Sir Thomas More's A Man For All Seasons

Sir Thomas More's A Man For All Seasons

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Sir Thomas More's "A Man For All Seasons"

A Man For All Seasons was written about Sir Thomas More and his
relationship with the more powerful members of the country in the
sixteenth century. It is a recreation of history, dramatised to
enhance the experience. Written in the 1960's in a world coming out of
global depression, a time of peace, love and drugs, it was a thorn
amongst the rose coloured glasses. When people were used to a more
relaxed establishment, with much more equality than the decades
leading up to it, A Man For All Seasons confronted an immoral, strict
and spineless monarch that was Henry VIII. The play was a strong study
of moral integrity versus corruption and selfishness, which both
contradicted and enforced what the world was like in the 1960's.
Bolt's intention was to influence the present by portraying the past.

A Man for All Seasons has a slow build up; the first three quarters of
the book lays the foundations of the plot in a linear fashion before
gradually advancing to a much more meaningful climax. This climax is
split into four main sections: "In The Tower", "More Sees His Family",
"The Trial" and "The Execution". I will proceed to analyse these in

The beginning of the end is where More is in the tower. This starts
with the entrance of the Common Man. He speaks and there is no one
else on the stage, and he is facing the audience. This indicates that
he is a modern device, he is a character in the play, but he acts as a
kind of narrator to break the audience's suspension of disbelief. This
is ironic; because we know it's not real, it makes us more poignant,
and the audience knows things the characters don't. This is needed, as
the play is very emotional, the audience need someone to remind them
that the play isn't real, yet it is based on a true story, which the
Common Man reminds us of as well. "Now look…" shows that he is funny,
cheeky and much less formal. The fact that he plays small characters
throughout the play, and none of the other characters notice also
breaks the audience away from the seriousness of the play. This is
important as the play is based on a true story, the audience are more
likely to get emotional about the events in the play, and need to be
relieved of this tension if they are to filly appreciate, understand,
and enjoy the play. "Better a live rat than a dead lion" shows that
the Common Man is almost the complete opposite of More, as More is

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prepared to die for his beliefs, and effectively become a 'dead lion'.
The audience will realise this later on, as the ending progresses and
this will again reduce the suspension of disbelief.

At this point, the common man is a jailer. This is a twist of fate
that the common man has this part, as he is the one with the ability
to release More but is keeping him prisoner. The symbolism of the
common man playing the many different characters is to say that we all
play a part in More's downfall; all these different posts, although
not on purpose, somehow influence the tragic ending.

Before the jail 'scene' begins, properly, the Common Man reads out an
envelope describing the events after Sir Thomas More's death before it
happens in the play. This is important as the audience are being told
the end of the play and the events that took place in reality after
the play as finished, before the end of the play itself. This relieves
any emotional tension as the execution of Sir Thomas More and the
build up to it is very powerful and the audience need to be relived of
this to appreciate the play, and understand what happened in the 16th
century. It tells the audience the fate of the five main characters
other than More. This is interesting as when the trial of More comes,
the audience already know the fate of the characters involved, which
greatly relives the tension. It may break the suspension of disbelief,
but this is not needed as the events in the play are based on actual
historic events. At the end of this speech, the Common Man questions
our mortality; " died in his bed I hope will all of you." At first
this seems a nasty thing to say, but the audience then realises that
it would be a nice way to die. Also this is reinforcing that we are
all human, and so were all the characters in the play. The irony
involved is that the evil, deceitful man, Richard Rich, died in his
bed and he didn't really deserve to, which gives out the message that
life isn't necessarily fair, so don't take it for granted.

The atmosphere in this scene is quite haunting; "water-lit in
moonlight" adds to the increasing amount of water imagery used in the
play. The iron grills remind the audience that More is imprisoned, and
the rack is there as a sinister foresight.

