A Man for All Seasons | Study Guide

Robert Bolt

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Course Hero, "A Man for All Seasons Study Guide," December 14, 2017, accessed July 17, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Man-for-All-Seasons/.

A Man for All Seasons | Act 1, Section 6 : Cromwell, Rich, and Chapuys Have a Conversation | Summary

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Summary

The next scene takes place in Hampton Court, a royal palace. Thomas Cromwell works at Hampton Court and is surprised to see Richard Rich there. He asks about Rich's new job as the Duke of Norfolk's secretary. Despite his own association with the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey, who had failed to negotiate an annulment for Henry's marriage, Cromwell muses that he's still been promoted over Rich. Isn't Rich friends with the new lord chancellor, Cromwell asks? Not really, says Rich, but More did recommend him to Norfolk. Cromwell suggests he may have a better job for Rich.

The two are interrupted by Chapuys. Both Chapuys and Rich are curious about Cromwell's actual job title. Cromwell describes himself as "'The King's Ear' ... when the King wants something done, I do it." For example, he plans to launch an impressive boat the king will pilot. Chapuys corrects him about the details of the boat. He pushes Cromwell to reveal the king's plan to visit Sir Thomas More after the ship's launch. Cromwell adds, to Chapuys's surprise, the king plans to get an answer from More about the divorce. Chapuys protests that More has already made his position clear as a "good son of the Church." Cromwell says the king will ask Sir Thomas More for a different answer.

The Steward enters. He's been spying on More for Cromwell and tells Cromwell that More is terrified by any mention of the divorce. Cromwell asks if Rich has any more information on More, but Rich doesn't. Chapuys is also interested in More's habits. The Steward tells him how often More prays, fasts, and attends confession. When Chapuys is concerned that the Steward is also spying for Cromwell, the Steward assures Chapuys that he's a loyal Catholic.

Rich then approaches the Steward and asks what he told Chapuys. The Steward says he told Chapuys about More's religious habits, nothing else.

As the other characters exit the Steward tells the audience that all the information he has revealed about More is common knowledge. But each man paid him, and since they've paid already, they'll want to make their knowledge valuable by keeping it secret and "making it dangerous." Meanwhile the Steward's just earned more than he would otherwise have earned in two weeks.

Analysis

Richard Rich is deciding between a noble but unexciting life and a more ambitious, risky one. Thomas Cromwell implies Rich has been cheated by his mentors, Sir Thomas More and the Duke of Norfolk. Rich should be much further ahead in life by now, Cromwell says. He's paving the way for Rich to come and work for him.

As the play's primary antagonist, Cromwell is described as an "intellectual bully" and one the audience follows closely. Both Rich and Chapuys are already suspicious of him; they're curious how much authority Cromwell really has. Cromwell deliberately withholds certain information like his job title. He knows the power of information—who has it and who gives it away. He knows the power of silence, too, especially when silence means keeping a secret.

Cromwell and Chapuys face off as diplomats with conflicting interests—England is hostile to Spain. Cromwell notices and admires Chapuys's "sly," subtle diplomatic skill at drawing out information. The audience realizes Chapuys is craftier than he first appeared.

The Great Harry, a ship named for Henry VIII, is a show of England's military might. Cromwell wants Chapuys to see what Spain will be up against if the conflict escalates. When Chapuys points out that the ship is less impressive than Cromwell describes, he shows he doesn't feel threatened.

The threat the king poses becomes more apparent here. Cromwell's job is to give the king what he wants. Bolt chose the color gold, rich and prominent, to represent the king. Henry VIII will pilot the ship and determine its course; similarly, he'll choose what course the country takes. The sea on which the ship sails represents lawlessness and an absence of familiar boundaries. Whenever bodies of water come up in the play, they indicate that the characters are heading for danger.

The Steward, like Chapuys, shows he's more attentive and shrewd than he appears. He tells Cromwell and Chapuys exactly what they want to hear. Cromwell already knows, or suspects, the extent of More's fear, but he wants to be assured he can terrify More. He pays for the information and plans to make it come true.

Chapuys wants to hear that More is "a good son of the Church" and practices the rituals of a devoted Catholic. These habits may indicate that More will be sympathetic to Spain's interests. Rich, though, pays before hearing any information. He knows information is leverage and power. Angling for a promotion, Rich wants any leverage and power possible. So the Steward tells him something Cromwell hasn't heard, making Rich valuable to Cromwell. The Steward also gives Rich information on More's character, which will be valuable too.

The steward knows his actions may influence the outcome of the play. Secrets will occupy the realm of silence. They are nebulous and dangerous, even when they seem safe.

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