Study Guide

A Man for All Seasons Act Two

By Robert Bolt

Act Two

  • We open once again with Common Man alone on stage. It's now May 1532—two years later–and in that time King Henry has formed the Church of England in order to make his divorce possible.
  • Common Man departs as More and Roper enter the scene. Roper is decked out in traditional Catholic garb, much to More's chagrin.
  • More reveals that Roper and Margaret are now married. Hurray—we think? On cue, Margaret and Chapuys enter the scene.
  • Chapuys claims that he's making a personal visit, but More isn't buying it. Roper and Margaret head to another room to leave the two men alone.
  • As they talk, it becomes clear that Chapuys wants More to take a public stand against this new church. More is hesitant, even after Chapuys suggests that he is building up an army of peasants to stage a revolt.
  • Before they can get any further, Roper and Norfolk enter the scene from above, while Alice and Margaret approach from below. Something's going down, folks.
  • Chapuys pretends to depart, but actually hides in the corner. He eavesdrops as Norfolk reveals that the British clergy has voted to "sever the connection with Rome" (2.83). In other words, the Church of England is now entirely separate from the Catholic Church.
  • Although More still won't be direct about his opinion regarding these issues, he asks Margaret to take off the "chain" that signifies his status as a Cardinal (2.87). That mean he's resigning, as Chapuys had suggested.
  • Norfolk accepts this resignation hesitantly and promises to put in a good word to King Henry. Before Norfolk departs, however, More tells him about Chapuys's claims of an armed revolt.
  • More's family is pretty ticked off—although they respect Norfolk's gesture, they know that it spells bad news for the fam. Roper supports him at least.
  • There's more bad news: this resignation means that the Mores will have to fire their staff. That includes Matthew. Sniff—poor fella.
  • More tells Matthew that he will miss him before the family exits the scene, leaving Common Man alone once again. He starts passionately ranting, simultaneously insulting and complimenting More in a bizarrely impressive tour de force.
  • Norfolk and Cromwell emerge. Norfolk is defending More by highlighting how he ratted out Chapuys's revolt, but Cromwell is still dedicated to bringing More down.
  • Cromwell says he will achieve this by revealing that More has "accepted bribes" (2.179). Norfolk scoffs, but Cromwell summons Rich and a mysterious woman to prove his case.
  • The mysterious woman explains that she gave More a fancy cup so that he would rule in her favor in a court case (which he didn't actually do). Therefore, she says, More takes bribes. Case closed, right?
  • Norfolk remembers this cup and points out that he had seen Rich happily taking it home with him. And with that, Cromwell's latest attempt is sunk.
  • Cromwell departs and is replaced by the Matthew, who manages to convince Rich to give him a job. Good for you, Common Bro.
  • The scene shifts to the More home, where Alice is chatting with Chapuys and his assistant as they wait for More to come downstairs.
  • Casa More is in rough shape since we've last seen it—the building is a mess, and the Mores can't even afford heating anymore. It's kind of a bummer.
  • More enters the room. Chapuys tells him that he has a message for him from the King of Spain, but More refuses to even "lay a finger on it" (2.270). Chapuys departs with a crooked smile.
  • It's tense in the More household. Apparently, a bunch of Catholic clergymen pooled funds to give More a 4,000-pound donation, but he has refused the much-needed cash (to Alice's dismay) because it looks bad.
  • Roper enters with bad news: More is being called to Hampton Court for an interview with Cromwell. Oh, boy…
  • The scene shifts to Cromwell's office at the beginning of the meeting. Cromwell tells More how much he admires him, but he's clearly fishing for evidence of treason.
  • Nothing sticks. Cromwell even accuses More of ghostwriting the King's pro-Catholic book, A Defence of the Seven Sacraments—which is true, but More's confident that the King would never admit to this in public.
  • As the interview continues, More becomes increasingly defiant. Cromwell strikes back, showing him a note directly from King Henry VIII which calls him "traitorous" and compels him to bless the divorce or else (2.377).
  • After the interview, More desperately tries to get a boat, to little avail. Norfolk appears and tells him that he can't find a boat because word is spreading about the King's accusations of treason.
  • Norfolk tries to convince More to go with the flow, but More predictably refuses. What's more, he tells Norfolk that their friendship is over—it's too dangerous to be friends with him now.
  • This conversation ends with More basically attacking Norfolk, although Margaret appears and cools him down before he does anything crazy. Well, kind of—he does end up getting socked in the jaw by Norfolk.
