A Man For All Seasons Summary

Robert Bolt

A Man For All Seasons

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A Man For All Seasons Summary

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Robert Bolt’s play A Man For All Seasons is based on the life of Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England during the sixteenth century. More famously refused to endorse King Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon when she proved unable to provide him with a son. The play was adapted for BBC Radio in 1954, and made into a live BBC television version in 1957. It was first performed in London at the Globe Theatre on July 1, 1960. Later, it was performed on Broadway, where it was critically and commercially successful. In 1966, it was made into a feature film which won multiple Academy Awards, and in 1988, a television movie.

More is a close and trusted friend of King Henry VIII. He morally objects to the divorce, which, at the time,is not legal. The country is controlled by the Roman Catholic Church, which is strongly against divorce. Henry, however, is obsessed with creating an heir. Catherine was only allowed to marry Henry after it was discovered that her first husband, Henry’s late brother, had not consummated the marriage. More expresses his feelings to the current Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, who says that More is simply being impractical.

More meets the Spanish Ambassador to England, Signor Chapuys. Catherine, the aunt of the King of Spain, has his loyalty far more than Henry does. Chapuys talks with More and discovers More’s feelings about the divorce. He stresses the religious significance that marriage holds within the Catholic faith, and therefore considers More an ally. More is thoughtful, which Chapuys interprets as signifying More’s dedication to the Catholic faith.

More comes home to find his daughter, Margaret, and her boyfriend, Roper. Roper is Lutheran, meaning Protestant. He asks for Margaret’s hand, and More, furious about having a Protestant in the family, refuses. Meanwhile, Henry sends Wolsey into disgrace after he fails to convince the Pope to support the divorce. Wolsey dies suddenly after this, and More is chosen as his successor.

More helps Richard Rich find a job and gives him a silver cup as a gift not realizing the cup had been given to him as a bribe. Thomas Cromwell, a close confidant of Henry, presses Rich for information about More, promising Rich a high-powered court position. Chapuys enters with More’s servant, Matthew. Cromwell, Rich, and Chapuys try to bribe information out of Matthew, who is purposely vague. They pay him anyway.

Henry goes to London in search of More when he cannot be found. More arrives at his home just before Henry gets there, and the two men talk. More says Henry promised not to ask him his opinion on the divorce, which angers Henry. He says he will not ask him anymore, but More must stay quiet about his opinions publicly. Henry leaves, and More’s wife, Alice, begs her husband to change his mind. She tells him to do whatever Henry wants. Rich arrives to warn More about Cromwell and Chapuys’ intention to blackmail him. Rich uses this to blackmail More himself, asking for a better job, but More refuses. Embarrassed, Rich returns to Cromwell and tells him about the silver cup. For this, Cromwell gives Rich a better job.

The Act of Supremacy is passed, meaning England will be Protestant and follow the Church of England. King Henry will act as the head of the church, but the act is not fully realised: it still needs bishops of England to pass it. More announces that if the bishops pass the act, he will resign his new position and will not explain himself to anyone but the king. Again, his family begs him not to anger the king further, but he refuses. The King of Spain sends him a letter, commending him for his decision.

Henry tells Cromwell he plans to persecute More, but he needs more evidence. Cromwell meets with the Duke of Norfolk and tells him about the silver cup. Norfolk pokes holes in his evidence, telling Cromwell that More gave the cup away once he realised it was a bribe. Cromwell remains determined to find more evidence against More.

Cromwell calls More to his office to cite charges against him. He lists sympathising with an enemy and taking credit for a book Henry wrote. Then he reads a letter written by Henry, in which he calls More a villain. These words hurt More much more than the others.

More meets with Norfolk, warning that their friendship is a liability; Norfolk might be seen as a conspirator against the king. Shortly after, More is imprisoned. Another act is signed, stating all subjects must swear an oath of allegiance to Henry and his new capacity as the head of the Church of England. All must support Henry’s divorce of Catherine. More refuses again.

Many try to change More’s mind, including Alice. She finally understands why he did what he did, and they rekindle their love. At the trial, Rich gives false testimony about More denying Henry as the true ruler of the church. More gives a speech about the evils of a government that would condemn a man for being quiet about his opinions.He is then beheaded.