approval for private as well as public reasons. In praising the law. he requires More and his family to bear the burden of planning for his surprise and of convincing him that they are indeed surprised. King Henry is not simply content to do whatever is most convenient for his political advantage. Instead. Yet he demands both simultaneously. as long as doing one’s job does not violate one’s conscience. Henry believes that he can have both. Imagery of land and water is used to illustrate the difference between More’s law-abiding nature and Roper’s religious idealism. even though both sides show that preparation for such a visit is required and expected. 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. but he does not pretend to understand God. More’s honest reputation means that his consent could prove the king right. Henry’s visit shows that he values appearances over truth. as a moral guide.until he feels that his own power or needs are being undermined. More tells Roper that he must watch what he says and remember that More is now chancellor. 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. he tactfully compliments her scholarship. he shouts and storms offstage. The entire company plays along with the idea that Henry’s visit is a surprise. More wishes to rely upon what he knows to be certain and what he can perceive here on earth. When Henry first meets Margaret. This idea is supported by Henry’s comment that it will be fine if More simply keeps quiet. For example. he changes the subject. He says that England is planted “thick with laws from coast to coast—Man’s laws. If the other characters can choose only between their personal advancement (chosen by Cromwell and Rich) and their conscience (More). insecure temperament suggests he needs More to ease his own guilt. not God’s —and if you cut them down . More compares it to a forest.

and it is Cromwell’s (and. speaking against More. Otherwise. whose opinion is inviolable. however. and asks the publican if he knows who Cromwell is. Rich feels guilty for betraying More. He says that he is not a deep thinker like More and that he should not be expected to act with deep principles. and he announces that he has secured the position of collector of revenues for York. Cromwell makes a joke at the king’s expense. When Rich retorts that More cannot be frightened. but he admits that it was not as hard as he had expected. the king will get a divorce whether or not More approves. but if they have any sense they get out of the way of a situation beyond their control.” and the publican. Rich laments his loss of innocence. Cromwell mentions lightly that an innocent person like More is only fit for heaven. men like More are only fit for heaven. it is odd to see a character so devoid of conscience as . that More has plenty of “sense” and can be easily scared into changing his mind. Rich wonders what Cromwell plans to do with the information. which he will offer to Rich in exchange for information. he adds. scene eight Summary The Common Man enters as the publican. Rich’s admission is just what Cromwell wants to hear. When the publican replies that he does not. Cromwell remains silent but looks proud and exultant. his corruptibility) to get the information he needs. not earth. answers that there are only four corners in the room. because Cromwell is counting on Rich’s “common sense” (in other words. Cromwell wants to insure that there are not “too many little dark corners. Analysis All of Cromwell’s actions in this scene—questioning the publican. Cromwell predicts. He even divulges the price of the item and agrees to take Cromwell to the shop where he sold it. Cromwell suspects that the man is being disingenuous. but he goes on to tell Cromwell about the silver cup More received as a bribe and passed on to Rich. Cromwell arrives at the Loyal Subject and asks the publican if his pub is a good place to launch a conspiracy. When he burns Rich he unsubtly evokes the devil and the flames of hell. Rich screams and accuses Cromwell of having enjoyed torturing him. bewildered. and bribing and torturing Rich—are acts of a stock character who represents evil. and More will either have to bend to his will or get out of the way. Rich’s) job to make it as convenient as possible. But. Cromwell accuses him of being too tactful—of saying less than he knows. Cromwell beckons for Rich to come into the room. of a pub called the Loyal Subject.Act One. Cromwell announces that men like More try to hold fast to their principles. Cromwell demonstrates how far he is willing to go by holding Rich’s hand in a candle flame. and he gets Rich to admit that he can be bought. The major problem is More. Cromwell adds. or innkeeper. suggesting that heaven is where he intends to send More. In a play more about the struggle between conscience and convenience than about morality and religion. Cromwell suspects. he will get one. Cromwell promises that the next bribe will be even easier to take. Cromwell explains that if Henry wants a divorce.

