Course Hero Logo

A Man for All Seasons | Study Guide

Robert Bolt

Get the eBook on Amazon to study offline.

Buy on Amazon Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic


Course Hero. "A Man for All Seasons Study Guide." Course Hero. 14 Dec. 2017. Web. 1 June 2023. <>.

In text

(Course Hero)



Course Hero. (2017, December 14). A Man for All Seasons Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved June 1, 2023, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "A Man for All Seasons Study Guide." December 14, 2017. Accessed June 1, 2023.


Course Hero, "A Man for All Seasons Study Guide," December 14, 2017, accessed June 1, 2023,

A Man for All Seasons | Symbols


Water and Sailing

Water in all forms, but especially as it relates to sailing ships, stands for what Bolt calls in his Preface "the superhuman context" of alienating, uncontrollable, and terrifying forces. These forces in the play include the afterlife, religious judgment, decisions about morality, and sudden life transitions.

Whenever Sir Thomas More has a meeting that alters his understanding of his society, he travels back home on a boat. His most important and unsettling conversation with the Duke of Norfolk takes place on the shore. More uses water spaniels as a metaphor for striving and failing human souls. In jail he compares taking an oath to holding his self in his hands "like water," showing the risk and danger in oaths.

More compares the concepts of right and wrong to "currents and eddies" that take a "voyager" to travel. He views right and wrong as spiritual concepts beyond his capacity to fully understand.

Ships represent danger and authority. Thomas Cromwell compares the law to an awe-inspiring and dangerous ship before More's trial. The ship King Henry VIII sails, the Great Harry, shows the king's desire for power, conquest, and autonomy.

Dry Land

Dry land, particularly forests, represents human-made stability. For Sir Thomas More this stability is fully realized in the law. He wants to hide himself and his family "in the thickets of the law," a terrain he can navigate. As long as he stays within legal boundaries he can cling to their protection, like staying on dry land.

Both Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More refer to moral ideas as "life lines." These lines anchor people to the earth, away from the sea. Cromwell describes Richard Rich's statement "There are some things one wouldn't do for anything" as a life line no one wants to use. More sees his refusal to reveal his true motives to his family as a "life line" keeping them from perjury.

The Silver Cup

The silver cup stands for temptation and corruption. It appears in the first scene, in which Sir Thomas More warns Richard Rich about the bribes that are offered to those serving in public office. The discussion of the cup's financial worth reinforces the rewards of succumbing to temptation.

When the silver cup returns in Act 2, it stands for Rich's eventual moral corruption. Rich tries to use the cup as evidence proving More accepted a bribe. When Rich first tells Thomas Cromwell about the bribe, Cromwell congratulates him. The disclosure is part of Rich's initiation into the dishonest world of politics.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about A Man for All Seasons? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!