My Master Thomas More would give anything to anyone. Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad, but I say he can’t help it—and that’s bad . . . because some day someone’s going to ask him for something that he wants to keep; and he’ll be out of practice.
(Act One, scene one)
In this excerpt from a monologue at the end of the play’s first scene, More’s servant, Matthew, predicts the conflict More will face in the play. Yet Matthew’s statement that More is out of practice is wrong, since More seems to be the only character with enough practice to know that there are certain things that he cannot sacrifice. In fact, the central conflict in the play stems from More’s refusal to give up his sense of self, which is rooted in his faith in the Catholic Church and in God. After relinquishing his career, his family, his friendship with Norfolk, and even his freedom, More sees it as utterly impossible to relinquish his beliefs. Though characters like Roper and Chapuys see More’s actions as noble but impractical gestures, More thinks of his behavior as the most practical and realistic option. For More, to double cross his conscience would be to disown his soul, his self.
It is important that Matthew’s prediction seems insightful but proves incorrect at the end of the play. In the beginning of the play, the characters the Common Man plays seem to be insightful and clever members of the lower class, who astutely critique and satirize the nobility. Yet at the play’s close, even the Common Man has unraveled and behaves in a reprehensible way, causing us to rethink the opinions we have had of him all along.
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