Roper reminds More that regardless of the bishops’ decision. the Common Man reads. who is now Roper’s wife. More points out that the act includes the caveat. his children. for example. “so far as the law of God allows.Cromwell. The Common Man. He reminds him that as Lord Chancellor. Rich represents the dangers of succumbing to the temptations of wealth and status. Cromwell represents evil in its purest form. or to Rome. . calling his point of view high treason. These dissenters were dangerously behind the times. More says it allows him to agree to the act. which is an otherwise repugnant piece of legislation to him. More bears responsibility for his actions and stances with respect to the king. Alone with More. His characters possess obvious flaws that lead to More’s condemnation. Overall. and his responsibilities. calling them all saints for their devotion to the Church.” Though Roper thinks this caveat is irrelevant. the Act of Supremacy has made the king the head of the English Church. or warning. Chapuys arrives and agrees with Margaret’s instruction. Finally. scenes one–two Summary: Scene one The Common Man enters to announce that in the two years that have passed. More reminds Roper that the convocation of bishops is meeting to decide whether to give their allegiance to London. Summary: Scene two More and Roper discuss the new Church of England. When More asks what Chapuys wants. He wears spectacles and reads from a book that the Church was created by an act of Parliament and not by bloodshed. will continue to aid and abet More’s downfall. as King Henry requests. Roper wears all black and a large cross around his neck. the scene seems to have the character of melodrama and morality tales rather than serious drama. so he asks Margaret and Roper to excuse them. the Church of England has been established. More makes fun of Roper’s outfit. is a disgrace. He reminds Roper to think of Margaret. When Roper offers his opinion on More’s interpretation of the act. If the Common Man and Rich show us step by step how a person can disregard his conscience for material gain. Chapuys chastises More for letting himself become associated with the actions of King Henry. Margaret enters and tells Roper to forget responsibilities and follow his heart. which indicates More’s position as Lord Chancellor. More quiets Roper down. More promises to resign if the bishops give in to King Henry. and they put themselves at risk. Chapuys asks demurely whether he cannot simply pay a friendly visit to a “brother in Christ. In a way. Act Two. Only a few people opposed it. Now an ardent Catholic. done for its own sake.” But More recognizes that the ambassador is actually on business. He claims that More’s chain. He represents the morally risky notion of just going along with the flow of life without considering the consequences of one’s actions. since torture was the order of the day. primarily because he plays numerous characters who are privy to the shady dealings performed behind More’s back and who do not say anything. Bolt’s play is something of a cautionary tale.

When More starts to take off his chain of office.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. As Norfolk goes to leave. calling the resignation a “noble gesture. angry at what she sees as More’s impractical decision. Finally. no one can accuse him of opposing the king. More stops him and repeats what Chapuys has told him about the threat of armed resistance. but he could not. he wants them to be able to say honestly that they do not know what More thinks. More says. and he sensed that the people there were displeased with Henry’s actions and ready to resist by force. all the time! I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t! . not that I believe it. but he tells him that one of Cromwell’s agents took the tour of the countryside to assess public sentiment with Chapuys. And what with not having . But More insists that if they all keep quiet about his motives and opinions. but More tells him that he considers Henry’s actions to be war on the Catholic Church. asks what he intends to do with himself now that he has resigned. “I believe it to be true. but Norfolk curtly announces that the king is disappointed but will not punish or pursue More. explaining that if Cromwell should make them swear on a Bible. When Matthew says he could not. Just then. I wish we could all have good luck.” More eagerly clarifies that he would not sacrifice his status and his family’s finances simply to make a gesture. he will be tortured. Chapuys would admire More for resigning. More says with regret that he will miss him. Alice. People will only be able to guess at his reasons for resigning.” More balks. or rather. and he asks Alice to do the honors. Roper congratulates More. Chapuys excuses himself. to tell anyone but the king whether he thinks Catherine is Henry’s true wife. . but when he calls it a “signal. claiming to have been visiting simply to borrow a book. but not gestural. Norfolk testily applauds More’s desire to be of some service to his country. but More is insistent. Matthew replies that More always saw right through him and that there is nothing to miss. Norfolk refuses to help him. Roper argues that More acted morally rather than practically. Chapuys announces that he has been on a tour of Yorkshire and Northumberland. Alice gets angry and accuses Roper of engaging More in a light “dance” to the Tower of London. which makes More slightly jealous and uneasy. Roper and Norfolk rush in. however. Norfolk tells More that the bishops submitted to the king and agreed to cut all ties with Rome. He says he would have continued in his post if he could have. To More. but that I believe it.” More tells Norfolk that he is afraid. Margaret helps her father. . where. When More claims that he is practical and therefore would never make a gesture for symbolism.” Norfolk calls the resignation cowardice. resigning would not be a signal but a moral obligation. Alice refuses. she fears. More replies vaguely when Norfolk asks why More would sacrifice his station in life for a theory. Alice accuses her husband of behaving “like a printed book. 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 even refuses to tell his family what he thinks. More counters that morality is practical. More approaches Matthew and asks whether Matthew could stay on for less money. He refuses. More declines an offer from Roper to assist him.

Roper’s criticism of More calls into question More’s practical approach to morality. Alice accuses him of behaving like a “book. through alienation. implying that More was simply complimenting him to persuade him to stay on at the house.” is what enables More to reconcile his private conscience with the law. “so far as the law of God allows. rather than by ideals or appearances. scene two. He is following something much more certain than a printed page or a precept. He wonders what More could possibly miss in him. whereas More’s commitment to his own moral conscience and to the law is steadfast. as well as the strain his resignation will put on their daily life.” and Roper says More makes a “noble gesture. Act Two. 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. Matthew has a short monologue. and rain being water—don’t you complicate the job by putting things in me for me to miss! (See Important Quotations Explained) At the end of the scene. the revolt was ultimately put down. The insurrection that the characters talk about in this act is based on a historical event. and he leaves the stage chuckling to himself. The so-called Pilgrimage of Grace erupted in the aftermath of Henry’s break with Rome. His choice has implications for his family as well. Fortunately for Henry. Essentially. Matthew complains that life is not always filled with friendship or good luck and that More has no right to complicate things. More’s conversations about his resignation provide information to analyze More’s peculiar brand of morality. even while . and it has importance for both the play’s plot and it’s theme. but he nevertheless manipulates situations to get what he wants.wings but walking-on two flat feet. He claims that he has no choice except to resign. a devout Lutheran earlier in the play. is now an ardent Catholic. He says that he almost “fell for” More’s offer of less money. Roper. When More resigns. Roper. finds the caveat a small and irrelevant excuse. More may live his life in a moral manner. begins by reminding us that Roper’s high-minded ideals are always subject to change. Even though More hopes to protect Alice and Margaret by telling them nothing about his beliefs. 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. partly as a result of poor economic conditions.” but More says he does neither. Analysis: Scenes one–two More’s resignation is the central action of both this scene and the play itself. for the technique must be experienced. we see the emotional harm that More’s silence inflicts on them. It is difficult to discuss Brecht’s alienation technique (see Context). but he has no choice only within his understanding of morality. 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. He is abiding by himself. He repeats that he almost fell for More’s offer. an actor can make a comment to the audience about the character he is playing. and good luck and bad luck being just exactly even stevens. on the other hand.

