A Man for All Seasons

by: Robert Bolt

Act One, scenes five–six

Summary Act One, scenes five–six

The entrances, exits, double talk, bribery, and deceit in scene six showcase the political environment that More will have to contend with as Lord Chancellor. However, the Common Man’s bribing of Chapuys, Cromwell, and Rich poses no actual threat to More but satirizes those who do not know how to operate except through lies and deception. Matthew takes advantage of all three men by offering them nothing but the most well known information about More. These exchanges link with a later scene in the play when Cromwell suspects a lowly innkeeper, also played by the Common Man, of being even craftier than himself when the innkeeper plays dumb about Cromwell’s conspiracy.

The Common Man is both common, meaning universal, and common, meaning lowly. By playing lower-class characters, he serves as a magnet for the double-dealings of kings and cardinals, and in doing so he questions the assumptions frequently made about the lower class’s lack of morality. A sixteenth-century butler, a lower class individual, was assumed to have no moral scruples. Later, More himself takes it for granted that Matthew has betrayed him, showing that even More buys into the stereotypes of his time. Yet Matthew turns bribe-taking into a means of attack. He engages with others in a manner that is dishonest on the surface, but he does so to cheat his bribers with information that is not technically secret.

At the same time, the Common Man does not tell More about the people who are plotting against him. Throughout the play, he dupes More’s adversaries, but he does so only for the audience’s eyes. As the play progresses, the Common Man (or rather, the characters he plays) has a harder time reconciling his acts with More’s kind treatment of him. Although the Common Man plays many roles, all his characters develop in a unified fashion, as though they were one person.