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

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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES


ACT ONE

SCENE TWO


Summary

Sir Thomas More arrives at Cardinal Wolsey’s place. Wolsey complains that it is half past one. More tells him that he has been on the river. Just then a bell strikes one. The Cardinal wants Sir Thomas to look at the dispatch that will be sent to Rome. More reluctantly looks at the paper and, when asked for his opinion, comments on the style of the message. Wolsey asks for his opinion other than on the style. When More asks why it is not being sent to their ambassador, Wolsey explains that their ambassador is a ninny. That is why he was picked. That way, Wolsey can go directly to Cardinal Campeggio. When More pulls back, the Cardinal complains about More’s intrusive morality.

They hear a trumpet in the distance. It is because of the king. They stay at the window until the king is gone.

Wolsey brings up the king’s need for a son. And, the country also needs a son for the king. Otherwise, an end to the Tudor dynasty may well occur.

Wolsey complains about More’s dependence on prayer and a miracle to bring King Henry and his wife, Catherine, a son. Wolsey says that More can continue to pray, but this is time for action as well. An attempt must be made to obtain approval for the king to divorce his wife.

More brings up the dispensation already received by the king so that he could marry Catherine in the first place. When pushed further, More says that the solution is to ask the pope. Wolsey wants to influence the pope’s response to the request.

Wolsey brings up the subject of the Yorkist Wars. Without a son for the king, the country could again be in such a war. Wolsey wants to know how More could let his conscience make such a war possible.


More’s response to Wolsey is:

“I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties... they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

Wolsey taunts More with the idea of governing the country by prayers. The Cardinal asks who should come after him. Wolsey suggests Cromwell. More says that he would prefer to do it himself if the other choice was Cromwell.

Wolsey tells Sir Thomas that he should know that, until he comes around, he has an enemy, Wolsey himself.


Notes

More says that he has been on the river. This is a reference to water. Water is a symbol used throughout the play.

Wolsey’s stretching of the truth about what time it is illustrates his willingness to stretch the truth in other situations.

More shows that he is good at skirting issues when Wolsey asks him for his opinion of the dispatch for Rome. He comments on the phrasing of it rather than its contents. He would have lived if he had been able to skirt the issues surrounding the king’s marriage.

The king makes a non-appearance in this scene. One gets the feeling that he is on stage more than once because he is so frequently the center of the story.


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