Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews October 3, 2023
September 26, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
*See discount terms and conditions.
Why does More
refuse to agree to the oath? What is the difference between More’s
understanding of what he’s doing and typical expectations of morality
Going into the play, we know that Thomas
More is a saint and a martyr. Most people consider a saint to be
a man of principle, and a martyr is a man who dies for his beliefs.
But Saint Thomas More as characterized in Robert Bolt’s
play has other reasons for refusing to agree to King Henry’s oath.
He is not concerned with doing what is right according
to Christian dogma. Rather, he acts based on his own conscience.
He says, “not that I believe it, but that I believe
it,” emphasizing that something within him dictates how he should
act. His morals in this case form the bedrock of his sense of self,
and to betray them would be to kill that self.
Throughout the play, other characters expect More to
make gestures that symbolize his beliefs. But More puts realistic
considerations ahead of any high-minded ideals he might harbor.
In this sense, he breaks the mold of what we might expect a martyr
to be—More dies because there’s no other way out for him, not because
he wants to make a political or religious statement. Even though
he speaks out at the end of the play, his diatribe comes only after
he has been sentenced to death, showing that he was not killed for
what he said, but what he did not say.
2. What does
Roper’s conversion from Catholicism to Lutheranism and back again
suggest about Bolt’s opinion of faith?
In A Man for All Seasons, William
Roper serves as a counterpoint to More, but he is one who is less
clearly reprehensible than men like Thomas Cromwell and Richard
Rich. Roper is passionate about whatever cause he happens to be
championing in any given scene, but his high-minded ideals concerning
religion are as inconstant as the wind or water. After Roper returns
to Catholicism, More threatens to hide Margaret, his daughter, from
Roper’s “seagoing principles.” More finds Roper’s willingness to
stake everything on something as uncertain as God’s wishes an impractical
way of approaching life and morality.
In fact, Bolt uses Roper’s ever-changing faith as a comedic
device. In addition to clarifying More’s own position, Roper’s point
of view comes off as so inconsistent as to be funny. Starting off
the play calling the pope the Antichrist, he ultimately ends up
in a dour priest’s uniform, complete with a Catholic cross. As More
makes fun of Roper’s outfit, we too recognize the folly of blind
How does the
Common Man character implicate the audience in More’s struggle?
The Common Man, as Bolt announces in his
preface, is intended to be common in the sense of “universal” rather
than in the sense of “low class.” As a universal character, the
Common Man is meant to reflect all of our actions and attitudes
in his. To emphasize his universality, the Common Man plays many
different roles. He slips into and out of the roles of Matthew,
the boatman, the innkeeper, the jailer, the jury foreman, and the
headsman (executioner). In each case, the switch is made abruptly
and without much ado and therefore seems omnipresent. He could be
any of us at any given time, and his culpability and cowardice come
to be seen as traits that all of us have had to struggle with at
one time or another.
At the same time, the Common Man’s ever-changing roles
come on at a faster and faster rate as the play progresses. At the
end, he switches from More’s jailer, to a juryman, to More’s executioner
in rapid succession, and this mounting pace suggests the suddenness with
which we often find ourselves cooperating in situations of which
we don’t ultimately approve.
The Common Man also implicates the audience by addressing
us directly, as an interpreter and commentator. His monologues draw us
into his ominous, cautionary tale. At the end of the play, he wishes
us good health and long life, even though More’s character makes
it clear that these should not always be one’s primary concerns.
In this way, the Common Man speaks to what is common in a base sense.
Ace your assignments with our guide to A Man for All Seasons!