A Man for All Seasons

Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

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)

language  English

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)  15291535

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.