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 October 2, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Man-for-All-Seasons/.

A Man for All Seasons | Act 2, Section 8 : More Visits with Family | Summary



It's morning, with "cold gray light from off the gray water." The jailer wakes Sir Thomas More and says his family has come to visit. Margaret embraces her father. More initially fears Margaret is in prison too, but she says it's just a visit. Alice is formal and distant. William Roper is shocked at how awful the prison is. Margaret shows More the food and wine they've brought him, but she doesn't look at her father. The atmosphere is stiff and uneasy.

Roper suddenly begs More to swear to the act. More realizes why his family's been allowed to visit him. Margaret has promised to convince her father to take the oath. Margaret explains that her father taught her that thoughts are more important than words. She thinks More can say the words aloud while holding other beliefs in his heart, but More disagrees. To him an oath is "words we say to God." A man who swears an oath takes "his own self in his own hands. Like water."

Margaret tells him any good government would honor More for his actions. Why should he suffer for a bad government? More says that in a perfect world "we'd live like animals or angels," but since the world isn't perfect, and vices are rewarded instead of virtues, people need to take a stand. Margaret pleads with him: hasn't More given "as much as God can reasonably want?" More says his actions aren't rooted in reason but love.

Alice snaps that he's content to stay in jail when he could be at home. More argues he's not content at all, and he asks if Margaret has more tempting arguments for him. Margaret says they sit alone in the dark worrying about him at home, and More is visibly hurt.

The jailer interrupts to say two minutes are left in their visit. More begs Roper to distract the jailer with a dice game and wine. He urges Margaret and Alice to leave the country on different boats. More is convinced he won't have a trial since the opposition has no case. Margaret agrees to leave, but Alice resists even when More commands her.

More compliments Alice's dress and the food she has brought, but Alice says bitterly she's not foolish enough to appreciate his compliments when he's in jail. When More holds out his hands, she refuses him. He says that if she understands what he's doing then he can "make a good death, if I have to." But Alice sees no good in his death. She doesn't understand why he's in jail, and she's afraid she'll hate him when he's gone. More, on the verge of tears, tells Alice she shouldn't hate him. They embrace each other, and Alice tells More he's the best man she'll ever meet. She still doesn't know why he has to die, but she'll defend him against the king. Impressed, More says "it's a lion I married!"

As More grieves with his family, the jailer says it's time and they must leave. The family begs, but the jailer fears there will be trouble if they don't leave immediately. A "heavy, deliberate bell" rings loudly over the dialogue to signal seven o'clock. The jailer forces the family out of More's cell, telling More "You don't know how you're watched." Alice calls the jailer names before she exits. The jailer apologizes to More and says he's "a plain, simple man" who wants to avoid trouble. More cries "These plain, simple men!"


In Bolt's costume notes for the play he intended the color gray to represent More. The "cold gray light" in this scene mirrors the simplicity and modesty in More's character.

This section provides closure to the story of More's family. It gives More a humanizing moment before his trial and shows the true cost of his sacrifice. It also turns the jailer from a passive observer into a true antagonist. The Common Man has always played people who diligently take orders from superiors. In this role he demonstrates the evil of blind, "simple" obedience.

The historical More told his family members to swear to the Act of Succession. The character of More is similarly concerned for his family's lives. Audiences may wonder how More will explain himself to them. Roper, who applauded More's dissent earlier in Act 2, has lost his fighting spirit. Alice is furious. Even Margaret, who understands her father best, wants to reason him out of jail. She makes a convincing argument for an oath as a gesture. She believes oaths only have the meaning people give them. Thoughts and actions are more significant. More believes an oath makes him accountable to a higher authority, so he can't say words he doesn't believe. The water comparison is softer and more immediate than Bolt's metaphors of the sea. The image of water slipping through hands evokes the loss of something elusive and precious.

Margaret then tries a gentler version of arguments Roper and Chapuys have used with More. Suffering for a corrupt state, she argues, makes him corrupt too. More's a little impressed by her reasoning, saying "that's very neat." But he thinks the imperfect world makes him more, not less, obligated "to be human." His image of "a State where virtue was profitable" recalls the historical More's speculation about the ideal state in Utopia. As a Humanist who values scholarship, More includes "thought" and "stupidity" in a more traditionally Christian list of the virtues and vices.

More implies Margaret is tempting him when he asks "Has Eve run out of apples?" He refers to the biblical story of Eve tempting Adam to sin by offering an apple. Though Margaret doesn't convince More, she reveals her personal courage and connection to her father.

What truly hurts More is his family's pain. His pleas to Alice show an emotion and humanity he hasn't revealed before. The added tension of More's limited time with his family—the clock is ticking—makes their dialogue more poignant. The people closest to More see his true self, including his faults. Throughout the play Alice has been torn between her allegiance to society and her love for More. At the end of their dialogue in prison she chooses More. She doesn't understand him, but she admires him and will defend him against the king and council.

The play's sparse set design makes significant use of light and sound. The seven o'clock bell is meant to have a "heavy" ring drowning out the dialogue. The bell is a rigid, unforgiving force, showing the unstoppable events already set in motion.

The jailer's excuse that he "just want[s] to keep out of trouble" will be echoed in the Common Man's advice to the audience at the end of the play. There, he says that if they don't make trouble they'll be all right.

More has a small amount of hope left. He knows he may die, but he still believes "There'll be no trial, they have no case." Is there any chance he's right?

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