A Man for All Seasons

Sir Thomas More Character Analysis

Thomas More is the “Man For All Seasons” in the title of the play. He is an English lawyer, eventually promoted to Chancellor and assistant to the King after Wolsey’s death. A devoted Catholic, More refuses to sign Parliament’s Act of Supremacy, which declares King Henry, and not the Pope, the Supreme Head of the new Church of England. More is committed to his conscience, and this prevents him from signing the Act, because he feels in his heart it is the wrong thing to do. He is intellectual, quick to laugh, and compassionate, though above all else he proves to be devoted to his own concsience and beliefs. He is married to Alice More and is the father of Margaret More.

Sir Thomas More Quotes in A Man for All Seasons

The A Man for All Seasons quotes below are all either spoken by Sir Thomas More or refer to Sir Thomas More. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Financial vs. Moral Richness Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of A Man for All Seasons published in 1990.
Act 1 Quotes

Rich: But every man has his price!
More: No-no-no—

Rich: But yes! In money too.
More: No no no.
Rich: Or pleasure. Titles, women, bricks-and-mortar, there’s always something.
More: Childish.
Rich: Well, in suffering, certainly.
More: Buy a man with suffering?
Rich: Impose suffering, and offer him—escape.
More: Oh. For a moment I thought you were being profound.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Richard Rich (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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Wolsey: It’s a devious situation.
More: There must be something simple in the middle of it. (Again this is not a moral dictum; it is said rather wistfully, as of something he is beginning to doubt)
Wolsey: I believe you believe that. You’re a constant regret to me, Thomas. If you could just see the facts flat on, without that horrible moral squint; with just a little common sense, you could have been a statesman.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Cardinal Wolsey (speaker)
Page Number: 19
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Well…I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties…they lead their country by a short route to chaos.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Cardinal Wolsey
Page Number: 22
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Cromwell: Oh no—they’ll talk about the divorce. The King will ask him for an answer.
Chapuys: He has given his answer!
Cromwell: The King will ask him for another.
Chapuys: Sir Thomas is a good son of the Church!
Cromwell: Sir Thomas is a man.

Related Characters: Thomas Cromwell (speaker), Chapuys (speaker), Sir Thomas More, King Henry VIII
Page Number: 39
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Norfolk:…d’you propose to meet the King disguised as a parish clerk? A parish clerk, my Lord Chancellor! You dishonor the King and his office!
More: The service of God is not a dishonor to any office. Believe me, my friend, I do not belittle the honor his Majesty is doing me.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Duke of Norfolk (speaker), King Henry VIII
Page Number: 46
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More: …I’m not a God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate. I’m no voyager. But in the thickets of the law, oh, there I’m a forester. I doubt if there’s a man alive who could follow me there, thank God…
Alice; While you talk, he’s gone!
More: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you—where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast—man’s laws, not God’s—and if you cut them down—and you’re just the man to do it—d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d like to give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Alice More (speaker), William Roper (speaker), Richard Rich, Thomas Cromwell
Page Number: 65
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I’m a prominent figure. Someone somewhere’s collecting information about Cromwell. Now no more shirking; we must make a start. There’s a stuffed swan if you please. Will, I’d trust you with my life. But not your principles. You see, we speak of being anchored to our principles. But if the weather turns nasty you up with an anchor and let it down where there’s less wind, and the fishing’s better. And “Look,” we say, “look, I’m anchored! To my principles!”

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Thomas Cromwell, William Roper
Related Symbols: Water, Tides, and the Sea
Page Number: 69
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Roper: You are denying the Act of Supremacy!
More: No, I’m not; the Act states that the King—
Roper: —is Supreme Head of the Church in England.
More: Supreme Head of the Church in England—“So far as the law of God allows.” How far the law of God does allow it remains a matter of opinion, since the Act doesn’t state it.
Roper: A legal quibble.
More: Call it what you like, it’s there, thank God.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), William Roper (speaker), King Henry VIII
Page Number: 83
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The Apostolic Success of the Pope is—….Why it’s a theory, yes; you can’t see it; can’t touch it; it’s a theory. But what matters to me is not whether it’s true or not but that I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it…I trust I make myself obscure?