Almost laughing. Alternatively. Cromwell refers to King Henry’s “ravenous” conscience. is always hovering over him. and dim-witted outlook. but his cleverness serves him only in an amoral way. Act Two. they do not need to bother him. ironically emphasizes the publican’s immorality. Matthew’s monologue about his distrust of More uses the technique to invite the audience to judge what he’s saying. Alice. one can argue that Cromwell represents the occupational hazards of working for a corrupt king. scenes three–four Summary: Scene three Norfolk protests Cromwell’s intention to pursue More. The publican remains loyal to Cromwell and Rich despite the fact that they are plotting villainous crimes in his presence. 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. Cromwell is also performing some of the same functions as Wolsey. He says that even though human beings want to believe in things that are not practical—he wishes for rain to be beer. He has become the guardian of the king’s conscience. Later on in the play. hard fact that life is somewhat miserable and that base men are base and empty men are empty. His unsolicited excuse shows he is covering up his guilt in advance. He discusses how More is just playing the role of an insincere. moral figures such as More. an ironic tone. But Cromwell contends that everyone understands More’s silence to be . he reveals his pathetic.” Matthew. and Henry. for instance—we always return to the cold. or other techniques to force the audience to judge him. whereas the publican truly does not understand what Cromwell is asking him. he becomes infuriated by the publican’s inability to understand him. claiming that since More does not actively oppose Henry’s divorce. narrow. The comedic.he is speaking the lines of the character. The pub’s name. which is established in the play’s first scene. we have to assume. the Loyal Subject. and he tells the audience that Matthew himself is nothing more than emptiness. exaggerated movements or gestures. or the Common Man who is playing Matthew’s character. then Matthew has alienated himself from them in such a way that they will think less of him. Matthew seems to assume that the audience will agree with his analysis of man’s nature. 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. actually wants us to question whether he should have fallen for a more optimistic view of life. because Cromwell speaks in innuendos and assumes the publican is doing the same. As Rich fluctuates between pangs of guilt and immoral actions. Their muddled exchange lampoons the kind of court politics Cromwell embodies. The actor uses direct conversation with the audience. but if the audience does not. satirical nature of this scene creates the sense that Cromwell and Rich are buffoons. and Margaret. The publican may appear clever. Matthew says he “almost fell for it. The Common Man is also a satirical character. The amusing exchange between Cromwell and the publican emphasizes Cromwell’s unsophisticated. As Cromwell tries to assess just how trustworthy the Publican might be. whiny nature. money grubbing noble. After all. set apart from the intelligent.

but he promises to find some better gossip that he can use to force More’s hand. More calls it a luxury. Chapuys speculates that More supports Spain and seems to be against Cromwell. More should have no problem swearing an oath of loyalty to the administration. he cannot . When Norfolk refuses to believe that More has ever accepted a bribe. Cromwell contends. Norfolk asserts. Meanwhile. Summary: Scene four Back at More’s home. Chapuys has come to pay a visit. Cromwell plans to use the information Rich provided about the silver cup to blackmail More into submission. he announces that he thinks Rich will be a good match for him. Norfolk’s involvement will make Cromwell’s campaign look less like malicious prosecution and more like a fair investigation of facts. Cromwell mentions that the king particularly wants Norfolk to participate because Norfolk is known to be More’s friend. however. Margaret has entered with a pile of bracken to burn to heat the house. More even has Alice witness that he has not accepted the letter or broken its seal. Cromwell turns on Rich and rebukes him for not remembering that the duke was present the night More gave Rich the cup. Rich hesitates since he feels that Matthew treated him poorly back when he was More’s servant. but Alice is unconvinced. Matthew appears and reminds Rich that he said that he might need a steward. she nonetheless admits that she sent him the silver cup. Just as Cromwell and Rich are leaving. and as he follows Rich offstage. Though the woman did not get the judgment she wanted from More. as soon as More realized the cup was a bribe. but More feels that opening the letter would be unseemly and that he would feel obliged to take it straight to Henry. He hands More a letter from the king of Spain. and he reminds Rich that he got the cup the same month that More did. He warns Chapuys not to be so sure about More’s views on the divorce and points out his patriotism.disapproval. implying that an alliance with Spain could be very profitable. When Norfolk insists he wants nothing to do with Cromwell’s campaign to discredit More. When Norfolk exits. More announces that though the bishops offered him some money by way of charity. Chapuys assures More that no one saw him coming to his house. When More arrives. When Norfolk protests again. Rich attests that More received the cup. Chapuys announces that he suspects his king will admire More all the more for having refused the letter. and Cromwell has enlisted Matthew to corroborate the fact that More gave the cup to Rich. Cromwell brings in Rich and the woman who gave More the cup. and he and his attendant chat about how cold and poor More’s house suddenly seems. the family’s fortunes have dwindled. but More refuses to take it. Since More has shown himself to be a patriot by passing on information about Chapuys’s rebellion. he got rid of it. Thus. Chapuys promises that his fortunes are sure to change. Cromwell admits that the scenario Norfolk proposes is possible. Norfolk. remembers the night that Rich received the cup. Cromwell points out that he has instructions from the king to get More to consent. Departing. But Matthew insists that Rich’s memories are incorrect.

