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 June 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Man-for-All-Seasons/.

A Man for All Seasons | Act 2, Section 10 : More's execution and end of play | Summary

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Summary

The scene is set for an execution. The executioner's ax and block "are silhouetted against a light of steadily increasing brilliance." The Common Man puts on the black mask of the executioner, or headsman. Thomas Cromwell, Sir Thomas More, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Cranmer, and the woman enter the scene. Norfolk gives More wine to drink, which More refuses.

Margaret runs to her father and embraces him. More reassures her that death comes for everyone. He tells her she knows "the secrets of my heart." The woman interrupts More on his walk to the block. She reminds him that he made a bad decision in her case. More says he's occupied at the moment, but he does remember the case and he wouldn't change his decision if he could make it again.

Cranmer has followed More with a Bible, but More sends him back. The stage has gone dark except for three lights, with one "dazzlingly brilliant" light in the arch. More tells the headsman he's sending him to God. The headsman envies More's certainty.

At "a harsh roar of kettledrums" the lights go out. The Headsman chops off More's head in darkness and calls out "Behold—the head—of a traitor!"

The lights come back on. The Common Man, now in his original dress, addresses the audience. He's relieved to be alive. He says it's not hard to stay alive if you "don't make trouble," and he asks the audience to recognize him if they ever meet again.

Analysis

Light is significant in this scene. As More goes up to the block he's bathed in light while other characters are shrouded in darkness. The light gains "steadily increasing brilliance" as his death nears. More is guided by the light of a conscience no one else can see. Bolt continues the imagery associated with Christian martyrs by having More refuse Norfolk's wine. More also refuses the Bible Cranmer offers. He wants nothing more to do with England's performance of religion.

Margaret is the only family member who truly understands More's perspective. Appropriately, she's the one to appear at his death. She'll carry on his legacy.

More even has one more chance to reassert his commitment to the law. When the woman makes an absurdly timed final entrance, she wants More to feel guilt. Instead he gets a small moment of triumph in his refusal to change his mind. Even though the law failed him, he's the same person he always was.

The drums and blackout make the audience feel the moment's danger. The Common Man coaxes them back into reality. His final lines are soothing, since they sum up a common experience. His lines are also unsettling. The warning against making "trouble" reminds spectators they still have to make difficult choices in daily life. The Common Man's different characters showed the different traits that people reveal when faced with moral choices, and his invitation to "recognize me" is an invitation for spectators to recognize themselves.

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