A Man for All Seasons | Study Guide

Robert Bolt

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A Man for All Seasons | Act 1, Section 4 : More Talks with Margaret, Roper, and Alice | Summary

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Summary

Sir Thomas More arrives home exhausted and learns that William Roper is there. He and More's daughter Margaret enter together, and she reveals that Roper has asked to marry her. More says they can't marry as long as Roper is a heretic. Roper argues that the Catholic Church itself is heretic and Martin Luther has proved it. He accuses the pope of being "Antichrist," and the two men become angry, while Margaret tries to calm them down. More hopes Roper will see sense eventually and tells him to go home.

After Roper leaves Margaret asks More if he discussed the king's divorce with the cardinal. More doesn't want to talk about the king. Instead, he muses that Roper has always been stubborn and contrarian, even as a Catholic. His mind might change, More thinks, with "a really substantial attack on the Church." Margaret thinks the attack may be coming. More protests; he doesn't want her gossiping or talking "treason."

Alice More comes downstairs wondering what Roper was doing there. When she learns that he was there to see Margaret, she says that Margaret needs a beating. No, More says, "she's full of education—and it's a delicate commodity." More tells Alice about Roper's proposal. But when she asks about his meeting with the cardinal, he'll only say the cardinal wanted him to read a dispatch. Alice mentions that Norfolk plans to recommend More for the job of chancellor, but More says he doesn't want the job. If Wolsey falls from power, More adds, they'll all be in trouble.

Analysis

William Roper, like Richard Rich, is presented as a foil to Sir Thomas More. Roper and More are both passionate, principled men. They agree that the Catholic Church is corrupt and needs reform. Despite More's apparent disdain for Roper during their meeting, there are signs that More genuinely likes and respects him. But their attitudes toward morality are quite distinct.

Roper is known for his "all consuming rectitude." His commitment to his ideals is absolute, but his ideals change as society changes. Roper is portrayed as a contrarian. More compares Roper to his father. If he thinks he's swimming "with the current ... he'll turn round and start swimming in the opposite direction." Once Catholic faith is under attack, More believes Roper will turn about and defend Catholics. Hence his comment that all that's needed is a "really substantial attack on the Church."

Now a Protestant, William Roper shows the ideological basis behind the Reformation. The Catholic Church's financial corruption, he thinks, has turned the church into a store. "Forgiveness by the florin" refers to indulgences people paid to obtain forgiveness. Roper addresses church conflict using large-scale spiritual terms like "Antichrist" to refer to the pope. He sees corruption as a matter of life and death.

More grounds his commitment in devotion to the Catholic beliefs. He prefers to operate, as Bolt says in the preface, within "the shelter of society." He thinks Roper has "no sense of the time"—Roper doesn't know what's required in the current moment. More is tapped into the world around him, and he sees how requirements are changing.

This section reveals how More never intends to stand out or to become a martyr. He wants to do his duty and obey the rules. He upholds the class hierarchies of Tudor England. When Alice compares him to a commoner, he tells her "that's dangerous, leveling talk." Unlike Roper, he's not calling for revolution.

The section also shows how rumor, gossip, and speculation affect the play's outcome. Divorces are eroding popular respect for the Catholic Church. If the church lets the king have a divorce, why wouldn't they let anyone get away with anything? More believes gossip and speculation can distort facts, and he discourages Margaret from talking "treason" or repeating rumors.

Margaret More plays an important role in Sir Thomas More's life. She keeps the peace in his household, and she knows his intentions and true desires better than Alice. For instance, she can tell More doesn't want to be chancellor. Meanwhile Alice has learned to deal with More's eccentric habits and care for him. But she frequently doesn't understand his behavior, and their disagreements cause tension throughout the play.

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