The scene starts with More being woken up; "putting on his slippers"
generates sympathy for More and also shows that he has aged. The fact
that More is woken up in the middle of the night suggests that the
three men in the inquiry want More to give in to the oath, so they are
interrogating him while he is weary. Norfolk, Cromwell and Cranmer are
these three men. "A chair for the prisoner" shows that Norfolk cares
for More, and still considers him a friend, even though all that's
happened. It is ironic that More says "thank you" to the jailer, as he
is keeping him imprisoned. "They regard one another in hatred"
obviously refers to the fact that throughout the play Norfolk and
Cromwell have been arguing, as they strongly dislike each other. This
shows that Cromwell doesn't really care about More and jus wants to
get this over and done with, though "Will you swear to it?" indicates
that Cromwell is persisting to get More to give into the oath as the
King doesn't want to kill More and Cromwell wants to please the King.
Norfolk is trying to get More to sign because he is his friend,
whereas Cromwell is trying to get More to sign out of desperation
because it will be his head on the block if he doesn't. "And when we
stand before God " shows even in a weary state, More maintains his
defence and doesn't give anything away that he shouldn't. This shows
the audience that he is very clever, sensible, and alert to his

We can see here how each of the men got to their positions: Norfolk
through birth, Cromwell through work, and More by intelligence and
talent. This shows that the Norfolk and Cromwell got to their
positions through materialistic ways, whereas More got to his by means
of a much more mental way. We can now see who is likely to be the most
and least corrupt.

Bolt also shows that More cannot be questioned by the Archbishop
either; "Some men think the Earth is round, " says More when Cranmer
tries to make him sign. This is a moral standing, and it appears More
has an answer to everything. This tells the audience that even though
Cranmer represents the Pope, More can see that Cranmer has become
corrupt. We can see he has become corrupt when he says "and the -er-
'Pope'" as he should be loyal to the Pope and this shows he is not.
"Sir Thomas, it states in the preamble (Gently)" also shows that
Cranmer doesn't want More to be executed, as Cranmer knows that More
is right, but doesn't want to show it as that would aggravate the
King. The symbolism of Cranmer wanting More to give into the oath is
that even a religious man can become corrupt quite easily, showing
that More is above even the Archbishop in religious standing. Here,
all three men are trying to get More to give in; Norfolk (his friend),
Cromwell (representing the King) and Cranmer (religious perspective)
but More resists. This tells the audience what a strong character More
was, and makes them respect him. The symbolism of Cranmer wanting More
to give into the oath is that even a religious man can become corrupt
quite easily, showing that More is above even the Archbishop in
religious standing.

When Norfolk says: "then your reasons must be treasonable!" More shows
that he is slightly nave: "not must be, may be". Here More has put is
life in the hands of the man's law; he doesn't understand that laws
based on hierarchy can be broken by the person on the top of that
hierarchy. So it is the King's justice that is being used, not 'God's'
justice, as More seems to think is more prominent than it is.

The body language in this scene is interesting; More seems relaxed,
Cromwell seems afraid and agitated, whereas Cranmer and Norfolk seem
more desperate to get More to sign. This shows the audience that
Cromwell is the weakest one out of the three as he is more worried
about his life than More's. Cromwell's body language is particularly
interesting as it incorporates the frustration he has because Norfolk
is more powerful, yet he is less intelligent. Cromwell having stage
directions like "(Sighing, rests head in hands)" supports this.
Cromwell is also sarcastic: "Brilliant." And Norfolk rounds on him.
This is because he is so desperate to get More to sign; he has to
introduce some wit to relieve the tension. Also it shows they are all
getting tired and just want More to give in.

More seems relaxed because he has had enough time to realise his fate;
he knows what is going to happen and he isn't going to do anything
more than he has already to stop it. It also makes him look like a
great man, and noble to be able to accept his own death; something
that I expect none of us would find easy to do. This makes the
audience feel more sympathetic to him because he seems to have been
chased into a dead end. Also the stage directions, general atmosphere
of the scene and his language show what prison has done to him and how
he has aged.