More replies that he has to consider appearances in such dangerous times. More’s concern with appearances when he refuses to take money from the bishops also seems out of keeping with More’s character. More’s demonstration of loyalty to the king when he refuses Chapuys’s letter seems out of step with More’s character. His concern shows that although he sees resignation as the only moral choice he can make. More compliments Rich’s fancy outfit. and the law.” Intellectually and ethically. and law as he does to the mysteries of faith. scenes five–six Summary: Scene five Cromwell tells More that Rich will be recording their conversation. unless he views patriotism as a moral duty in and of itself. and his sudden preoccupation with how things appear. Act Two. but rather a testament to his commitment to the king’s best interests. and both politically and religiously he has more in common with Spain. Cromwell stops him. but Cromwell insists there are no charges. More clings at least as surely to king. His choice to refuse the Spanish king’s letter seems impractical and unrelated to his morality. and so he sees himself as the most faithful of subjects that a king could hope to have. he prays for Henry and calls himself a loyal subject. Alice is alarmed. he recognizes that he must also weigh other concerns—his own safety. but More is stoic and even jokes that he will bring Cromwell back for dinner later that night. though he hopes his fears are misplaced. the safety of his family. In More’s eyes. Roper arrives and announces that someone has come to take More to Hampton Court to answer some charges. her husband’s refusal to explain his motives. More asks what the charges against him are. He definitely feels a sense of power over his new “master. . as his sentence is pronounced. More’s disagreement with his king is not tantamount to disloyalty. 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. Alice gets angry again. He senses Rich’s pride and gullibility. but as Rich starts to write that down. just questions. More asks Rich to record the fact that there are no charges. Matthew thinks himself better than Rich. Just as the doctrine of freedom of speech must allow for those to speak out against it. Even at his trial at the end of the play. it is a statesman’s duty to consider his private conscience. In the first place. country.accept it since it will make him appear to be in their service. perhaps concluding that with Rich he would never be accused of being missed as he was with More. Once again. More operates as much as a teacher in the play as he does a practical man concerned with his own moral salvation. complaining about their poverty. More disproves the claim that Wolsey and others made that More ignores practical concerns. by all indications More owes nothing to the king. Cromwell admits that he greatly admires More.

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

Moreover. and throughout the rest of the play. we watch as he reaps the benefits of his evil ways. More finally becomes confrontational and harsh. More decides to unleash his criticisms of Norfolk only after he has decided that the two should no longer be friends. More asks the confused and troubled Norfolk what he should do. pathetic Rich in Act One and Rich the haughty administrator in Act Two continues throughout subsequent scenes. a comment that illustrates More’s love of family. More’s most faithful friend. More’s decision to pick a fight could mean that he was never sincere in the first place. and he does not judge others until they truly impinge upon his conscience. More even tries to show Norfolk that he could live a content. as a friend” can be interpreted in different ways. In the middle of their conversation. He may like people and wish to help and teach them. so he is understandably flustered and confused as he wrestles with his own conscience. 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. More cannot tolerate the fact that Norfolk’s priorities are not clear. If so. guilt-free life even if Norfolk plays a role in More’s persecution. . We have witnessed Rich’s moral undoing. has not refused to help prosecute More. More’s comment about Rich’s attire recalls Rich’s grumbling in his first scene with More about his shabby clothes. More follows this statement by telling Norfolk to think about the safety of Norfolk’s son. More’s reaction to Norfolk reveals that More never assumes that he truly knows someone else. Norfolk will set a poor example for his son. Norfolk. More’s allusion to Norfolk’s son might suggest that by sacrificing his conscience for his irreligious king. since More’s advice that Norfolk should “cease to know” him accords to More’s strong sense of patriotic duty. More’s statement to Norfolk “[Y]ou must cease to know me . More goes even further to make it easy on Norfolk’s conscience by showing that if Norfolk simply parts company with him. conscience. in . Also.Analysis: Scenes five–six Rich’s fancy costumes highlight his slow but steady rise through the ranks of the royal administration. whether it tells him to be loyal to his king or to his friend. and duty. shows the complexity of More’s convictions with regard to friendship. including his patriotic and familial duties. In this scene. More might be sincere in speaking these words to Norfolk. . scene six. More attacks Norfolk for being a spineless traitor to his own conscience while defending the irreligious. On the one hand. The contrast between the servile. In contrast. Later in the scene. he will be doing so as a friend. On the other hand. More knows that Norfolk would be justified in his actions for several reasons. More feels Norfolk should follow his conscience. “rat-dog pedigree” that the king and the state have become. but he can know only himself. The meeting between More and Norfolk in Act Two. When Norfolk can only ask More to submit to the king’s wishes and go against More’s own conscience. More advises Norfolk to cease their friendship so that Norfolk may obey his patriotic duty to the king without a guilty conscience. Absurdly. There is a striking parallel between More’s behavior here and in the final scene of the play. More’s comment that Norfolk should cease knowing him might be insincere.