  • Roper enters just as More recovers. He has bad news, as usual: Parliament is administering an oath to all citizens about King Henry's marriage. Uh oh. More desperately asks to see the wording before he'll even consider agreeing to its terms.
  • The trio departs, and Common Man appears. He seems kind of bummed, but it's not until he shows us his new occupation that we know why—he's a "jailer" (2.459).
  • Interestingly, Common Man also tells us what will happen to many of the characters after the events of the play: Cromwell and Norfolk will both eventually be arrested for treason, while Rich will go on to become very successful.
  • For now, however, we're in jail with More as he greets visitors—Cromwell, Norfolk, and Archbishop Cranmer. This will apparently be their seventh interrogation.
  • For his part, More will swear that he will accept Henry and Anne's children as heirs because "The King in Parliament tells [him] that they are" (2.486). What he won't do, however, is sign the oath attached to that Act of Parliament—though he refuses to give a reason why he won't.
  • The trio quizzes More on a bunch of potential reasons for his refusal to sign the oath, but he won't even give a hint. All he says is that he won't sign the oath, and he won't tell them why.
  • The men argue about the legal and philosophical ramification of this, but More doesn't budge. He knows that as long as he doesn't admit to treason, they do not have the legal authority to have him executed.
  • After More returns to his cell, the commission discusses its findings. Cromwell demands that all of More's books be taken away—that is strictly against code.
  • We jump forward in time a few days to learn great news (for once): More's family is visiting him. He is beyond psyched to see them—and to enjoy the tasty snacks they brought along
  • As it happens, More's family members also want him to take the oath—they even took oaths to that effect. Oh, brother. We think you can guess how well this goes.
  • Margaret is telling More about how sad their lives are now when the jailer returns: they have two minutes left. More sends Roper off to distract the jailer and buy them more time.
  • More takes this opportunity to flirt with Alice, but she's too upset to play along. For her part, she doesn't "believe this had to happen" (2.650). At the end, however, they share a rather heartwarming moment of tenderness.
  • But time's up—Roper's a bad distractor. Although the two More ladies fight the jailer tooth and nail, they finally accept his order to leave.
  • After the scene ends, Common Man sets the stage to look like a courtroom. He takes out the four hats he's worn so far—those of the steward, boatman, innkeeper, and jailer– and sets them on poles in the jury section, before Cromwell appears and tells him to act as the jury foreman.
  • In case you haven't guessed, this is More's trial. More is kind of taken aback: he still believes his legal argument to be foolproof, which means that they can't possibly accuse him of treason.
  • After a brief debate on the nature of silence, Cromwell and More get into a shouting match. That's when Cromwell whips out his secret weapon— his key witness, the newly minted Sir Richard Rich.
  • Rich reveals that he had a conversation with More about the differences between Man's law and God's law. More doesn't deny it so far.
  • That's when Rich makes a bombshell claim—More then argued that Parliament doesn't have the power to make the King the head of the Church, which invalidates the entire Church of England.
  • More denies this and says that he'll sign an oath to that effect. He also says that there were two other men there during the convo, but Cromwell explains that they are conveniently away on business in Ireland.
  • After deliberation, the jury reveals their ruling—More has been "found guilty of High Treason" (2.780). That's, uh, really bad.
  • Before his sentencing, More gives a brief speech that finally reveals his reasoning—he has refused to sign the oath because a legal organization like Parliament has no grounds to make rulings regarding "Spiritual Supremacy" (2.784).
  • After the speech, Norfolk sentences More to be taken to the Tower (London's most feared prison), where he will be executed. Buzzkill. Literally.
  • The scene shifts once again: this time Cromwell helps Common Man set the stage for the execution. He also presents him with his newest mask: the black mask of the executioner.
  • As More is being led to the executioner's block, he's met by Margaret, with whom he exchanges some tender words. He's also met by the lady who tried to bribe him, to whom he gives an intellectual slap across the face.
  • More kneels down at the block, and the lights go off. Suddenly, drums start swelling and....his head is presumably sliced off, though we don't see it directly.
  • The lights turn back on to find Common Man alone in the center of stage, maskless. He tells the audience that the key to staying alive is to not "make trouble" of the sort that isn't "expected" (2.796).
  • And with that, the play ends.