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A Man for All Seasons

Robert Bolt

Act One, scene seven

Act One, scenes five–six

Act One, scene seven, page 2

page 1 of 3

Summary

I neither could nor would rule my King. (Pleasantly) But there’s a little . . . little, area . . . where I must rule myself. It’s very little—less to him than a tennis court.

(See Important Quotations Explained)

Back at More’s home in Chelsea, Alice, Norfolk, and Margaret prepare for King Henry’s arrival, but More is nowhere to be found. When Matthew appears, all three ask him where More might be, but as usual, Matthew says he knows nothing. Norfolk complains that More has taken things too far, that More disrespects the king, and that no good can come of it. Suddenly, More arrives, having been occupied at vespers (evening prayers). He is dressed simply, and everyone fretfully tries to get him to put on more appropriate attire, including his chain of office. When Norfolk chastises More for disrespecting the king and his office, More retorts that he is not dishonoring any office by serving God. More’s gown is caught up in his stockings, and as Margaret laughs, Alice tries to fix it.

When King Henry arrives, More bows but Henry insists he be received in a casual manner. The visit is intended as a surprise, although the family has known about it for some time. More introduces Alice and Margaret, and the king says he has heard that Margaret is a scholar. Modestly dismissing the compliment, Margaret nonetheless goes on to speak Latin with the king. When it becomes clear that her Latin is better than his, the king changes the subject. He playfully attempts to dance with Margaret, and, commenting on the strength of Norfolk’s legs, he attempts to wrestle with Norfolk. Henry then asks Alice what she has available for dinner. Though Alice has obviously prepared a feast, she promises only a “very simple supper.” Back on the subject of scholarship, the king mentions his book on the seven sacraments, which, he admits, More helped to write. Then he pulls More aside to discuss the divorce but not before impressing Margaret with the orchestra he has brought with him.

Alone, More and Henry discuss Henry’s trip on his new battleship. More is reverent and modest, and the king beats around the bush, asking More if they are friends and telling him that Wolsey himself named More his successor. When More compliments Wolsey’s ability, Henry complains that Wolsey failed him and needed to be broken. He suggests that Wolsey wanted to be pope, and Henry laments the greedy authority of the English cardinals.

Henry, sensing that he has gotten ahead of himself, changes the subject back to his battleship. Just as suddenly, though, he broaches the subject of the divorce, and when More admits that he cannot agree with the divorce, Henry grows angry and then sad. He cannot understand why his friend would deny his request. More explains that he would readily have his arm cut off if it meant he could agree to the divorce with a clear conscience.

More reminds the king that he promised not to bother him about the divorce, knowing full well what he thought. The king, however, pleads that the matter is of grave importance, since the book of Leviticus condemns any man who sleeps with his brother’s wife. His first marriage to Catherine, Henry contends, was sinful, so God is punishing him by denying him an heir. He wonders why More remains staunch when everyone else has consented to the marriage. More argues that Henry should not need his support if everyone else consents. But Henry admits he needs More to back him up because of his honest reputation.

After some more small talk, Henry finally decides that though he will not insist that More consent to the marriage, he will insist that he keep quiet on the issue. Frustrated, Henry opts not to stay for dinner after all, and he leaves in a huff.

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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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