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A Man For All Seasons Summary, Themes & Characters

Plot Summary and Synopsis Of A Man For All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt is a play set in the 1530s in England just before the start of the Reformation and based on real events in English history. The main character and hero of the story is Sir Thomas More who is a dedicated Catholic. More is also a close friend of King Henry VIII, the King of England at that time.
Man For All Seasons Summary Characters Themes
A portrait of Sir Thomas More

King Henry soon realizes that his Queen will not be able to provide him with an heir to his throne and therefore orders Cardinal Wolsey, the head of the English church, to organize a divorce. When the divorce is not allowed by the Pope, Wolsey falls from power and More takes his place.

Thomas Cromwell, who is the villain of the story and an assistant to the King, then proposes that the King start his own church and therefore be able to divorce the Queen. This is done and the Church of England is formed with the King as the leader.

Thomas More is very much against the divorce because it is against Catholic law and he will not sign the document to agree to the new church. He is consequently imprisoned and, after a trial in which Cromwell convicts him, executed.

A Man For All Seasons Themes

The major theme in Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons is that in life people should have a set of morals and principles that won't be compromised for anything even death, just as Sir Thomas More wouldn't compromise.

If a person were to deny these principles within themselves then life would become valueless and they would become like Richard Rich, bending to influence and taking the easy road of life. Robert Bolt would expect people to feel more strongly about these principles and to stand up for them as a result of seeing or reading A Man For All Seasons.

The Thomas Cromwell Character In A Man For All Seasons

Thomas Cromwell (1485-1540),the villain in A Man For All Seasons, was an ambitious man who rose from humble origins to become the Lord Chancellor of England through his ability and determination. He was also a keen follower of Macchiavelli's teachings which was that the ends justified the means. In 1540, after losing favour with King Henry VIII, Cromwell was executed.

In A Man for All Seasons, Cromwell plays the villain and represents all that is evil and bad. He is the opposite to Sir Thomas More who is the hero of the story and represents the good side. Cromwell is also very unscrupulous and ambitious in A Man For All Seasons and is much more concerned with getting to higher places in the kingdom than with any moral principles. He plays a large part in Thomas More's execution.

During A Man for all Seasons, Cromwell was portrayed as a man who seemed to be much more concerned with his earthly life and the things of value on earth rather than in heaven. He never let religion or morals get in the way of his ambitions and as a result rose to high places in England but also fell quickly with his execution.

Cromwell's character demonstrates the idea that if a person wants something enough and is willing to put everything else aside for that, even their conscience and God, then they will eventually achieve this goal as Cromwell did, but at a high price. In contrast, Thomas More did the opposite yet still was successful and this shows that achieving success is also possible through honesty and Godliness.

The Common Man Character In A Man For All Seasons

Throughout A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt uses a form of alienation technique. An alienation technique is a method used in plays to link the actors closer to their audience by communicating directly with them. In A Man for All Seasons, Robert Bolt uses a form of this where one actor only, the Common Man, interacts with the audience.

In traditional dramas only narrators or occasionally different characters in the play talk to the audience; the Common Man is similar to a narrator except that he plays a part in the play and represents "that which is common to us all". As a result of this technique, the audience is given a different view from the Common Man throughout A Man For All Seasons and these different views help to provoke a reaction from the audience and make the viewer feel more strongly about the events as they happen.

The Historical King Henry VIII

After King Henry VIII had married Catherine of Aragon, his dead brother's widow, in order to form an alliance with Spain, he soon became concerned that she would not be able to give him an heir to continue his line. He concluded that his marriage displeased God because it was forbidden to marry your brother's widow.

Henry approached the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, to allow him a divorce. The Pope, in fear of Spain who opposed the divorce, could not allow this. King Henry became angry and one of his ministers, Thomas Cromwell, proposed that he break from the Roman Catholic Church and begin his own with the King as the head and thus allowing him to have a divorce. Anyone who opposed the break from the Church was executed.

The Historical Sir Thomas More

Sir Thomas More was one of the few people of those times who was in a high position and was also a very moral and scrupulous person. More acted very much on his conscience and would refuse to do anything that he believed to be wrong.

King Henry VIII soon recognized him as a very moral and honest man and More served Henry frequently on diplomatic missions and was knighted in 1521. More and Henry soon became close friends and Sir Thomas More was made Lord Chancellor in 1529.

More's relationship and position soon changed, however, when King Henry wanted More's support to divorce his wife. More's religious scruples would not allow this and King Henry had him executed in 1535.

Politics In The Time Of A Man For All Seasons

The political system of England during King Henry's reign gave the King a great deal of power and made him the most powerful person in England besides the Pope. The King had the power to declare wars and he also appointed the Cardinal, who was the head of the Church in England, and Chancellor, who advised the King.

At this time, Henry was married to Catherine who was from the royal family in Spain and so had formed an alliance with Spain. Spain, however, kept an eye on England by using Signor Chapuys as a spy.

Religion And The Church In The Time Of A Man For All Seasons

Back in these times, the church was very different to what it is today. The church seemed more interested in getting money and power than in teaching people about God and Jesus Christ and the spiritual aspect of church. As a result there were many wrong practices going on in the church.

Such immoralities took place as selling of indulgences, where people could pay money in order to comit a sin; selling of relics, selling things to people that were meant to have a special spiritual value but were often fake; and reading the Bible only in Latin so that the people couldn't understand it. The sole purposes of these wrong practices were to gain money and power for the church. As a result many churchmen, such as Wolsey, became very rich and powerful.

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