where Cromwell presents More with the Act of Succession. and the executions of Cromwell and Cranmer. Act Two. All Church and lay government officials were required to swear their allegiance to Henry as the head of the Church of England.the play’s final scene. and Norfolk have just arrived at the tower to question More. not having . by contrast. The jailer wishes us the same good luck. they have no way to be sure he is not holding out just to give them trouble. and to recognize and approve the Church’s break with Rome. The letter reveals that Rich. 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. More agrees to the second part of the oath but refuses to answer to the first part. 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. More points out that though they may very well have signed with clear consciences. but they cannot convict him of treason. for high treason. All attempts to persuade More to change his mind fail. Norfolk. and Cranmer. The letter predicts the convictions of Cromwell. Norfolk excuses More. but Cromwell. 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. he begins to speak his mind only after he has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death. (See Important Quotations Explained) The Common Man. and he takes the letter from it and reads out loud. living a long life and ultimately becoming Lord Chancellor before dying in his bed. He insists that he would let More out if he could but then they would both end up in jail. and the decree also confirms Queen Anne’s children as the rightful heirs to the throne. More explains that as long as he is silent about why he refuses to swear to the oath. now playing a jailer. As More leaves. introduces us to More’s new home in the Tower of London. who is the archbishop of Canterbury. scene seven Summary Better a live rat than a dead lion. all these events have not yet occurred in the play. he cannot do so. and as such would be damned to hell. he asks for some more books. fares very well. a death-penalty offense. Cromwell. An envelope falls in front of the jailer. The oath discussed at the end of scene six was administered by Henry’s government in 1536. They can lock him up for life. Cranmer. The jailer wakes the now haggard More and escorts him to the interrogation. When Norfolk points to the long list of signatories and asks More to sign for the sake of fellowship. The document invalidates the king’s first marriage and the pope’s right to sanction it. Of course.

In general. In a brief aside. the Common Man points out that staying alive is actually rather easy. As the jailer. the jailer frets over such a large sum of money. When Cromwell promises fifty guineas in exchange for any information. which signals to him that much is at stake and that the great reward could easily turn to a great penalty. The jailer has not heard anything. More asks to see his family. “better a live dog than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). Obliged now not only to divulge information about More but also to be his jailer. but Cromwell refuses. the Common Man’s statement actually misquotes the biblical saying. the Church of England. turning history into a sort of divine justice. the Common Man doubts his conduct toward More for the first time. and he informs Norfolk that the king is getting impatient with them because of More’s silence. Bolt makes certain that we know what ultimately happens to the play’s antagonists as well as its protagonist. All of these facts about the eventual fates of the characters in the play should belong in an epilogue. the Common Man finds that his complicity in More’s persecution begins to chafe at his conscience. at least in Henry’s court. The Common Man’s mistake shows how he and others who live by this philosophy deceive themselves. By including this recap of history. but Cromwell is preoccupied. Norfolk. but through his statement. implying that. More’s life is his final and perhaps greatest sacrifice. the play implicitly implies that an immoral life is not always worth the guilt-ridden consequences. perhaps even death. He toys with the rack. he could still dodge the guilt he felt when More confided that More would miss Matthew. as he contemplates how to get More to submit. a torture device. Cromwell instructs Rich to return the following day to remove More’s books. yet Bolt inserts them just before the play’s climax. The information is important because it suggests that unsavory characters receive what they deserve. As Matthew. but it does not compare to other characters’ sacrifice of their own selves and convictions. At the end of the play. a live rat is not always alive for that long. Act Two. the Common Man is conscious of that guilt and excuses his complicity in More’s persecution by saying. Moreover. A Man for All Seasons argues against the idea that staying alive is the ultimate good. Cromwell claims that More’s silence troubles the king’s conscience but that More’s execution would trouble his own. “Better a live rat than a dead lion”—better to be alive and guilty than dead and a hero. or the remarriage. Cromwell approaches the jailer to ask if More has said anything about the divorce. the jailer tells us about the historical fates of Cromwell. but he swears an oath that he will report anything that he hears. promises instead to take away the ones he already has. Cranmer adds that the jailer should not just make something up in exchange for the money. Rich approaches Cromwell to inquire whether he might obtain the now-vacant post of the attorney general for Wales. scene eight . and Cranmer. Analysis In this scene. In his opening monologue. After More has left.realized he had books at all.

