A Man for All Seasons | Study Guide

Robert Bolt

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A Man for All Seasons | Act 2, Section 3 : Norfolk, Cromwell, and Rich Discuss More Privately; They Meet with a Woman | Summary

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Summary

In an alcove the Duke of Norfolk and Thomas Cromwell discuss Sir Thomas More. Norfolk doesn't understand why they can't leave More alone since he hasn't said anything. Cromwell argues that More's silence "is bellowing up and down Europe!" Cromwell knows More warned Norfolk about possible rebellion in Yorkshire and Northumberland, and they agree More opposes the hopes of Spain. Therefore, Cromwell says, More must be loyal to England and its king. All they need More to do is say so.

Norfolk isn't convinced, so Cromwell says he has evidence More accepted bribes, which shocks Norfolk. Cromwell brings in Richard Rich who is accompanied by a woman. The woman brought a case to the Court of Requests while More worked as a lawyer there. She insists More made the wrong decision in her case. Cromwell thinks More's decision was correct, but he really wants her to talk about the gift she gave More. The woman confirms she offered More a silver cup, and he accepted it. Cromwell tells her to leave.

When Norfolk remains skeptical, Rich says he can prove it: More gave him the cup. When Rich can't remember when he got the gift, Norfolk recalls seeing Rich with the cup during Act 1, Scene 1, at the More house. From the timing, Norfolk concludes More got rid of the gift as soon as he knew it was a bribe. He tells Cromwell he doesn't want anything to do with accusations against More.

Cromwell tells Norfolk he has no choice. The king wants his involvement. Since Norfolk and More are friends, Norfolk's participation in More's conviction will show that the government is following "the strict processes of law." Cromwell says if Norfolk wants him to, he'll tell the king that Norfolk won't participate. Norfolk recognizes this as a threat and leaves.

Rich apologizes for forgetting Norfolk was there the night he accepted the cup. Cromwell scolds him and moves on. They need better tactics to catch More, Cromwell says. Rich just wants to follow the law. Cromwell agrees, saying "It's just a matter of finding the right law. Or making one."

The Steward tentatively approaches Rich and Cromwell. Rich knows the Steward is looking for work but remembers him being "disrespectful." The Steward says that when Rich was still trying to prove himself professionally he may have imagined disrespect, and now that he's been promoted to "his proper level" Rich probably doesn't worry about disrespect anymore. Rich agrees and hires the Steward, warning him he won't allow insolence.

Analysis

Even though the Duke of Norfolk is trying to defend More, he's already betrayed him. He told Cromwell the details of their private conversation. This section shows how Norfolk and Richard Rich are both wary of Thomas Cromwell—wary enough to do what he asks.

Cromwell sees More's silence as active hostility. He reminds Norfolk how the law is really applied. Though "a practice may be common and remain an offense," the law against accepting bribes will only be enforced when convenient. The government might look the other way at another lawyer accepting bribes, but they're looking for a reason to convict More.

Rich's transformation into a savvy, amoral politician is still incomplete. The elite members of the government continue to look down on him. Norfolk shows contempt for his former accountant's unusually quick rise in political status. He may suspect Rich was promoted by dishonest means.

Rich now looks to Cromwell for guidance. Cromwell, with a "glacial coldness," is a harsher career mentor than More was. Rich is adopting new mannerisms and survival skills. His "Civil Service simper" shows he's learned to flatter those he wants to impress and mock those he doesn't. The Steward reminds Rich he was more concerned with status negotiations "when you still had your way to make." Now Rich can be secure in his authority. Briefly stepping back into the Common Man's role, he points out to both Rich and the audience the changes political power brings.

The woman functions as a comic figure who expedites the plot. Like the Common Man, she represents "common" or everyday citizens concerned with their personal affairs above all else. The Common Man himself takes on different roles in Act 2. He was loyal to More in Act 1 as the Boatman and Steward, but now he's switched to Cromwell's side. Soon he'll play roles actively hostile to More. The Common Man's evolution shows the tendency of most people to follow the loudest, strongest voice or the person in power. Once More falls from power the Common Man stops siding with him.

The Duke of Norfolk spends this scene trying to find More an escape hatch. When he realizes he can't save More, he pleads to save himself. Cromwell appeals to Norfolk's patriotism, loyalty to the king, and fear of authority. He implies England operates under different rules than Catholic Spain. Someone can still be imprisoned in England without trial.

Cromwell's metaphor for captivity and hunting is a seafaring one. This indicates they've gone beyond the bounds of manmade law. More is a "slippery fish" and they need "a net with a finer mesh." When Rich sees what he's in for, he tries to take shelter in the law, saying he only wants "to do what is correct." Correctness is relative, Cromwell reminds him.

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