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 September 29, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Man-for-All-Seasons/.


Course Hero, "A Man for All Seasons Study Guide," December 14, 2017, accessed September 29, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/A-Man-for-All-Seasons/.

A Man for All Seasons | Quotes


Every man has his price!

Richard Rich, Act 1, Section 1

This quote from Rich's debate with Sir Thomas More shows how Rich will be More's foil throughout the play. Rich contends every man can be "bought" or bribed with material goods or the promise of relief from suffering. More disagrees. The conversation mirrors the characters' fates. Rich will be bribed despite his moral qualms. More won't be bribed, and he'll accept suffering instead.


There must be something that he wants to keep. That's only common sense.

Steward, Act 1, Section 1

Sir Thomas More's steward, as played by the Common Man, notices that More gives many things away. The steward implies that More not only gives away material things, but also love, friendship, and help. As the rising action escalates, More reveals he'll keep his selfhood at the expense of everything else. He can't fully explain or communicate this desire to others. They see his social standing, family, and life as worth keeping instead.


If you won't rule him, be ruled!

Alice More, Act 1, Section 7

Alice is often torn between her love for Sir Thomas More and her reverence for England's codes of conduct. Here she wants More to either advise and "rule" the king or to succumb and assure their family's safety. Either way More and Henry VIII stay friends. She knows how important interpersonal dynamics are to political decisions. More respects the king's authority but refuses to "be ruled" completely, which frustrates everyone in the play.


I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal.

Sir Thomas More, Act 1, Section 7

More explains he doesn't consider himself a moral authority. He's only following his own conscience, and he doesn't want to dictate how everyone should behave. He does, however, consider himself a legal authority. Since More can't fully understand God's law or "what's right" he'll follow man's law or "what's legal." More sees the danger of using individual ideas about morality to dictate the behavior of others. He refuses to arrest Richard Rich in Act 1. Despite what others see as Rich's immoral behavior of spying and spreading gossip, Rich has broken no law. More fears he'll receive similar treatment—arrest for doing what others think is immoral, even if it's not illegal.


The normal aim of administration is to keep steady this factor of convenience.

Thomas Cromwell, Act 1, Section 8

Cromwell is a seasoned veteran of politics. He explains to Richard Rich how the goal of political administration is to smooth the road for those in power. Life will then be simpler and easier for everyone. The question of King Henry VIII's divorce will be decided by convenience—whether or not it makes sense politically—rather than religious precedent. This conversation shows the private goals of Cromwell and Rich.


The Church of England ... deflects the torrents of religious passion down the canals of moderation.

The Common Man, Act 2, Section 1

The Church of England was formed as a compromise between entrenched Catholic ideals and new Protestant ideas. It also gave King Henry VIII the spiritual leadership he needed for a legal divorce. Bolt uses the imagery of water to show how the compromise affected those who practiced religion. "Torrents" are wild, abandoned, and meaningful, similar to fervent religious belief. "Canals" are quiet and peaceful but limited in their space. Bolt implies the Church of England restricted the expression of religion to a politically acceptable level.


Beyond that point ... one is not merely 'compromised,' one is in truth corrupted.

Chapuys, Act 2, Section 2

Attempting to secure Sir Thomas More as an ally to Catholic Spain, Chapuys criticizes the king's divorce and remarriage. He thinks King Henry VIII has ignored how important the Catholic Church is to England's identity and morality. The quote recalls the Common Man's description of England's "compromise." But "compromise" is a political and diplomatic term. Chapuys goes further and uses the moral term "corrupted," implying evil. The two terms show how political and diplomatic issues can escalate into moral ones.


I believe it to be true ... not that I believe it, but that I believe it.

Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Section 2

More explains his devotion to an unprovable religious theory of the pope's supremacy. The italics indicate which part of the phrase More wants to emphasize. The "I" represents his selfhood, something he can't explain or share with anyone but something he can't give up. "I" becomes even more important to him than "believe."


Morality's not practical. Morality's a gesture. A complicated gesture learned from books.

Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Section 2

Does morality have meaning if it's not put into practice? When More's family questions his decision to leave the chancellorship, he argues morality only matters if he acts on his morals. He challenges their concept of morality as an abstract academic topic. A symbolic "gesture" of doing the right thing, to More, is meaningless. More believes he had no choice but to act on his morals—they're part of him.


While we are witty, the Devil may enter us unawares.

William Roper, Act 2, Section 4

Sir Thomas More prizes wit, or the intelligent use of words, as a way to understand the world. William Roper cautions More against relying too heavily on wit. While More is sure a good interpretation of the law will save him from conviction, Roper thinks otherwise. More's opposition, referred to by Roper as "the Devil," will easily resort to underhanded tactics. This quote foreshadows the failure of More's wit to save him.


Only God is love right through, Howard; and that's my self.

Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Section 6

Sir Thomas More finds his selfhood through the religious concept of God and the idea of love. As a Catholic, More believes he has an eternal soul, and God's love is more important than human love or worldly concerns. These concerns include More's deep affection for human friends like the duke of Norfolk. By asking More to sign a statement he doesn't believe, Norfolk is asking him to put aside his commitment to higher things. More thinks it's too much of a sacrifice. This quote reveals how More's identity is wrapped up in his faith.


When a man takes an oath ... he's holding his own self in his hands.

Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Section 8

Why can't Sir Thomas More simply say the words of an oath he doesn't believe? More thinks that if he does, he'll lose something he can't live without. He can see himself outside of the context of his society and its demands. He holds himself to stricter standards. Describing an oath as "words we say to God," More says the promises he makes to God are defining moments for him.


It isn't a matter of reason; finally it's a matter of love.

Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Section 8

Even though Sir Thomas More is a reasonable, practical lawyer, he can't logically explain his actions. They don't make sense. More relies on something deeper and more profound—the emotion of love. This statement shows how deeply committed More is to his faith and his conscience. He views obeying his conscience as an act of love for himself and his family. This statement is contrasted with his family's grief and confusion. The contrast shows the cost of More's "matter of love" and increases the stakes of the play's outcome.


I am sorrier for your perjury than my peril.

Sir Thomas More, Act 2, Section 9

As Sir Thomas More realizes Richard Rich's false testimony has doomed him, he makes this quiet statement. More takes lying under oath seriously as an attorney and as a believer in the sanctity of oaths. He also frequently expresses concern for the state of his friends' souls. Here More shows how much he values the soul over the body. He knows Rich won't suffer any legal consequences for his perjury. But More believes Rich has damaged his soul in an irreversible way.


If you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that's expected.

The Common Man, Act 2, Section 10

The Common Man addresses the audience with this "moral" at the end of the play. He's a spectator to Sir Thomas More's story, like the audience, and he wants to analyze their common experience. This tip won't be a surprise, he says. It's necessary information for anyone who doesn't want to pay the costs of confronting society. The play shows the consequences of More's unexpected troublemaking. It also shows consequences characters like Norfolk, Cromwell, and Rich suffer for making more "expected" choices. The audience is left to make their own decision.

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