however. moved by More’s display of anguish. More wants to be sure that Alice understands why he does not cave-in to the king. who was not present during this discussion of More’s ideas on predestination. but More is either too stoic or too excited to care about his surroundings. More sends Roper off with the wine to try to distract him. He is overjoyed to see his family after a year in prison. More breaks down. and that she suspects she may resent him when he is gone. More. More’s encounter with Alice resolves their previous conflict and acts as a kind of rejuvenating redemption just before More faces his accusers. The prison disgusts her. she shows . and wine. More and Alice part with emotion. claiming to be a simple man who is just doing his job. In an earlier scene. Alice. More figures he will not be allowed to see them again anyway. Suddenly. Even though she does not seem to recognize why More does not give in to Henry. They have brought him cheese. Turning his attention to the food they have brought. and More realizes that the only reason they have been allowed to see him is that they have promised to persuade him to concede. More. and she addresses her husband coldly. Margaret points out that the state is evil and that her father has already done more than can be expected of him. Alice hugs her husband and tells him he is the best man she has ever known. to whom the oath-taker gives his own self as collateral. because if he dies without her full understanding it would be worse than any torture to which the authorities could subject him. unwavering in his insistence that it is time for the visitors to go. ever the scholar. She replies that she does not understand. and when he no longer can do that. and Margaret resist. and he replies that he would escape if he could. insisting that she must understand. but his comments only make her more angry and upset. Alice accuses More of choosing prison over home life. and even Alice’s insults do no good. More’s family arrives at the Tower of London. and the jailer lets More out of his cell. quotes scripture and suggests that More speak the words of the oath even if he believes otherwise in his heart. custard. However. could not understand the motivations behind her husband’s refusal to obey the king. that she does not think all this had to happen. The jailer returns to give the visitors a two-minute warning. Roper blurts out that More should take the oath. More compliments Alice’s custard and then her dress. and the jailer apologizes to More. Alice. claims that oaths are by definition spoken to God. Alice reveals her unconditional love for her husband. the jailer returns. Just then. then tells Margaret and Alice to leave the country. More shouts out in frustration and then says. Margaret goes on to describe how miserable they are without him. despite their imminent earthly separation. In this scene. Margaret. “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. More points out to Margaret and Roper that he must fight death as long as he can “escape” it in good conscience. however. Suddenly furious. Finally. Alice is still angry.Summary In the morning. In particular. he will know that God has willed him to die. but he is resolute.

evoking the Common Man’s earlier statement.that she understands that her husband’s actions are rooted in his faith in God when she says. are included in More’s indictment. in which Norfolk was unable to overcome his confusion and respect More’s choice to end their friendship. More has spent the entire play carefully assessing what aspects of his duties he could perform without betraying his conscience. having essentially let go of all his earthly positions. Alice’s actions also contrast with those of the Common Man. which claim that More conspired to undermine Henry’s authority as the supreme head of the Church of England. even if she cannot comprehend their significance rationally. “God knows why I suppose. As he gets ready to leave. saying that they were out of earshot when More denied the king’s title. Cromwell stops him. Her reaction to More contrasts with Norfolk’s in Act Two. More repeats the word “lion” to describe his wife. and Rich testifies that he heard More say that Parliament had no power to declare Henry the head of the Church in England. Alice affirms that strong. At the end of this scene. placing hats on poles to stand for jurymen. More remembers that two other people were there at the time of his conversation with Rich. Now. More also bemoans “simple men” for doing what they are told to do instead of living their lives according to what they believe. courageous. Most of the characters in the play. but Cromwell points out that he refused to take the oath. More is accused of high treason. In such a case. legally. scenes nine–ten Summary: Scene nine The Common Man sets up the stage as a courtroom. At the end of the scene. Cromwell calls Rich to the stand. he exemplifies the morally bankrupt attitudes of most people. he shows that even the lowest-level functionary on the long ladder of his oppressors cannot escape reproach. the witnesses are complicit in the murder for failing to speak or try to stop it. but Cromwell presents a deposition from the two men. and in particular those the Common Man plays. Norfolk offers More one last opportunity to take the oath. He discusses the silence of a roomful of people who have just witnessed a murder. Act Two. More and Cromwell argue about conscience and the soul. she can respect his choices. Cranmer and Norfolk preside over the trial. More counters that. scene six. 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. “Better a live rat than a dead lion.” To More. lion-like people still exist. insisting that he has to play the foreman of the jury. Though the Common Man might be the most pardonable of the offenders. his silence does not signify denial. Cromwell reads the charges. including his position as a husband and a father. More laments Rich’s perjury. Cromwell asserts that everyone knows what More’s silence suggests. More replies that he never denied Henry’s title. As Rich .” Because Alice truly knows her husband. Shocked. But Cromwell argues that silence can indicate disapproval. but More refuses. 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. but More tells the jury that under the law silence does not imply consent.

