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

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“ thine own self be true, and it shall follow, as the night the day, thou cans’t not then be false to any man.”
~Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene III

Integrity is the major theme of A Man for All Seasons. Sir Thomas More stays true to his conscience even under threat of death.

Some minor themes are:

No man can serve two masters.

Every man has his price.

Look to your own conscience for what to believe and how to act.

Having serious concerns about your life and death does not preclude being lighthearted and sociable.


The mood is ominous, suspenseful and foreboding with occasional lighthearted moments. Sir Thomas More knows the seriousness of his situation. However, he continues to entertain and be companionable. We know his situation, too, so there is a dark cloud hanging over everything, even as Sir Thomas is making light of the circumstances for his family’s sake.

Robert Bolt - BIOGRAPHY

Robert Bolt, the son of a small shopkeeper, was born and raised in Manchester and attended university in Manchester, where he received a degree in history. Manchester is a city in northwest England. He was in the military for three years during World War II. After his military service and after attending Manchester University and a year of post-graduate studies at Exeter University, Bolt taught school, first at a school in Devon. Then, he taught English at Millfield private school in Somerset for seven years. During his time at Millfield, a dozen radio plays written by him were broadcast. His first stage play was “Flowering Cherry” starring Ralph Richardson. It played in London for a year. After that success, Bolt left teaching for the stage.

Bolt won two best screenplay Oscars. One was for the movie version of “A Man for All Seasons,” which he did the screenplay for as well as authoring the play. The second was for his collaboration with David Lean for “Doctor Zhivago,” from the novel by Boris Pasternak. He was nominated, with Michael Wilson, for “Lawrence of Arabia,” from the writings of T E Lawrence.

Bolt wrote “Ryan’s Daughter,” “Vivant! Vivant! Regina!,” and “Lady Caroline Lamb.” These three were scripts rather than screenplays.

Bolt reworked the story of the Bounty mutiny. It was called simply “Bounty.” His final movie was “The Mission,” which was not ready for production until after his death.

Robert Bolt’s son, Ben Bolt, is a television director, having directed, among other shows, episodes of LA Law, and Hill Street Blues.


This play is laid out in a very interesting, exciting time, the reign of the second Tudor king, King Henry VIII. Henry’s brother, Arthur, was expected to be king, but he died before taking the throne. Henry, besides taking his brother’s place as king, was also expected to take his place as husband to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Spanish king. Marriage was, in this case as in others, an important way to bind two countries together. But, it was not considered proper for a man to marry his brother’s widow, so a special dispensation was obtained from the Pope in Rome. At first the couple was happy enough. The King was, in this period, a strong Catholic. He even wrote “A Defence of the Seven Sacraments against Martin Luther.” For this he was declared Defender of the Faith by the Pope.

However, as the years passed, Henry became concerned that Queen Catherine was not likely to give him a son. At the same time he was becoming enamored of Anne Boleyn. He felt that God was punishing him for marrying his brother’s wife. He wanted a divorce from Catherine.

During earlier medieval times, the Catholic Church stood alone and above the rulers of countries. But as the Reformation took hold, people began to think differently. Martin Luther put into writing and the spoken word what others were thinking. People began to take sides. Were they for the Catholic Church or against it?

When the Pope refused to dissolve his marriage, Henry was able to take advantage of the new thinking and find another way to get the divorce that he wanted. And, while he was at it, he also broke England away from Rome.

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