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 September 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Man-for-All-Seasons/.

A Man for All Seasons | Act 1, Section 8 : Cromwell Meets with Rich at an Inn | Summary

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Summary

The scene changes to a pub where the Common Man, now dressed as a publican, or pub worker, sets the table. He muses to the audience that More is a deep thinker. Slyly he wonders if ordinary people like himself can understand More. At that moment, Thomas Cromwell enters the pub and asks the Publican for a private room, one suitable "for a conspiracy." Then Cromwell asks the Publican to leave and calls in Richard Rich.

Rich is wary, since Cromwell appears drunk, but Cromwell claims he's only intoxicated with "success." Rich tries to guess what the success is, and Cromwell tells him that he's been appointed as secretary to the council. Still suspicious, Rich sits down and lets Cromwell pour him a drink. Cromwell says he trusts Rich. Of course, Rich says. He'd "never repeat or report" such privileged information. When would he report confidential information, Cromwell asks? Rich insists he'd keep a secret no matter what. After Cromwell badgers him, Rich admits "it would depend what I was offered." Cromwell, satisfied, congratulates Rich. He's going to give Rich the job of collector of revenues for York. Rich asks what he'll have to do in exchange. Nothing, Cromwell tells him. There aren't any unspoken rules, only "administrative convenience," but he says Rich should make sure he's not religious.

The convenience Cromwell has in mind, he adds, is the king's. King Henry VIII will remarry if he wants to; their job is to make the remarriage as convenient as possible. Cromwell notices Rich seems upset, and Rich quickly says he's mourning his "innocence." Cromwell assures Rich he lost his innocence long ago.

Sir Thomas More, Cromwell tells Rich, is definitely an innocent man. More still thinks the king needs a divorce to leave Catherine for Anne, and More still respects the corrupt pope. Rich agrees that More will be an "administrative inconvenience." Cromwell then pressures Rich to tell him about the silver cup he got from More. Rich reluctantly admits More accepted the cup as a bribe.

Still skeptical, Rich asks Cromwell how he uses the information he gathers. Cromwell says he usually doesn't use it at all unless certain "steadfast" men won't accept the way a situation is unfolding. But Cromwell thinks More could still be "frightened" into compliance. As Cromwell prepares to leave, not wanting to say too much, Rich warns him that More's not only innocent but impossible to scare. Then, Cromwell suggests, More's "never put his hand in a candle" and holds Rich's hand close to the candle flame. Rich jerks away and screams out, "You enjoyed that!"

Analysis

The Common Man slyly wonders if other people can understand how Sir Thomas More's mind works. He leads into a scene where Thomas Cromwell and Richard Rich attempt to figure out More's motivations.

Candles are prominent, as in the scene with Wolsey. The darker, more intimate setting of the pub gives the feel of conspiracy. Thomas Cromwell's casual and delicate control of the conversation adds to an escalating sense of fear. Richard Rich isn't sure how dangerous Cromwell can be, and neither is the audience.

The publican's repeated insistence he doesn't understand leads to Cromwell calling him "the master statesman of us all." Silence, tact, and pretended ignorance are key diplomatic tools. Even the Common Man uses them in his various guises.

The dialogue between Rich and Cromwell echoes Rich's talk with More at the beginning of Act 1. The question of whether "every man has his price" returns. Cromwell wants to learn what Rich's price is. He urges Rich to admit he would, in fact, break someone's trust for a high enough offer and assures Rich everyone would do the same.

Still holding onto his morals, Rich says "there are some things one wouldn't do for anything." Cromwell compares these constant beliefs to lifelines on an embankment that offer safety to people drowning at sea. Rich has recently lost More's trust, but he isn't sure he wants to oppose More either. He's hoping that by holding onto his morals, he can save himself from drowning.

Cromwell's emphasis on "administrative convenience" includes ensuring his own safety and security. If the king is happy, he will be too. He reminds Rich that Henry VIII will get a divorce with or without anyone's approval—More's stance won't prevent it. But since More is popular, his dissent may encourage others to follow him. This may lead to an entirely different problem for the king.

Cromwell is initiating Rich into the nasty world of politics. To enter this world Rich will have to let go of any moral uneasiness, conscience, even religion, and he'll have to reveal secrets he's sworn not to reveal. Cromwell implies the conversion to evil is a welcome return to human nature. He says that telling the unsavory truth provides "a sense of release" and "an unfamiliar freshness in the head. "He promises Rich that he will "find it easier next time" to betray someone.

As the conversation progresses Rich tries to learn how much will be required of him. Like More, he spends the play slowly discovering what his allegiances will cost. For now Rich doesn't want More to be harmed or killed, but he wants to stay in Cromwell's good graces. His career depends on it. When Rich says More won't frighten easily, he's also reassuring himself. By now Rich is getting frightened.

Act 1 concludes with Cromwell's jarring, violent action. It's unexpected, and it reminds the audience that real physical violence and damage linger around the corner. Light is used in the play to reveal important settings and aspects of character. In the light of the candle Rich sees who Cromwell truly is.

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