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A Man for All Seasons

Robert Bolt

Act One, scene four

Act One, scenes two–three

Act One, scenes five–six

Summary

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

Left alone, More and Margaret discuss Roper and his family. Margaret asks about her father’s meeting with the cardinal, but More changes the subject back to the Ropers, saying that Roper’s father was just like his son. Suddenly, Alice runs onstage, having seen Roper taking off with her horse. More explains the situation, and she announces that he should have beaten his daughter for receiving Roper at such an hour. More disagrees, saying Margaret is too “full of education,” which is expensive and difficult to obtain.

While Margaret goes to get her father some tea, Alice asks about More’s meeting, and once again he changes the subject. Alice is shocked to learn of Roper’s marriage proposal, but she realizes that her husband is trying to divert her and asks again what Wolsey wanted. More finally admits that Wolsey wanted him to read over a dispatch to Rome, and Alice knows not to ask any more questions. When Margaret returns with the tea, Alice mentions that Norfolk suggested More should replace Wolsey as Lord Chancellor. More says he wants nothing to do with the office, and he predicts that while Wolsey is alive, there will not be any replacement Lord Chancellor. As the group heads off to bed, Alice insists that More drink his tea, since great and common men alike catch colds. More retorts that such talk is dangerously seditious.

Analysis

Some background on the difference between Protestantism and Catholicism makes More’s objections to Roper understandable. In 1517, Martin Luther posted his list of ninety-five theses on the “Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” harkening the Protestant Reformation in Europe. Protestantism (or Lutheranism, as its initial form was called) took as its main tenet the idea that outward displays of faith as practiced by the Catholic Church could never take the place of a personal, private faith in God. Martin Luther objected to the idea that people could purchase pardons from their church as penance for their sins, even if, in their hearts and souls, they did not repent. Viewing the Catholic Church as morally bankrupt in many ways, Luther’s sympathizers spread his message, and the Protestant faith expanded across Europe.

Ironically, More appears to have much in common with the Protestant faith, while Roper more closely resembles the Catholicism to which Protestants objected. Roper passionately argues that the Catholic Church needs reform, even going so far as to call the pope the Antichrist. But his actions, according to More, are simply outward displays of ideals and are not necessarily grounded on firm, personal moral footing. Roper’s passion in this scene illustrates how lofty ideals are unstable moral guideposts compared to one’s own moral conscience. Bolt plays with the popular understanding of More, a saint who represents a deep-seated commitment to Catholicism. In the play, Bolt shows a strong commitment to the pope and to the laws of God as he understands them. However, More’s commitment to Catholicism is based upon what his conscience tells him to do, not upon some lofty ideal. More’s morals contrast with Roper’s high-minded, insincere idealism.

In trying to quell her father’s and Roper’s tempers, Margaret says to Roper, “You’ve no sense of the place!” Margaret’s exclamation introduces another important aspect of More’s morality—his practicality. To most people, ideals are unrelated to circumstance and they adhere to ideals despite obvious indications that their ideals do not apply to particular circumstances. To More, however, it is important to consider the specific, practical details of a situation before making a decision based on one’s ideals. Though characters like Wolsey accuse him of being overly moralistic, More constantly considers the details of an act or an oath to see if he can abide by it without violating his conscience. Though Roper might reject an act on principle, More reserves judgment. He objects to an act only if it impedes his sense of self, and even then (as later scenes show), he objects only as much as he absolutely has to.

More’s unwillingness to talk about his meeting with the cardinal foreshadows his later refusal to discuss his opinions about the Act of Supremacy. Though Alice understands in this instance not to press the matter, she eventually takes offense at not being allowed into her husband’s confidence. Again, More places more weight on the practical considerations of the matter than on even his love and respect for his family. Not wanting to implicate them in his affairs, he leaves them out of them, remaining a conscientious yet solitary man.

Alice foreshadows Wolsey’s death when she comments about how colds affect great and common men alike. Wolsey soon dies, and his death seems an implicit affirmation of Alice’s statement.

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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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