As the interrogation continues, things get more intense. More asks
"Oh, gentlemen, can't I go to bed?" This again generates sympathy from
the audience as it shows that More is human and even though he is very
much mentally advanced, he is still tired and exhausted. Cromwell
says, "You don't seem to appreciate the seriousness of your position."
More replies, "I defy anyone to live in that cell for a year and not
appreciate the seriousness." This again reminds the audience he is
human, and influences their judgement of the characters that are
responsible for him being imprisoned, making More increasingly
righteous. The word "appreciate" is quite important; coming from More,
it is as if he is telling the audience to appreciate their position,
as it is probably more desirable than his. This generates more
sympathy from the audience. Cromwell then threatens More, and More
says that Cromwell should threaten "Like a minister of state, with
justice!" Again this points out that More is putting his fate into the
hands of moral justice, whereas the justice being used here is
Cromwell and the King's justice, which is entirely different. Also,
the word justice is important. It is repeated through the play and
symbolises two things: More's defence, and the corruptness of
Cromwell, the King and the gentry. The effect this has on the audience
is that it makes them question what justice means to them, and what
justice is in the modern world.

This scene ends with More asking for more books, and results in having
them taken away; the books symbolise his freedom and his old life;
being taken away. Cromwell then asks the jailer to swear that he will
say if More talks about the "King's divorce, King's supremacy of the
Church, or the King's marriage". He swears on the Bible, and then
Cromwell says "and there's fifty guineas in it if you do." This is
very important as It shows just how corrupt Cromwell is, and how he
wants to get More executed for something More said himself, rather
than because Cromwell couldn't get him to sign to the act (as then
Cromwell would be in trouble with the King). In addition it shows how
he is willing to go against the Bible for this, and it clearly points
out that swearing on the Bible has become meaningless, and so
therefore is the Act Of Succession that More is so reluctant to sign
because he values an oath more than everyone else; he is true to
himself. The jailer then goes on to say: "If it's worth that much now,
it's worth my neck presently." The repetition of 'worth' is important:
the fact that More believes it is 'worth' being true to himself so
that he can be "sent to Paradise" whereas the others are losing faith
and therefore don't risk gambling their life. The ironic thing is that
the King seems to be playing 'god' with people's lives. The
jailer/common man symbolises the people in England at the time: they
know that something is wrong, but they consider their own lives more
important than finding out what is wrong and trying to correct it.
This makes the audience question their standing in society and whether
or not it is correct in relation to the modern world and the historic

Before More's family enter, more water imagery is used. This
symbolises how the state is at sea - no one are being true to
themselves; no one knows where they are going and More seems to be in
the middle of it all as the waters are rising.

Bolt reintroduces the family because they are an important part of the
play; they each represent a part of More's emotions. They also provoke
the audience to have even more sympathy and respect for More as he
resists giving in for his family, even though to some this may seem
selfish. They also show again that Cromwell is trying to get More to
give in so that the King doesn't get angry with him, as the King
doesn't want to execute More because he plays as the King's
conscience. The audience see this, and they see that the King is weak,
even though he has power over the kingdom. Also a family is the one
thing More has that the King wants immensely.

When he sees his family, his daughter curtseys, which shows that even
though he has neglected them, she still respects him, which
furthermore indicates that she has matured in this period. When
audience see this, this shows them that if his daughter still respects
him after he's neglected them, then they 'can' respect him. Bolt makes
it obvious that More's family has suffered during this period: "has
aged and is poorly dressed". This again shows how much More has
sacrificed, perhaps gambled, for his beliefs. Roper comments, "this is
an awful place!" this re-establishes that More has had to put up with
terrible conditions, which yet again tells the audience what a great
man he was and what he was willing to give up. The word "awful" is
quite ironic, it may mean that even though Roper appreciates it is a
dreadful place; he wishes (has 'awe') that he was like More and could
be so noble. More shows his modesty by saying, "it's not so bad"
which may mean that it isn't in relation to what he will achieve from
it. This is followed by water imagery: "it drips too near the river."
This means that it is too near to people that aren't true to
themselves and are corrupt.