. Rich fell victim to temptation and then cut down More himself. this time cast as the executioner. and the scene quickly changes. Cromwell suggests as an example that if he were to stab More and no one in the courtroom spoke out. he refuses Norfolk’s offer of wine and Cranmer’s offer to perform the last rites. Since More advocates that people should not care what others say or think. recognize me. More chides Rich for having sold his soul. More interrupts. accusing him of giving her an incorrect judgment in her case. Norfolk condemns More to death. and he points out that both the Magna Carta and the Coronation Oath guarantee the Catholic Church’s authority. but before Norfolk can pronounce the sentence. he tells Cranmer. He announces that he remains a loyal subject of King Henry. He is sure. He tells the executioner not to feel bad about having to kill him. More denounces the Act of Supremacy. but More comforts her. . Even though they will not have to hold the ax to chop off More’s head. everyone would be complicit in the murder. he does . When Norfolk tells the jury to consider the evidence. 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. More’s style of teaching by way of tests and examples seems ineffective in Rich’s case. he has become nothing more than a mouthpiece for Cromwell. “It isn’t difficult to keep alive. because More chose not to chastise Rich openly for his petty desires for status and wealth. dons a black mask. The jury finds More guilty. Cromwell decides they should not need to retire to decide such an open-and-shut case. distraught. Finally deciding to speak his mind. More asks to see the chain of office he is wearing. The final scene shows that More’s attempt to teach Rich in the first scene has ultimately failed. If we should bump into one another. and the final scene elucidates More’s belief that people need to teach themselves. Ironically. that he will go to God. Rich sticks fast to his false story because in exchange for a high-ranking office. something that More would never do. . When he recognizes it as the chain of the attorney general for Wales. the Common Man removes his executioner’s mask and says to the audience. and he believes others ought to do the same. After a blackout indicating the execution. their role as silent witnesses to More’s condemnation makes them as guilty as the Cromwell. More defines himself by his conscience and his relationship with the law and with God. As More approaches the block. Cromwell’s argument to the jury that silence can signify guilt ends up affirming the courtroom audience’s guilt for More’s murder. Margaret runs up.” Analysis: Scenes nine–ten Ironically. the woman who tried to bribe More appears in the crowd. Rich has sacrificed his moral conscience. Rich has completed his transformation into a Machiavellian prince—he is corrupt and successful.is excused from the stand. Summary: Scene ten A crowd has gathered at the Tower of London to watch More’s beheading. More dismisses the malicious woman and walks up to the block. Just then. The Common Man. friends—just don’t make trouble.

Important Quotations Explained 1. More does not want to usurp the rightful place of God. . juryman. to fit any number of social roles without rocking the boat. then implies that his advice is not a secret but rather common knowledge understood by common men and women. most real people are base. the Common Man offers advice. The Common Man’s final command to his audience. 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 rather tests them. More’s servant. the Common Man wishes us to understand that we can recognize and preferably avoid shallowness and “common” qualities when we see them. for just as most of the characters in the play are base. the Common Man says that he is still breathing and asks the audience members if they too are breathing. Whereas More indicates that we cannot really know him. Sentenced to death and assured that God has willed that he must die. Immediately after the execution. his advice is not moral but mean in nature. the central conflict in the play stems from More’s . My Master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. More finally feels he can teach by speaking out. (Act One. and executioner implicate the Common Man in a less ambiguous manner. Matthew betrays More in a roundabout way in the first act. As in his conversation with Norfolk earlier in the play. This comment associates the audience directly with his title and his characters. since More seems to be the only character with enough practice to know that there are certain things that he cannot sacrifice. They also implicate the audience. Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad. Matthew. but the Common Man’s roles as jailer. Yet Matthew’s statement that More is out of practice is wrong. “If we should bump into one another. the Common Man becomes increasingly complicit in More’s death. recognize me. in line with the various roles he plays. More becomes fervent about his opinions concerning Henry only after a ruling has already been made. The Common Man’s job is to do his job.” 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. but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad . Throughout the play. Still. and the innkeeper proves to be an accomplice as well. His question makes the audience aware of the fact that each person could have his or her head on the chopping block. . when he said that we may “clamor” only once we know that God has chosen the correct time.not teach others outright. because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep. If there is any question over how one can stay alive. scene six. hoping they will listen to their own consciences. and he’ll be out of practice. In fact. a man of conscience. so he rarely speaks his opinions. predicts the conflict More will face in the play. But the Common Man’s warning implies that people will have no problem recognizing who has a common nature. More’s final outburst also exemplifies the philosophy More explained to Roper and Margaret in Act Two. scene one) Explanation for Quotation 1 >> In this excerpt from a monologue at the end of the play’s first scene.

where I must rule myself. when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties . Well . In the beginning of the play. to double cross his conscience would be to disown his soul. It is important that Matthew’s prediction seems insightful but proves incorrect at the end of the play. even the Common Man has unraveled and behaves in a reprehensible way. More tears apart Wolsey’s common-sense approach to politics. scene two. . and even his freedom. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . . which is rooted in his faith in the Catholic Church and in God. the laws all being flat? (He leaves him) This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws. Roper. and at such times we may wonder whether this moral man is trying to skirt the issue. not God’s—and if you . they lead their country by a short route to chaos. After relinquishing his career. Close 2. More sees it as utterly impossible to relinquish his beliefs. Unlike Roper. . little. Close 4. (Quietly) I neither could nor would rule my King. (Act One. his family. . scene two) Explanation for Quotation 2 >> In this pronouncement from Act One. his self. area . I believe. We often find More desperately searching for a loophole in some act or oath. who astutely critique and satirize the nobility. He does not try to prove a point or to be a hero. causing us to rethink the opinions we have had of him all along. More thinks of his behavior as the most practical and realistic option. . following King Henry’s visit to their home. Close 3. his friendship with Norfolk. his conscience believes in them.refusal to give up his sense of self. More does not do things just because he believes in them but because. For More. And when the last law was down. the characters the Common Man plays seem to be insightful and clever members of the lower class. but More argues that he will allow himself to be ruled. Though characters like Roper and Chapuys see More’s actions as noble but impractical gestures. (Act One. but there are certain points he feels he cannot concede without sacrificing his own self. scene seven) Explanation for Quotation 3 >> More speaks these words to his wife. . It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court. but More believes a statesman’s duty is to weigh his “own private conscience” because doing so will ultimately lead to the common good. Yet at the play’s close. . . Alice urges More either to rule or be ruled. except in matters pertaining to his conscience. as he says. and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide. Wolsey believes a person should take the most convenient and advantageous option in political matters. Alice. This statement of More’s reveals that he is not really an idealist.

