A Man for All Seasons

by: Robert Bolt

The Common Man

Characters The Common Man

In his preface, Bolt explains that he intended “common” to be understood to mean “universal,” but many people ascribe the pejorative connotations of vulgar and low class to the word as well. Bolt laments the fact that upper class and even lower-status people, who resented such an image, failed or refused to view the Common Man as a representative of themselves. However, regardless of how Bolt viewed his character, the Common Man embodies both universality and baseness. In fact, the Common Man shows that the “common” human being is base and immoral.

Although the Common Man acts in many different roles in order to establish his universal nature, he actually develops into a coherent character as the play progresses. Initially, he portrays Matthew and the boatman, who are forgotten figures of the lower class who judge the noble characters in the play and make them look like fools. Yet as the play progresses, even the characters played by the Common Man begin to lose their moral footing. Matthew, for example, tries to suppress his guilty conscience for having sold out More after More expresses his affection for Matthew.

Eventually, the Common Man’s characters become more aware of the excuses they make for their immoral acts. When the jailer deliberates about whether to set More free, he speaks directly to the audience about the futility of trying to do the right thing. By the end of the play, the Common Man affirms the notion that to be alive—regardless of the nature of one’s actions—is the only thing that counts. As a whole, the Common Man’s role in the play shows his complicity in More’s persecution. Because the Common Man represents humanity in general, he is intended to draw us all into the play’s central moral dilemma.