Even though More wants to se his family, he is initially confused
about why they are there. Margaret has the stage direction "doesn't
look at him". This indicates that she loves him very much, but she
doesn't want him to know this, as she is annoyed with him neglecting
them, and wants him to come out. Also, Alice has a bitter face, which
shows that she feels the same way, and shows what time apart has done
to their relationship. She believes that if she makes out she doesn't
love him, he'll swear to the act, which is what his family want. Bolt
has used stage directions well to help the audience see the underlying
meaning in every sentence. Subsequently Roper says, "Sir, come out!
Swear to the act" More then realises why they were allowed to visit
him, and Roper confirms this. "Coldly" points out that he is
disappointed in them for being under oath to persuade him to swear to
the act. This is ironic that again an oath is used to make somebody
take an oath. 'Oath' is a very important word in this play; it is used
endlessly in many different contexts to reinforce the same, continuous
message in the play - to be true to ones-self.

The family begin a discussion about oaths: "What is an oath then but
words we say to God?" shows again that More believes an oath to be
more than everyone else seems to believe. "When a man takes an oath"
is More describing what he believes an oath is, "Like water" is a
simile with water again as he believes many of the people in the state
at that time were like a liquid; could change with whatever was
popular at that time, whereas he would consider himself solid as his
opinions never change as a result of outside influence. When More uses
third person, "your father", he is trying to show Margaret that he is
looking at things from her perspective as well. More proceeds to make
a long speech, which is hard to follow. This is very complicated, and
shows the audience what an intellectual man he still is. The words
used in this speech are interesting: "avarice, anger, envy, pride
sloth, lust and stupidity" contrast greatly with "humility, chastity,
fortitude, justice and thought". Here, More is trying to put across
what the world has become, and then contrasting it with what it should
be according to him, and more importantly, God.

When Margaret tries to make More feel guilty by saying how the family
has suffered since he has been gone, More understandably gets upset as
one side of him is saying 'swear to the act so that they are happy'
and the other saying 'God will take care of them, I shouldn't swear to
the act'. This is a very emotional moment and Bolt's stage directions
and language all add to the influence on the audience. It makes the
audience sympathise with both More and his family, adding to the
emotional experience of the play. More's comment "the King is more
merciful than you. He doesn't use the rack" shows that he would
actually rather die quickly than be tortured; which is what Margaret
is doing to him by telling him how they have suffered. This emphasises
the two sides of him explained earlier are being stretched, like the
effect of the rack.

The Jailer then breaks the tension by entering and saying that they
have two minutes left. All the family know that this is going to be
the last time they see More, so now they give up trying to get him to
sign to the oath, and show their love that they have being hiding for
the best part of this scene. More gets Roper to delay the Jailer; his
comment "he has dice" is interesting as it emphasises the fact that
everyone in the world has options; they don't have to be something,
they can 'play their dice'. This may make the audience realise a few
things about their own lives, which may be one of Bolt's intentions.

More now pleads with Alice and Margaret to leave the country. He does
this because he knows he is going to be executed, and even though they
foresee this, he still doesn't want them to be near when he is
executed, as it would be very distressing. More is also freeing them
from danger. "There'll be no trial, they have no case." This is More
persisting to pull the wool over their eyes; even though he is right,
he does realise that it isn't God's justice being used here, it's
corrupted man's justice.

The end of this scene is incredibly emotional; More and Alice get very
intimate. This is the only time in the whole play that Alice is seen
to understand More; even though she still obviously wants him to sign
the act, she can now accept what he is doing and understand why, and
this is shown. Alice says "I shall hate you for it." Bolt also shows
Alice as honest to More in their last time together. Her comment about
God is also interesting, as it shows that Alice feels very much the
same way about the King and his council as More, but she isn't
prepared to risk her life for it whereas More is. "Lion" symbolises
this fact, as lions are proud, strong, and noble; More wants to make
Alice feel better because she may feel that she doesn't have these
attributes as More has.

