A Man for All Seasons | Study Guide

Robert Bolt

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A Man for All Seasons | Act 2, Section 4 : Chapuys Makes a Second Visit to More's Home | Summary

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Summary

Chapuys is at the More house. Alice More, now dressed in an apron, asks Chapuys to leave before Sir Thomas More arrives. Chapuys says he's there on a "Royal Commission," and Alice leaves indignantly. Chapuys and his Attendant discuss how cold the house is. Now that Sir Thomas More has displeased the "heretic King," his fortune has changed. Chapuys and the Attendant agree More is a good man. And since More opposes Cromwell, Chapuys says, he'll support Spain.

More comes down and he and Chapuys give each other a friendly greeting. Chapuys gets to the purpose of his visit: he has a personal letter for More from the king of Spain. More, however, refuses to touch the letter. Chapuys assures him the king of Spain is only admiring More's stand against the divorce. More emphasizes he's taken no stand, saying that no one knows his views, though people try to guess them. More adds that the topic of the letter is obviously an "affair of State" even if Chapuys says it isn't. If More accepts the letter he'll have to take it to King Henry VIII or be known as disloyal to England. More calls Alice over to witness that he hasn't broken the seal on the letter. Chapuys excuses himself and tells the Attendant that More is "utterly unreliable."

More, seeing how tired Alice is of living with less money, reminds her he can't take the donations the bishops offered him. Besides, he adds, they're not really in poverty. Alice and Margaret want him to reconsider, and Alice insists the money's a charitable gift. More says it would still look like the Church was paying him for his writings. Even the appearance of taking payment could be dangerous. Alice says that More has never cared about appearances before. Margaret adds that her father doesn't write anything bad about the king. More, agitated, tells them writing itself is enough to condemn him.

As More again assures his family he's not in danger, William Roper comes inside and says a messenger has arrived from Hampton Court. More must go to Thomas Cromwell and "answer certain charges." More assures his alarmed family he'll be back for dinner. He jokes he'll bring Cromwell to dinner, but his family thinks it's not the right time to be witty. Earnest now, More says his legal case is solid and Cromwell is nothing but a lawyer and a "pragmatist."

Analysis

To her chagrin Alice has descended in social class. In an era where class affects every aspect of life, this change affects how people see her. Chapuys thinks less of her, remarking on her "sheer barbarity."

The cold shows other changes in the More household. The Attendant remarks that the "enmity" or hostility of the king cost More his livelihood. More's silence continues to speak, and he has to take a stand, one way or the other.

Chapuys, like other characters, uses religion as a political tool rather than a moral one. More's internal conviction is making Chapuys's life difficult. Chapuys tries to earn More's loyalty by admiring his act of material sacrifice. But while More is polite, he doesn't fall for it. When Chapuys quotes the biblical passage beginning "Render unto Caesar" to support his point, More criticizes him. More doesn't think the Bible should be used as a debate aid; he tells Chapuys "Holy writ is holy." He implies Chapuys is making morality nothing but a gesture.

More insists he's "taken no stand," but in his heart he knows he has. Both England and Spain have now interpreted his silence as hostility. Despite More's legal precautions, including not accepting money from the bishops, he can't save himself. In turbulent times he's wary of expressing any independent voice, even in his writing.

More fears the unknown, but he doesn't fear Thomas Cromwell. He believes Cromwell's only a human "pragmatist" who dwells in the same world of man-made law. Besides, More thinks, he himself is the better lawyer.

The audience wonders if he will ever reveal his reasons. Though the play sympathizes with More, Bolt shows how his convictions come at the expense of others. Norfolk makes an excruciating moral decision. Alice faces exhaustion, worry, and insecurity about the future. The king may not have a wise voice in his ear. Was More's determined silence worth it?

The staging and lighting at the section's end leave More "isolated in the light." Light often means knowledge—he knows something his family doesn't. The solitude suggests he'll go on the rest of his journey alone.

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