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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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Man for All Seasons!