A Man for All Seasons | Study Guide

Robert Bolt

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A Man for All Seasons | Act 2, Section 2 : Chapuys and Norfolk Visit Moore; More Resigns as Chancellor | Summary

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Summary

At the More home, Sir Thomas More and William Roper wait together. Roper is wearing a cross and is dressed in black. When More asks about his clothes Roper says he's declaring his "allegiance to the Church." More points out that Roper looks like a Spaniard and he would have been killed in Spain during his "heretic period." More is still wearing the chain of a corrupt office, Roper says. More tells him he'll only take off the chain if the Convocation or Assembly of bishops submits to the Act of Supremacy. They're waiting to hear the Convocation's decision.

Roper is confused—how will the decision change anything? Isn't the king already the supreme head of the church? No, More says. The king is the supreme head "so far as the law of God allows." When Roper asks how far More thinks the law of God allows the king to go, More responds that he'll keep his opinion to himself and urges Roper to do the same. Roper is now married to Margaret, and More is concerned for their safety.

Chapuys enters to visit More. As they joke about Roper being a saint, Chapuys tells More he also has "some suspicion of saintliness." More doesn't think this is good news, and he asks Chapuys what he wants. Chapuys says he's simply there to see a fellow brother in Christ, but More knows he's there on business.

Once Roper leaves, Chapuys says he can't believe More is letting himself be associated with the king's recent divorce. More, Chapuys says, is responsible as chancellor. More reminds Chapuys that a different chancellor might have made the situation worse. Chapuys agrees that More has had a good influence, but the drama of the king's divorce has escalated to "an open attack on the religion of an entire country."

Chapuys asks More if it's true he'll resign if the Convocation gives in. If he did, More says, would Chapuys approve? Chapuys says he'd admire More, and More would send "a signal" to the entire country. Chapuys has recently visited Yorkshire and Northumberland, two different areas of England, where he says people are ready for "resistance." More, increasingly agitated but trying to stay calm, asks what kind of resistance he means. Using biblical quotations to make his point, Chapuys strongly implies violence and death will result, including violent death for More.

William Roper enters with the Duke of Norfolk, and Alice and Margaret More. Chapuys quickly exits. Norfolk brings news that the Convocation has submitted to King Henry VIII's demands. England has severed "the connection with Rome" and with the Catholic Church. More decides to take off the chain of office. Margaret helps him remove the chain after Alice and Norfolk refuse.

Norfolk feels More's decision to resign is cowardly. More thinks it's inevitable; in his view the "Reformation" has escalated to Henry declaring war on the pope. More thinks the pope, despite being an imperfect leader, is "our only link with Christ." Norfolk is shocked that More is ready to give up everything—his important job, his respect in England—for a theory. Maybe so, More says, but what matters to him is "I believe it to be true." He intentionally doesn't explain himself, saying he needs "obscurity" now.

More pulls Norfolk aside and asks for his word that their conversation will be kept private, and Norfolk agrees. What if the king asks him to reveal what they've said, More asks? Norfolk says he'll still keep his word. But then, More says, he's broken his oath to obey the king. Norfolk thinks More's trying to trap him. No, says More, "I show you the times." More reveals he's showing Norfolk "lawyer's tricks" because he's afraid himself. Norfolk accepts More's resignation on the king's behalf.

As Norfolk prepares to leave, More tells him they might have trouble in the places Chapuys visited and that they should keep an eye out for the resurgence of "the old Church." Norfolk says Thomas Cromwell made the tour with Chapuys and has things under control. More's a little jealous. Norfolk says he's glad More has some patriotism left, an observation More calls "stupid."

Once Norfolk is gone Alice asks More what he'll do after quitting his job. More puts on a cheerful face for his family and says he'll have plenty of time to write and fish. Roper praises More's "noble gesture." More is critical—is that all Roper thinks it is, a gesture? He asks whether morality something they learn from books? Margaret says that "for most of us" it is. More says his family is cruel, and Alice argues he's the cruel one. Margaret and Roper will agree with More about anything, she adds and wonders whether More really thinks the government won't come after him?

More emphasizes that as long as the family watches what they say, the government will leave him alone. He wants them to remember he hasn't made a statement about the king's divorce—all he's done is leave the job. Alice protests. The family is about to be poor and she wants to know why. More says he trusts her, but for his silence to be complete he can't even make a statement to his family. He doesn't want Alice to have to lie or incriminate him under oath. More quickly assures the family the warning is only a "life line" they won't have to use.

