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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 FIVE


Summary

Common Man gathers the Cardinal’s red robe and hat up off the floor and puts them in the basket he is carrying. He takes a book from the same basket and, pulling reading glasses from his pocket, reads about the death and possible causes of death of Cardinal Wolsey. More, who did not want this, is now Lord Chancellor. The Common Man describes Sir Thomas in glowing terms.


Notes

The Common Man is very useful. Here he fills us in on what has happened since scene four ended.

Wolsey’s death as Chancellor foreshadows the danger that lies ahead for Sir Thomas More as Chancellor. The king was displeased with Wolsey and will be displeased with the new Chancellor as well.

Sir Thomas will soon be in trouble unless he helps the king in the matter of the divorce. As we see the Cardinal’s robe and hat lifeless on the floor, we have a visual impression of what can lie ahead for Sir Thomas.


ACT ONE

SCENE SIX


Summary

The scene is Hampton Court. Cromwell calls out to Rich. Richard Rich arrived with the Duke of Norfolk last night. After mentioning Rich’s new job, Cromwell brags about his own position. What does he do? Chapuys approaches as Cromwell asks. He acts as the “King’s ear.” And, he does what needs to be done. As an example, Cromwell describes the new ship that Henry will be piloting on the Thames next week from Deptford to Chelsea. Chapuys corrects some of the details about the guns that Cromwell rattles off. Then, Chapuys asks Cromwell if he will be there. Cromwell says that the king will be discussing the divorce with More. Rich moves away. Chapuys counters that More has given his answer. But, the king wants another, different answer.

Matthew, More’s steward, enters. Cromwell, Chapuys and Rich all have questions for the steward, one person at a time.

Cromwell bids Chapuys “Good day” and expects him to leave. He does, sort of. He and his attendant go behind a screen. The audience can see that they are there.

Matthew says that Sir Thomas doesn’t speak about the matter that Cromwell finds important, not even to his own wife. Cromwell is not satisfied. Sir Thomas doesn’t talk about it to his daughter either. Matthew says that More is worried. Cromwell’s interest is aroused. Finally, Cromwell gives him a coin and waves him away, turning his attention to Rich. Rich stays his distance because he does not want to get involved in the matter. He says that he has nothing to tell Cromwell. They both leave, in different directions.


Then, Chapuys, with his attendant, bids Matthew to approach him. Matthew tells him some unimportant pieces of gossip that are common knowledge. Chapuys gives him a coin and leaves.

Now it is Rich’s turn to get what information he can. Rich wants to know what Chapuys wanted to know and what Chapuys said. Matthew tells him and also tells him where Cromwell went. Rich becomes angry, thinking that Matthew thinks Rich wants to know where Cromwell went. To prove that he does not want to know, he leaves, going in the opposite direction.

It is now the audience’s turn to receive information from Matthew. He tells the audience that he gave Cromwell, Chapuys, and Rich no secrets about Sir Thomas. Everything he told them is common knowledge. But, they will think that it is special information not known to others. That way they won’t feel cheated.


Notes

Hampton Court, the setting for this scene, was and is an extremely important locale in English history. It is located on a curve of the Thames River. Cardinal Wolsey built the palace starting in 1514 after renting the land on which it stands. In 1525, after Wolsey disappointed him, King Henry the VIII claimed it for his own. All of Henry’s wives stayed there. And, all of his children, during their reigns, also stayed there. A new palace was built on the site in 1689. 1737 was the last year that the royal family made the palace their residence. Visitors are still welcomed there today.

This scene is a good example of the political happenings of this time period. Secrets, hiding, spying, bribery and lies were all part of the political game. And, the players seemed to expect their acquaintances to behave this way. Matthew seems to be selling secrets, but instead, is guilty of another crime common in this time, cheating. Matthew seems to be guided by his own set of rules. Although he does not expose secrets about his master, he does not tell his master that others are trying to find out secrets about him.


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