A Man for All Seasons

by: Robert Bolt

Act One, scene eight

Alternatively, one can argue that Cromwell represents the occupational hazards of working for a corrupt king. After all, Cromwell is also performing some of the same functions as Wolsey. He has become the guardian of the king’s conscience, and Henry, we have to assume, is always hovering over him. Later on in the play, Cromwell refers to King Henry’s “ravenous” conscience.

The comedic, satirical nature of this scene creates the sense that Cromwell and Rich are buffoons, set apart from the intelligent, moral figures such as More, Alice, and Margaret. The amusing exchange between Cromwell and the publican emphasizes Cromwell’s unsophisticated, narrow, and dim-witted outlook. As Cromwell tries to assess just how trustworthy the Publican might be, he becomes infuriated by the publican’s inability to understand him. Their muddled exchange lampoons the kind of court politics Cromwell embodies, because Cromwell speaks in innuendos and assumes the publican is doing the same, whereas the publican truly does not understand what Cromwell is asking him. As Rich fluctuates between pangs of guilt and immoral actions, he reveals his pathetic, whiny nature, which is established in the play’s first scene.

The Common Man is also a satirical character. The publican may appear clever, but his cleverness serves him only in an amoral way. The pub’s name, the Loyal Subject, ironically emphasizes the publican’s immorality. The publican remains loyal to Cromwell and Rich despite the fact that they are plotting villainous crimes in his presence. The fact that the publican points out his own faults without provocation reveals the extent to which he is meant to be a satirical character. He even goes so far as to say that a man in his position cannot be expected to behave like a “deep” man like Thomas More. His unsolicited excuse shows he is covering up his guilt in advance.