Alice and More now need to find new jobs for their household servants. More approaches the Steward and asks if he'll accept a smaller wage, but the Steward awkwardly says he'll have to move on. Alone onstage after More exits, the Steward realizes he was almost tricked into believing More personally wanted him to stay. He tells the audience More's having "bad luck" just like everyone does from time to time.

Analysis

During the 16th century faith was often a matter of political alliance as much as personal belief. Sir Thomas More's devotion to belief is unusual. This scene highlights how More doesn't fit into the culture of his times.

Now that the Catholic faith is unpopular and under attack, William Roper has become a devout Catholic. The "anchor" to his principles wasn't steadfast, but changing. Roper's "heretic period" is treated as a passing phase and not part of his character. But he's still committed, and Margaret is committed alongside him. She'd rather he speak his mind than be discreet.

More hasn't changed in two years: he will serve the king as long as his principles allow. Roper's outfit and cross and Chapuys's Latin show the performance of Catholicism, not reverence for its ideals. More is not as skilled at performance; everything he does is genuine. More has no desire to be anti-authority or contrarian, like Roper. He doesn't follow laws and moral convictions out of patriotism, like Norfolk. He follows rules, or breaks them, because he can't do otherwise. He'll frequently clash with other characters who want him to make different choices, not adhere to a moral code he can't explain.

More and Roper's dialogue is partially expository. They let the audience know the current state of the Church of England and the stakes of the bishops' meeting. They reveal the Act of Supremacy and the legal loophole More holds on to, but the atmosphere is different from Act 1. More is increasingly careful not to say or hear the wrong thing. If Roper tells More his opinion, More will be obligated to report it as treason. Even without witnesses to back him up, More will still report. Again, unspoken words don't exist.

In this section More is doubting the motives of people he previously trusted, like Chapuys and Norfolk. He's also becoming more cautious. He doesn't trust a different chancellor to act with discretion, skill, and good intentions. Chapuys's warning to More recalls the Common Man's definition of "saintliness" as willful ignorance. Performance matters, and More's actions will send a message he doesn't want to send.

Since England has now broken completely with Spain, Chapuys wants to recruit More as an ally. Spain is more sympathetic to Catholics—English characters will remind each other "This isn't Spain" to emphasize danger. Chapuys begins by appealing to More's conscience. King Henry VIII is abusing his power, and if More doesn't publicly condemn the king's actions, More is just as guilty. Silence to Chapuys implies complicity. Chapuys uses morally loaded religious words like "corrupted" and "wickedness" to influence More.

By telling More "half of your fellow countrymen" are listening, Chapuys sends a clear message. As long as More keeps silent he can't control how people interpret his actions. More hasn't signed on to the "resistance," but more importantly he hasn't signed on to the Act of Supremacy. He may become the silent leader of rebels in England without his consent.

More's agitation increases as he pictures the possibilities. With resistance "by force of arms" the Wars of the Roses could return. Even in a "metaphorical resistance" the government would fight back, going after More first. He finds the euphemistic, diplomatic phrasing of "[severing] the connection with Rome" verbally ironic. What sounds like a purely business decision is really an attack on the Church.

Alice realizes the implications of More removing the chain of office: He'll lose his income and his respect in the community. His resignation affects the entire family, and she's angry her husband only thinks of himself. The patriotic Duke of Norfolk thinks More is abandoning his country when England needs him the most. Roper sees the symbolism of More's gesture but misses the point. Only Margaret is willing to help him remove the chain. She seems to understand.

More is struggling to understand himself. He's emotionally committed to the "Apostolic Succession of the Pope" and its significance to the faith, but he can't logically explain his stance. The link between the pope and Christ is "tenuous." The pope's only "a Prince" like any human politician, and not a good one either. Still More knows the theory is essential to his sense of selfhood—something he can't afford to give away.

More knows what tools will be used against him. He uses discretion and careful wording to explain his position, and he's hoping "obscurity" will keep him from saying something illegal. He senses Cromwell has taken over as the king's unofficial right-hand man. By asking if Norfolk will betray his confidence to the king, More shows Norfolk the danger of unquestioning loyalty. Without solid internal convictions, More believes, anyone can betray or be betrayed. More also wants to show Norfolk the risk of remaining his friend. Norfolk tries to assure him the king will leave him alone, but More isn't convinced.

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