A Man for All Seasons

by: Robert Bolt

Act Two, scenes three–four

Meanwhile, Margaret has entered with a pile of bracken to burn to heat the house. More calls it a luxury, but Alice is unconvinced. More announces that though the bishops offered him some money by way of charity, he cannot accept it since it will make him appear to be in their service. Alice gets angry again, complaining about their poverty, her husband’s refusal to explain his motives, and his sudden preoccupation with how things appear. More replies that he has to consider appearances in such dangerous times, though he hopes his fears are misplaced. Roper arrives and announces that someone has come to take More to Hampton Court to answer some charges. Alice is alarmed, but More is stoic and even jokes that he will bring Cromwell back for dinner later that night.

Analysis: Scenes three–four

The scene between Matthew and Rich demonstrates an instance in which the Common Man believes he truly figures out what another man is all about. The knowing look in his eye and the tone of his comment as he exits the stage indicate that Matthew believes he has duped Rich into taking him on as a servant. He senses Rich’s pride and gullibility, perhaps concluding that with Rich he would never be accused of being missed as he was with More. He definitely feels a sense of power over his new “master.” Intellectually and ethically, Matthew thinks himself better than Rich.

More’s demonstration of loyalty to the king when he refuses Chapuys’s letter seems out of step with More’s character. In the first place, by all indications More owes nothing to the king, and both politically and religiously he has more in common with Spain. His choice to refuse the Spanish king’s letter seems impractical and unrelated to his morality, unless he views patriotism as a moral duty in and of itself. More clings at least as surely to king, country, and law as he does to the mysteries of faith. Even at his trial at the end of the play, as his sentence is pronounced, he prays for Henry and calls himself a loyal subject. In More’s eyes, it is a statesman’s duty to consider his private conscience, and so he sees himself as the most faithful of subjects that a king could hope to have. Just as the doctrine of freedom of speech must allow for those to speak out against it, More’s disagreement with his king is not tantamount to disloyalty, but rather a testament to his commitment to the king’s best interests. More operates as much as a teacher in the play as he does a practical man concerned with his own moral salvation.

More’s concern with appearances when he refuses to take money from the bishops also seems out of keeping with More’s character. His concern shows that although he sees resignation as the only moral choice he can make, he recognizes that he must also weigh other concerns—his own safety, the safety of his family, and the law. Once again, More disproves the claim that Wolsey and others made that More ignores practical concerns.