In this passage. I don’t mind saying that: I’m sorry! Bad luck! If I’d any good luck to spare he could have some. even if it lets people like Rich off the hook from time to time. we should all accept personal responsibility and pay attention to our consciences. scene two) Explanation for Quotation 5 >> When More lets Matthew go. which he calls an “old adage. Close 5. His statement claims that life. Better a live rat than a dead lion (Act Two. juryman.” to justify not living according to his conscience. even if we feel there’s nothing we can do. Matthew disregarded his conscience. I wish we could all have good luck. invokes this excuse. Throughout the rest of the play. More’s vision of a stable. Matthew has spent the entire play acting for his own financial gain. And what with not having wings but walking-on two flat feet. . Close 6. More’s suggestion that they share a bond of friendship makes Matthew feel guilty for how he behaved. the very thing that More refuses to do. is always better than death. no matter how immoral. Bolt explains in his preface that he uses seafaring and water metaphors to signify the uncertainty of the great beyond. More respects man’s law as the best available means of protecting against evil. Though More believes in the afterlife. More delivers this defense of his actions. all the time! I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t! . scene seven) Explanation for Quotation 6 >> The jailer. accepting bribes for information on More and others. he also recognizes that he has no right and no means to make judgments that are better left to God. executioner. he tells him he’ll be missed. Bolt suggests here that the Common Man could be any of us just doing our jobs. the Common Man (who plays Matthew and many other characters) becomes more directly involved in More’s undoing—as jailer. and a lawless earth is signified by images of a barren wasteland. Matthew sees no reason for More to miss him and resents feeling he has to worry about personal relations and responsibilities. and ultimately. the moral universe that Roper aims to navigate. scene seven) Explanation for Quotation 4 >> After Roper accuses More of respecting man’s law over God’s. lawful earthly existence is signified by images of the forest. but Matthew is skeptical. so he’s down on his luck! I’m sorry. In a world that celebrates history as a series of trends. played by the Common Man. . particularly those regarding his boss.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. 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. The . All right.

a predetermined. More must either publicly assent to the divorce or die. More lives his life by fighting death however he can until he believes God has deemed it time for him to depart. outcome. “Better a live dog than a dead lion” (Ecclesiastes 9:4). foreboding. 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. He says that man’s goal must be to escape death until the predestined moment comes. later. More.jailer’s statement is actually a misquoted version of the biblical saying. Publicly. at which point he welcomes death with open arms. In general. As such. the tone is ominous. Earlier in Act Two. he tells Margaret and Roper that he believes men should fight death until it becomes apparent that death is the only course left to take. through his agent Cromwell. climax · More’s family visits him in jail. More’s family and friends also encourage him to relent. More disapproves of King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage. since its hero. 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. and suspenseful. Cromwell press More to take a public stance on the issue of King Henry’s marriage. rising action · After Cardinal Wolsey dies. Alice. and his wife. 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. Before More is imprisoned. More does feel that life is better than death. satire (a literary work that ridicules human vices and follies) language · English time and place written · England. Obviously. telling Norfolk to stay away and reminding him that he has a son. gives up his physical existence for the good of his soul. 1960 date of first publication · 1960 publisher · William Heinemann Ltd. More implies that it is important for Norfolk to keep alive and not die by associating himself with More. forces More to speak out. Close Key Facts full title · A Man for all Seasons author · Robert Bolt type of work · Play genre · Historical drama. historically specific. the play argues an opposite message. finally accepts . he would prefer to have nothing to do with the matter. and More is appointed as his replacement. like Cromwell. Thomas More. But when Henry. Henry and.

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.More’s stubborn behavior. the Common Man’s summation themes · Types of moral guides. Alice’s comment that colds kill even great men foreshadows Wolsey’s death. guilt symbols · Water and dry land. Wolsey’s and Cromwell’s threats to More foreshadows More’s condemnation. after which he delivers a stirring soliloquy. At trial. 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. falling action · More’s death. the self and friendship motifs · Satire and wit. . Rich’s corrupt acceptance of the tainted cup More offers him as a test foreshadows More’s eventual condemnation. silence. More remains silent until he is condemned to death. finally proclaiming his opinions. the gilded cup foreshadowing · Rich’s reference to Machiavelli foreshadows the way he and Cromwell will spare no one to achieve success. corruption. based on Rich’s perjury.