full title A Man for all Seasons
author Robert Bolt
type of work Play
genre Historical drama; satire (a literary work that ridicules human vices and follies)
time and place written England, 1960
date of first publication 1960
publisher William Heinemann Ltd.
narrator The play is narrated by the Common Man in a series of asides
tone The whole of the play points toward the beheading of its hero, Thomas More, a predetermined, historically specific, outcome. As such, the tone is ominous, foreboding, and suspenseful.
setting (time) 1529–1535
setting (place) More’s home in London’s Chelsea district and the king’s court at Hampton
protagonist Sir Thomas More
major conflict Privately, More disapproves of King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage. Publicly, he would prefer to have nothing to do with the matter. But when Henry, through his agent Cromwell, forces More to speak out, More must either publicly assent to the divorce or die.
rising action After Cardinal Wolsey dies, and More is appointed as his replacement; Henry and, later, Cromwell press More to take a public stance on the issue of King Henry’s marriage; More’s family and friends also encourage him to relent.
climax More’s family visits him in jail, and his wife, Alice, finally accepts More’s stubborn behavior. At trial, More remains silent until he is condemned to death, after which he delivers a stirring soliloquy, finally proclaiming his opinions.
falling action More’s death, the Common Man’s summation
themes Types of moral guides; corruption; the self and friendship
motifs Satire and wit; silence; guilt
symbols Water and dry land; the gilded cup
foreshadowing Rich’s reference to Machiavelli foreshadows the way he and Cromwell will spare no one to achieve success; Rich’s corrupt acceptance of the tainted cup More offers him as a test foreshadows More’s eventual condemnation, based on Rich’s perjury; More’s unwillingness to talk with his family about his meeting with Cardinal Wolsey foreshadows his later refusal to discuss his opinions about the Act of Supremacy; Wolsey’s and Cromwell’s threats to More foreshadows More’s condemnation; Alice’s comment that colds kill even great men foreshadows Wolsey’s death; the Common Man’s announcement that Wolsey’s death was effectively the result of Henry’s displeasure foreshadows the conflict More will face as Wolsey’s replacement.