A Man for All Seasons

by: Robert Bolt

Act Two, scenes one–two

Alice, angry at what she sees as More’s impractical decision, asks what he intends to do with himself now that he has resigned. Roper congratulates More, calling the resignation a “noble gesture.” More eagerly clarifies that he would not sacrifice his status and his family’s finances simply to make a gesture. He says he would have continued in his post if he could have, but he could not. When More claims that he is practical and therefore would never make a gesture for symbolism, Roper argues that More acted morally rather than practically. More counters that morality is practical, but not gestural. Alice gets angry and accuses Roper of engaging More in a light “dance” to the Tower of London, where, she fears, he will be tortured. But More insists that if they all keep quiet about his motives and opinions, no one can accuse him of opposing the king. People will only be able to guess at his reasons for resigning. More even refuses to tell his family what he thinks, explaining that if Cromwell should make them swear on a Bible, he wants them to be able to say honestly that they do not know what More thinks.

More sends Alice off to the kitchen to release most of the servants since the family will no longer be able to afford their services. More approaches Matthew and asks whether Matthew could stay on for less money. When Matthew says he could not, More says with regret that he will miss him. Matthew replies that More always saw right through him and that there is nothing to miss, but More is insistent.

I wish we could all have good luck, all the time! I wish we had wings! I wish rainwater was beer! But it isn’t! . . . And what with not having wings but walking-on two flat feet; and good luck and bad luck being just exactly even stevens; and rain being water—don’t you complicate the job by putting things in me for me to miss!

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At the end of the scene, Matthew has a short monologue. He wonders what More could possibly miss in him. He says that he almost “fell for” More’s offer of less money, implying that More was simply complimenting him to persuade him to stay on at the house. Matthew complains that life is not always filled with friendship or good luck and that More has no right to complicate things. He repeats that he almost fell for More’s offer, and he leaves the stage chuckling to himself.

Analysis: Scenes one–two

More’s resignation is the central action of both this scene and the play itself, and it has importance for both the play’s plot and it’s theme. More’s conversations about his resignation provide information to analyze More’s peculiar brand of morality. When More resigns, Alice accuses him of behaving like a “book,” and Roper says More makes a “noble gesture,” but More says he does neither. He is following something much more certain than a printed page or a precept. He is abiding by himself, rather than by ideals or appearances. More argues that his decision has nothing to do with anyone else. He therefore refuses to tell even his wife his true feelings in order to protect her from having to perjure or condemn herself in a court of law.

Act Two, scene two, begins by reminding us that Roper’s high-minded ideals are always subject to change, whereas More’s commitment to his own moral conscience and to the law is steadfast. Roper, a devout Lutheran earlier in the play, is now an ardent Catholic, as his clothes reveal. More demonstrates the difference between himself and Roper when he reminds his son-in-law that the Act of Supremacy’s caveat, “so far as the law of God allows,” is what enables More to reconcile his private conscience with the law. Roper, on the other hand, finds the caveat a small and irrelevant excuse.

Roper’s criticism of More calls into question More’s practical approach to morality. More may live his life in a moral manner, but he nevertheless manipulates situations to get what he wants. He claims that he has no choice except to resign, but he has no choice only within his understanding of morality. His choice has implications for his family as well. Even though More hopes to protect Alice and Margaret by telling them nothing about his beliefs, we see the emotional harm that More’s silence inflicts on them, as well as the strain his resignation will put on their daily life.