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A Man for All Seasons | Study Guide

Robert Bolt

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A Man for All Seasons | Act 2, Section 1 : Common Man Tells of the Past Two Years | Summary



The Common Man enters a dark stage, puts on glasses and opens a book. He tells the audience the first act took place in 1530. It's now May 1532, two years later. He reads from the book, which relates some of the main events, most notably the creation of the Church of England, which came about as a compromise achieved "not by bloodshed but by simple Act of Parliament." Only a few people resisted the changing rules of the times, and they frequently faced torture and imprisonment without trial.


When Pope Clement VIII wouldn't approve King Henry VIII's divorce, the king turned to politics and pushed several new laws through Parliament. These laws included the Act of Supremacy, which made the king the supreme head of the Church and demoted the pope. The newly formed Church of England kept Catholic traditions, but its core beliefs reflected some tenets of Protestantism.

Act 2 breaks slightly from the historical timeline of events. The Church of England was founded and the Act of Supremacy was enacted in 1534. However, Act 2, Section 1 takes place in 1532. The characters' prior knowledge of these events is used to advance the plot.

The word "compromise" returns. As it did in Act 1, it means moderation, giving in, and sacrificing something essential. Bolt compares the rush of social movements to bodies of water. "Torrents" are free and abandoned, while "canals" are peaceful and regulated. The "current of their times" refers to a direction no one can oppose easily. Anyone who sails against a current will encounter resistance.

The idea of danger returns, too. The Tudor age in England was less "fastidious," or cautious and delicate, than modern times. The government would punish infractions more harshly without regard for individual rights or due process of law.

As another form of alienation, the Common Man defies the conventions of storytelling. He tells the audience what's going to happen before it happens. They aren't watching the play to see what happens next, but how. The text strongly implies, without stating outright, that Sir Thomas More will be imprisoned without trial.

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