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A Man for All Seasons

Robert Bolt

Act Two, scene eight

Act Two, scene seven

Act Two, scenes nine–ten

Summary

In the morning, More’s family arrives at the Tower of London, and the jailer lets More out of his cell. He is overjoyed to see his family after a year in prison. They have brought him cheese, custard, and wine. However, Alice is still angry, and she addresses her husband coldly. The prison disgusts her, but More is either too stoic or too excited to care about his surroundings. Suddenly, Roper blurts out that More should take the oath, and More realizes that the only reason they have been allowed to see him is that they have promised to persuade him to concede. Margaret, ever the scholar, quotes scripture and suggests that More speak the words of the oath even if he believes otherwise in his heart. More, however, claims that oaths are by definition spoken to God, to whom the oath-taker gives his own self as collateral. Margaret points out that the state is evil and that her father has already done more than can be expected of him. Alice accuses More of choosing prison over home life, and he replies that he would escape if he could. Margaret goes on to describe how miserable they are without him.

The jailer returns to give the visitors a two-minute warning. More sends Roper off with the wine to try to distract him, then tells Margaret and Alice to leave the country. More figures he will not be allowed to see them again anyway. Turning his attention to the food they have brought, More compliments Alice’s custard and then her dress, but his comments only make her more angry and upset. More wants to be sure that Alice understands why he does not cave-in to the king, because if he dies without her full understanding it would be worse than any torture to which the authorities could subject him. She replies that she does not understand, that she does not think all this had to happen, and that she suspects she may resent him when he is gone. More breaks down, insisting that she must understand. Finally, moved by More’s display of anguish, Alice hugs her husband and tells him he is the best man she has ever known.

Just then, the jailer returns, unwavering in his insistence that it is time for the visitors to go. More, Alice, and Margaret resist, but he is resolute, and even Alice’s insults do no good. More and Alice part with emotion, and the jailer apologizes to More, claiming to be a simple man who is just doing his job. Suddenly furious, More shouts out in frustration and then says, “Why it’s a lion I married! A lion! A lion!”

Analysis

More’s final climactic meeting with his family affirms their union and love as eternal, despite their imminent earthly separation. In particular, More’s encounter with Alice resolves their previous conflict and acts as a kind of rejuvenating redemption just before More faces his accusers. In an earlier scene, More points out to Margaret and Roper that he must fight death as long as he can “escape” it in good conscience, and when he no longer can do that, he will know that God has willed him to die. Alice, who was not present during this discussion of More’s ideas on predestination, could not understand the motivations behind her husband’s refusal to obey the king. In this scene, however, Alice reveals her unconditional love for her husband. Even though she does not seem to recognize why More does not give in to Henry, she shows that she understands that her husband’s actions are rooted in his faith in God when she says, “God knows why I suppose.”

Because Alice truly knows her husband, she can respect his choices, even if she cannot comprehend their significance rationally. Her reaction to More contrasts with Norfolk’s in Act Two, scene six, in which Norfolk was unable to overcome his confusion and respect More’s choice to end their friendship. Alice’s actions also contrast with those of the Common Man. At the end of this scene, More repeats the word “lion” to describe his wife, evoking the Common Man’s earlier statement, “Better a live rat than a dead lion.” To More, Alice affirms that strong, courageous, lion-like people still exist.

At the end of the scene, More also bemoans “simple men” for doing what they are told to do instead of living their lives according to what they believe. Most of the characters in the play, and in particular those the Common Man plays, are included in More’s indictment. More has spent the entire play carefully assessing what aspects of his duties he could perform without betraying his conscience. Now, having essentially let go of all his earthly positions, including his position as a husband and a father, he shows that even the lowest-level functionary on the long ladder of his oppressors cannot escape reproach. Though the Common Man might be the most pardonable of the offenders, he exemplifies the morally bankrupt attitudes of most people.

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Study Questions

by AutumnTime22, September 11, 2013

How does Thomas More differ from Thomas Cromwell on religion and politics?
Why do the characters in the reading react as they do to Richard Rich reading Machiavelli and knowing Cromwell?
How does More differ from Wolsey in his opinion on the King’s divorce?
How does Thomas More feel towards Henry VIII?
How does Henry VIII try to persuade More to change his mind?
How does More resemble Henry VIII?
How do Cromwell’s words and actions with Richard Rich demonstrate his political and moral Machiavellianism?... Read more

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