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Free Study Guide for A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt

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A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS: LITERATURE SUMMARY / NOTES

 

CONFLICT


Protagonist

Sir Thomas More is the leading role.

Antagonists

Sir Thomas’s main antagonist is Thomas Cromwell, who is determined to bring More down. He has character traits that are the opposites of More’s.

Richard Rich and The Duke of Norfolk are minor antagonists who help Cromwell achieve his goal. Alice is another minor antagonist. She is strongly opposed to Sir Thomas’ decision. She wants him to do what the King wants him to do so that they can just live their life as in the past.


Climax

The climax begins when Alice, Margaret and Will Roper visit More in jail and Alice begins to accept More’s behavior. At the trial, once he is condemned, More changes from being silent to eloquently expressing how he thinks.


Outcome

The outcome is the death by beheading of Sir Thomas More.



SHORT SUMMARY (Synopsis)


Sir Thomas More tries to show Richard Rich that becoming a teacher would be better than striving to become rich. He does not succeed. Sir Thomas gives Rich a cup that he received from a woman whose case he had reviewed. It was a bribe, but More did not realize that until after she gave it to him. So, after that he did not want to keep it.

Sir Thomas visits Cardinal Wolsey who is Lord Chancellor of England, as well as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Cardinal has a letter to show him. The letter is to be sent to Rome, to the Pope. It is requesting the Pope’s approval for dissolution of the marriage of King Henry VIII and Queen Catherine. More says that the Pope may be reluctant to grant another exemption. The Pope had allowed Henry to marry Catherine even though she was his brother’s widow. Wolsey wants More to be realistic. The King wants the marriage ended.

More meets Thomas Cromwell, the cardinal’s secretary, a man who seems to be an admirer of Machiavelli, who flatters him. Then he sees Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador to England, who is a friend of Queen Catherine. Catherine wants to stay married to the King. Catherine is the aunt of the Spanish king which is another reason for Chapuys to take the Queen’s side in the matter of dissolving the marriage. Chapuys gets the impression that More is also against the idea of a royal divorce. He tells More that an insult to Catherine would be an insult to the King of Spain. He asks More what his response to Wolsey was. More’s response to Chapuys leads Chapuys to think that More is against the divorce.

When More returns to his home in Chelsea it is late. His daughter, Margaret, is still awake. Her suitor, Will Roper, is there. He tells Sir Thomas that he wants to marry Margaret. Roper is a Lutheran so More is against the marriage.

Cardinal Wolsey, after failing to get the Pope’s agreement on the issue of the royal marriage, dies in disgrace, leaving the position of Chancellor open. More is promoted to Chancellor, replacing Wolsey.This means that he will now be under even more pressure from the King and his Court to change his position regarding the royal marriage. Thomas Cranmer (Anne Boleyn's chaplain) becomes the new Archbishop of Canterbury.

At a pub, Cromwell has a meeting with Richard Rich, the man to whom More earlier gave the cup. Rich is in a frame of mind to be bribed. He wants to move up in the world and is willing to do whatever is asked of him by someone willing to help him rise. Cromwell brags that he does whatever the King wants to be done. He tells him that he knows that the King will be visiting More soon to discuss the marriage with him. Matthew, More’s steward arrives on the scene. All three men, one at a time, try to get information from Matthew. He gives them information, but nothing really secret.

The King arrives at Sir Thomas’ home. The household is not supposed to know that the King is coming, but everyone does. The household pretends to be surprised. Throughout the visit, both the King and More’s family continue the pretense. The King notices how well-educated Margaret is. The King switches from friendly to demanding and back again throughout his visit. He must have his divorce. If More has not changed his mind on the matter, then he should give the matter more thought. More reminds the King that he promised not to push him on this subject when he became chancellor. The King says that he is breaking his word, and then he says that he is joking. Both quote from the bible to back up their side. The King says that he needs More’s backing in this matter because everyone respects his word. The King says that English subjects who oppose him are guilty of treason. This implies that, if More opposes him, he too is guilty of treason. Sir Thomas is not to write anything against the King.

After the King departs, More’s wife, Alice, questions More about his reasons for not agreeing to do as the King wants him to do. Life would be so much easier if he would just go along with the King. More explains that he must follow his conscience.

Rich arrives and says that Cromwell is asking questions. He says that Matthew is one of his sources. More is not surprised. Rich says that Chapuys is also asking questions. More explains that is part of Chapuys job. Rich asks More for a job, but he refuses to give him one.

After Rich leaves, Alice wants to know why people are asking questions about her husband. More tells her that it is because he is well known. He does not want her to know any more about the situation than absolutely necessary for her own protection.


