A Man for All Seasons - exam revision

Exam Revision
Two act play, second act takes place two
years after the first
Act 1 – presents More as a man of substance,
but shows the mounting pressure on him
Act 2 – Sir Thomas divested of his chains of
office, he is imprisoned and then executed.
Meanwhile, Rich steadily rises in status as he
succumbs to the wishes of Cromwell.
Most obviously, Bolt employs the ‘alienation
effect’ and this is seen clearly through the
character of the Common Man.
The Common Man’s various roles means that
the audience cannot remove themselves from
the actions of the play, rather they have to
engage with the proceedings on an
intellectual level.
The play is presented as a deliberate
construct of the writer.
Bolt uses a range of metaphors to vividly
illustrate his points:
 To illustrate Roper’s changeability: “Now let
him think he’s going with the current and
he’ll turn around and start swimming in the
opposite direction’
“If Wolsey fell, the splash would swamp a few
small boats like ours”
There is much irony employed by Bolt in the
 “You’re a constant regret to me, Thomas. If
you could just see facts flat on, without that
moral squint; with just a little common sense,
you could have been a statesman.”
Bolt also employs ‘dramatic irony’, where the
audience has a greater awareness of the
characters’ situation than the characters
 More: “I truly believe no man in England is
safer than myself.”
 Rich: “I’m lamenting. I’ve lost my
 Rich: “Employ me… I would be steadfast.”
He is presented as someone who is intelligent,
witty and someone who loves his family.
He is presented as morally upright and a man of
Norfolk says of him that he was the “only judge
since Cato who didn’t accept bribes! When was
there last a Chancellor whose possessions after
three years in office totalled one hundred pounds
and a gold chain”
He believes that one should regard their
conscience as integral to maintaining their
selfhood. They should not act according to
what is practical and should not merely
accept political realities.
More tells Wolsey: “when statesmen forsake
their own private conscience for the sake of
their public duties… they lead their country
by a short route to chaos.’
He believes absolutely in the capacity of the law to
provide him protection.
His belief in the law is so strong that he would “give
the Devil the benefit of law”.
It is only towards the end of the play that he
recognises his vulnerability and More would rather
not inhabit a world which cannot protect an innocent
man: “I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none
harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive,
in good faith I long not to live.”
Ironically it is a perversion of the law (through Rich’s
perjury) which ultimately leaves him unprotected.
Embodies the philosophy that “every man has
his price”
Most prominent figures have not taken an
interest in him. He cannot get past the
Cardinal’s servants and Norfolk graces him
with “one half of a Good Morning delivered at
fifty paces”
Sir Thomas significantly “points him out” to
Norfolk, but does not ‘recommend him’.
Rich’s vanity, ambition and desire for the
trappings of power are illustrated in his early
comment to More: “I want a gown like yours”
More recalls this later: “That’s a nice gown
you have, Richard.”
Note the stage directions for Rich: “He is now
splendidly official, in dress and bearing; even
Norfolk is a bit impressed”
Despite Rich’s elevation to Attorney-General for
Wales, More is still able to highlight what he has
lost in the process:
“For Wales? Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing
to give his soul for the whole world… But for
Interestingly though Rich is the only man who
does profit from his actions. The other main
players were sentenced to death for High
Treason, but Richard Rich ‘became a Knight and
Solicitor-General, a Baron and Lord Chancellor,
and died in his bed.”
Set up as a parallel to Sir Thomas More
More is scornful of him, yet says “he’s a
pragmatist – and that’s the only resemblance
he has to the Devil, son Roper; a pragmatist,
the merest plumber”
Cromwell sees himself as “The King’s Ear”…
stating that “When the King wants something
done, I do it.” It is for him a job of
‘administrative convenience’.
He is ruthless as demonstrated by his holding
Rich’s hand in a candle flame.
He sees the law as a tool: “It must be done
by law. It is just a matter of finding the right
law. Or making one.”
He sees that More’s intransigence may lead to
his own downfall: “if I bring about More’s
death – I plant my own, I think.”
He is the ultimate pragmatist who does
anything to remain unscathed.
He represents that which is common to all of
us and we are meant to see an element of
ourselves in him: “I’m breathing… Are you
breathing too?... If we should bump into one
another, recognise me.”
His many roles are meant to reveal his
changeability and the ease with which he
compromises his values in order to stay alive
(he is, in effect, “the live rat”).
eg although he reluctantly dons the cap of
‘Foreman of the Jury’ (“Oh no, sir”), when
asked if the cap fits, he says “Yes, sir”.
He is astute and aware of the vagaries of the
time and states: “When I can’t touch the
bottom I’ll go deaf blind and dumb.”
To maintain integrity one must remain
immune to corruption
Clear distinction is drawn between those who
have integrity and those to lack it.
Eg. More remains true to his convictions even
when extreme pressure is placed on him,
whereas Rich is presented as weak and
Some may see More’s actions as foolish:
The Common Man describes his “wilful
indifference to realities which were obvious to
quite ordinary contemporaries”.
His actions certainly bring hardship to his
family, yet even Alice who fears she might
hate him when he dies says “I understand
you’re the best man that I ever met or am
likely to”
More has absolute faith in the law; Roper
suggests it is his ‘god’
Roper is prepared to use the law to put away
someone like Rich, whereas More believes the
law must offer everyone equal protection.
More makes a distinction between ‘what’s
right and the law’: “I know what’s legal not
what’s right.”
More uses his knowledge to successfully
claim that his silence implies consent, rather
than the opposite.
Even at the time of his execution, his concern
is still for correct legal judgement. He says to
the lady who offered him a bribe: “…if I had
to give sentence now I assure you I should
not alter it.”
Despite claims by Cromwell that “Sir Thomas
is a man” and, by implication that he has his
price, More proves otherwise. Sir Thomas has
that “little…little, area” where he must rule
himself. More cannot even lie to himself as
urged by Meg.
Rich, however, parts with his principles with
ease. Similarly, Norfolk acts against More to
retain his position and good favour with the
The reason that More cannot part with his
conscience is essentially because he feels that
by doing so he loses himself:
“When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his
own self in his own hands. Like water. (He cups his
hands) And if he opens his fingers then – he
needn’t hope to find himself again.”

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