The dramatic exit of the family is effective, including the use of the
bell ringing 7 o'clock: "reducing what follows to a babble." This
disperses the emotional exit of Alice. Bolt uses the jailer (Common
Man) again as a simple man: "you don't want to get me into trouble."
This is dramatic irony, as the last thing Alice cares about is getting
the jailer into trouble. Also the fact that the jailer seems to
completely overlook the emotional atmosphere is symbolic of the way
the state appeared at that time, shallow and somewhat lacking in
intelligence and individuality. "Oh, Sweet Jesus! These plain simple
men!" supports this and the use of 'sweet' reinforces More's religious
beliefs to the audience, which is why all this is happening in the
first place. Also, Bolt has to make More seem in a very difficult and
emotional position. The water imagery aids this, along with More's
strong sense of loneliness (now his family have left) being portrayed
in his language and actions. This generates more sympathy for him from
the audience.

The stage directions in the trial all add up to the overall effect:
"(1) Music, portentous and heraldic" indicates that this is very near
the end which means the audience will feel that it's all over already,
even though this is the trial, we know the outcome already. It also
makes us feel that the King isn't there, but there are people
representing him. The lighting change contrasts with the previous
lighting: as the trial is much more formal, the public would know
about it and might be involved whereas in the tower it is much more
secluded and out of the way. The public wouldn't have known about
things that happened in the tower, whereas the trial is a grand, false
front for the public. Again, the jailer gives More a chair and helps
him to it. This happened earlier and the purpose is that the jailer
may be holding More, and he may relate to him in an odd way. Even
though the jailer seems to be the opposite of More, the fact that he
didn't take the 50 guineas earlier is important, and even though they
have different opinions, neither are corrupt, probably the only two in
the whole of the trial. "Rigging of the law!" indicates that
Cromwell's passage is basically him admitting that what he and the
King are doing is 'wrong'. The symbolism of "does the cap fit?" is
that the common man represents the general population of the state; he
can be anyone and everyone. After an odd discussion with the common
man he also says "and fix these quick sands on the laws plain chart!"
which emphasises the inescapable position that More is in.

When the trial starts, More is told his position, and he is offered
another chance to swear to the oath. He then talks about being honest
until he dies, but he is clever and doesn't reveal why he won't swear
to the act. Cromwell adds more pressure by telling More that someone
with the same charge was executed that morning. Bolt is making the
ending more 'likely to happen', even though we already know what is
going to happen, the audience still have the suspension of disbelief
and are still likely to get emotional. The use of "clinically" when
Cromwell is looking at More is important as the whole atmosphere is
portrayed as 'clean' as it is all fake. This is effective as the more
the trial seems fixed and the characters looks and body language show
this, the more the audience realise how corrupt the council was, and
this makes More seem greater and more free from this. More's stage
directions help channel the feeling and atmosphere of the scene: "at
this point he is sensing that the trial has been in someway rigged".
This stage direction reminds the audience of what Cromwell said

Throughout this scene, Bolt has made it clear that More is getting
gradually used to his tragic fate as he sees it has inevitable.
"Death comes for us all" shows that he realises he cannot avoid it
anymore and he doesn't seem scared at all by the reality. "Yes, even
for the King he comes" is ironic, as we already know that the King
dies of syphilis, he died of a disease that is contracted in a sexual
form and he so badly wanted a son; this want ended up killing him.
This may provoke some humour in the audience to disperse the turgid
atmosphere. Norfolk then reminds More that his fate lies in his own
hands. The use of 'hands' refers back to the analogy More used when he
was talking to Margaret. It also reminds us that More is putting his
'self' into the hands of the King and his justice, so he is going to
open it fingers.