Thomas Cromwell meets Rich at a pub and offers him a job as Collector of Revenues for York Diocese. Rich knows that he will have to do something in return. Cromwell questions Rich in detail about the cup that More gave him, the cup that was originally a bribe. Cromwell thinks that knowing that something improper is known about himself is enough to make a person do what is needed. Rich thinks that More will be hard to frighten.

At this point several years have passed. It is now May of 1532. An Act of Parliament has created the Church of England. Anyone who did not agree met an unpleasant fate. The King has obtained his divorce and banned Catherine from the Court. Also, during the time just past Roper has become a Catholic and married Margaret.

Chapuys is visiting More, trying to make him feel guilty for not speaking out against the King. Roper and the Duke of Norfolk arrive. Norfolk tells More that the bishops have submitted to the will of the King. More takes of his chain of office. He no longer wishes to be chancellor. Norfolk does not understand his friend, More’s action. Then he says that Henry will continue to be his good lord anyway. More tells Norfolk what he heard from Chapuys, that there may be trouble to the north in the spring.

The Duke of Norfolk and Cromwell discuss Sir Thomas. Cromwell says that he has information about Sir Thomas taking a bribe once. That is an offense that could send him to the Tower. They meet Rich and the woman who bribed More. Norfolk does not think they have a good case because More got rid of the cup after he realized that it was a bribe. Cromwell can see the friendship between Norfolk and More. He believes that will be helpful in showing that More is not being persecuted.

A later day Chapuys bring More a letter from the King of Spain in which he speaks appreciatively about More’s stand. More does not want the letter. It should be shown to the King. News of More’s loyalty to the King has not been spread as widely as gossip about his views.

Someone arrives from Hampton Court telling More that he is to go to Hampton Court to answer charges before Secretary Cromwell. More goes before Cromwell. Rich is also there. He is to take notes. At first Cromwell says that there are no charges, just some questions. Cromwell questions More about a book titled “A Defence of the Seven Sacraments” that the King wrote. Didn’t More actually write the book? More only helped the King write it by answering questions that the King had.

Then Cromwell started asking More questions about the marriage between Henry and Queen Anne, Henry’s wife at the time. Anne Boleyn had been beheaded and replaced by Anne of Cleves. More reminds Cromwell that he is not to be asked questions on the subject. More says that the reason for all this is to terrify him, but he is not easily terrified. Cromwell tells More that the King believes that More is treasonous.

After More leaves, Cromwell tells Rich that he is sure that they can get More. Once he is destroyed, there will be no need for him to say anything. As he tries to flag down a boat for the ride home, More meets the Duke of Norfolk. More thinks that it would be better for Norfolk if he was no longer a friend of More. He tries to insult Norfolk, but it is a difficult task.

Margaret and Will Roper approach More. Roper tells him about a new Act of Parliament. Everyone is to take an oath, or be guilty of treason. More is now in jail. The Duke of Norfolk, Cromwell, and Archbishop Cranmer are there. They are a commission, the seventh commission to investigate More. They question More and find out that he is willing to accept the offspring of Anne as legitimate heirs to the throne of England. So, why won’t he sign the Act of Succession? Cromwell reminds the group that there is more to the Act than succession. More won’t say to what in the Act he objects, or even if he objects to any of it. More explains that he cannot be executed for not signing, only for having treasonable reasons for not signing.

The jailer is offered a bribe if he will say that he overheard More say something treasonous. Another day, More’s family is allowed to visit him in jail after Margaret promises to get him to change his mind. Margaret has an idea. More can take the oath without changing his mind. More cannot do that. An oath is said to God. Margaret tells More that he has already done as much as God requires. Margaret describes how bleak their home is without him. More has a plan. He wants the family to leave England. Margaret agrees to his plan. More finally gets Alice to accept what he is doing, although she still does not understand.

Later, at the Hall of Westminster, a sham trial is held for Sir Thomas. The setting and the jury make the trial seem all right, but that is just a cover. More is charged with denying King Henry VIII his rightful title of Supreme Head of the Church of England. More denies the charge. He has been silent on the subject. He is already serving the maximum sentence he can be given for his silence.

The Duke of Norfolk tells More that the charge is now High Treason, for which the charge is death. More says that even kings die. Cromwell interprets that to be a treasonous statement.

Cromwell addresses the jury. He says that at times silence speaks and everyone understands what More’s silence means. More says that the maxim is “Silence gives consent.” If something is taken from his silence, it must be consent, not denial. Richard Rich is a witness. He perjures himself and says that More told him that Parliament does not have the power to make King Henry VIII Head of the Church.

Cromwell pushes the jury to give a verdict without retiring for consideration. More is to be beheaded. And, soon More is beheaded.


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