Cromwell proceeds with a long speech, in which he is trying to be
clever; trying to be like More; something he's not: "with some of the
academic's impatience for a shoddy line of reasoning." He is trying to
justify taking More's silence as 'betoken', which is against the law.
The discussion that continues is More and Cromwell battling it out one
last time; the audience may feel relieved as they have shown sly
dislike for each other throughout the play, but only now are they
letting it all out: "they hate each other and each other's
standpoint." The use of 'pure' is More considering himself pure as the
rest are Only now that the play is climaxing does Cromwell begin to
get angry, yet More keeps calm; Bolt shows who is and who as always
been in control and on top of everyone else. "A man's soul is his
self!" is an extremely important statement: it is the crux of the
play. More then almost gives away his opinion: "can I help my King by
giving him lies when he asks for truth?" This means that if More swore
to the oath he would be lying, showing that he doesn't believe in what
the oath contains.

The entrance of Rich is important; before Rich worked in office, he
was innocent, and a friend of More's. Now, as More warned him, he has
become corrupt since he has been in office: "e is now splendidly
official." The significance of Rich taking the oath and 'forgetting'
to say 'so help me god' is that Rich is still fighting with himself
and he knows More is right deep down, but he wants to be in a
well-paid job. Rich takes the last step when he gives false testimony
against More. More denies that he denied the King's title, but he
realises that there is nothing he can do about it, as everyone is now
against him. "I am a dead man" shows that he has come to conclude
death is inevitable, and there is nothing else he can do to prevent
his execution. Bolt adds some humour at the end: "it profits a man
nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales-!" This
shows just how corrupt and money grabbing he has become.

There is one last attempt by Cromwell to get More to give in: "Sir
Thomas, I am empowered to tell you that even now-" but More declines.
The importance of 'empowered' is that Cromwell has the power to ask
More, but More has greater symbolic power to deny it.

When the foreman announces the verdict, this is the common man again
playing a different character: another character that helps the
downfall of More. All the characters that the Common Man has played
all convict More in some way: After More is told his fate; he has a
"sly smile". This indicates he has won. "his manner is of one who has
fulfilled all his obligations and will now consult no interests but
his own." concludes the scene: "final stock-taking". Now More only
cares about revealing his true feelings, and definitely with a sense
of superiority: they have given the sentence out of desperation. He
knows that that day will manifest in their conscience long after he
has gone, because they will have a tiny part of them saying it was
wrong. More sees that this is worse for them than death is to him.
More relieves the build up by telling everyone what he thinks of the
whole situation. "God have mercy on your soul!" is highly ironic, as
it's their souls that God should have mercy on, as they are dishonest
and corrupt, whereas More is "pure" and true to himself. The trial is

The first scene change is ironic: "The trappings of justice are flown
upwards." This is Bolt showing that justice has not been done in a
physical way. The gradual scene change, and the return of Margaret,
creates more emotion in the scene. The meaning of More being
'dispassionate' to Margaret is so that she doesn't get too upset when
he is beheaded. He feels that she shouldn't be there anyway. Also, the
return of the woman again proves that More has not changed at all
since the beginning of the play, but everyone has changed around him
(like water surrounding him). "Envious" is used as a stage direction
for Cranmer to reinforce that even Cranmer knows what is happening,
and he is jealous of Sir Thomas More for being able to do what he is
doing. The final ironies of Cromwell and Chapuys walking off together
shows that they know what exactly has happened and understand it: "men
who know what the world is and how to be comfortable in it." The
curtain falls.

Robert Bolt has left a very important message, through the dramatic
exaggerations of this real event. Be true to yourselves, and no matter
who challenges you, they can never win, as long as you know your self
and don't deny it. More was a great man, and this play can only touch
on how vast his greatness was, it can only tell us what he showed and
not what he thought. This play can set a meaning for us to follow, the
fact that we try to change our self for the wrong reasons, and A Man
For All Seasons can help us put this right.
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