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Duke of Norfolk
Page Number: 91
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More: Son Roper, you’re pleased with me I hope?
Roper: Sir, You’ve made a noble gesture.
More: A gesture? It wasn’t possible to continue, Will. I was not able to continue. I would have if I could! I make no gesture! My God, I hope it’s understood I make no gesture! Alice, you don’t think I would do this to you for a gesture! That’s a gesture (Thumbs his nose) That’s a gesture! (Jerks up two fingers) I’m no street acrobat to make gestures! I’m practical!
Roper: You belittle yourself, sir, this was not practical; this was moral!
More: Oh, now I understand you, Will. Morality’s not practical. Morality’s a gesture. A complicated gesture learned from books—that’s what you say, Alice isn’t it?...And you, Meg?
Margaret: It is, for most of us, Father.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), William Roper (speaker), Alice More
Page Number: 94
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Alice, it’s a point of law! Accept it from me, Alice, that in silence is my safety under the law, but my silence must be absolute, it must extend to you.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Alice More, King Henry VIII
Page Number: 95
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Norfolk: But he makes no noise, Mr. Secretary; he’s silent, why not leave him silent?
Cromwell: Not being a man of letters, Your Grace, you perhaps don’t realize the extent of his reputation. This “silence” of his is bellowing up and down Europe!

Related Characters: Duke of Norfolk (speaker), Thomas Cromwell (speaker), Sir Thomas More
Page Number: 98
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Chapuys: Goodness can be a difficulty.
Attendant: Excellency?
Chapuys: In the long run, of course, all good men everywhere are allies of Spain. No good man cannot be, and no man who is not can be good…
Attendant: Then he really is for us.
Chapuys: He is opposed to Cromwell, is he not?
Attendant: Oh, yes, Excellency.
Chapuys: If he’s opposed to Cromwell, he’s for us. There’s no third alternative?
Attendant: I suppose not, Excellency.

Related Characters: Chapuys (speaker), Chapuy’s Attendant (speaker), Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell
Page Number: 106
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Chapuys: I have a personal letter for you.
More: From who?
Chapuys: My master, the King of Spain. You will take it?
More: I will not lay a finger on it.
Chapuys: It is in no way an affair of State. It expresses my master’s admiration for the stand which you and Bishop Fisher of Rochester have taken over the so-called divorce of Queen Catherine.
More: I have taken no stand!
Chapuys: But your views, Sir Thomas, are well known—
More: My views are much guessed at…

Chapuys: But, Sir Thomas, your views—
More: Are well known you say. It seems my loyalty to my King is less so!

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Chapuys (speaker), King Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon
Page Number: 107
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Alice: “Luxury”!.
More: Well, it’s a luxury while it lasts…There’s not much sport in it for you, is there? Alice, the money from the bishops. I can’t take it. I wish—oh, heaven, how I wish I could! But I can’t.
Alice: I didn’t think you would.
More: Alice, there are reasons.
Alice: We couldn’t come so deep into your confidence as to know these reasons why a man in poverty can’t take four thousand pounds?
More: Alice, this isn’t poverty.
Alice: D’you know what we shall eat tonight?
More: Yes, parsnips.
Alice: Yes, parsnips and stinking mutton! For a knight’s lady!
More: But at the worst, we could be beggars, and still keep company, and be merry together!

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Alice More (speaker)
Page Number: 110
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Cromwell: The King’s a man of conscience and he wants either Sir Thomas More to bless his marriage or Sir Thomas More destroyed.
Rich: They seem odd alternatives, Secretary.
Cromwell: Do they? That’s because you’re not a man of conscience. If the King destroys a man, that’s proof to the King that it must have been a bad man, the kind of man a man of conscience ought to destroy—and of course a bad man’s blessing’s not worth having. So either will do.

Related Characters: Richard Rich (speaker), Thomas Cromwell (speaker), Sir Thomas More, King Henry VIII
Page Number: 119
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Norfolk: …The one fixed point in a world of changing friendships is that Thomas More will not give in!
More: To me it has to be, for that’s myself! Affection goes as deep in me as you think, but only God is love right through, Howard; and that’s my self.
Norfolk: And who are you? Goddammit, man, it’s disproportionate! We’re supposed to be the arrogant ones, the proud, splenetic ones—and we’ve all given in! Why must you stand out? You’ll break my heart.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Duke of Norfolk (speaker)
Page Number: 112
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More: The nobility of England, my lord, would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount. But you’ll labor like Thomas Aquinas over a rat-dog’s pedigree. Now what’s the name of those distorted creatures you’re all breeding at the moment?

Norfolk: Water spaniels!
More: And what would you do with a water spaniel that was afraid of water? You’d hang it! Well, as a spaniel is to water, so is a man to his own self. I will not give in because I oppose it—I do—not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do—I! Is there no single sinew in the midst of this that serves no appetite of Norfolk’s but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord!

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Duke of Norfolk (speaker)
Page Number: 123
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Norfolk: Oh, confound all this…I’m not a scholar, as Master Cromwell never tires of pointing out, and frankly I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not. But damn it, Thomas, look at those names…You know those men! Can’t you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?
More: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Duke of Norfolk (speaker)
Page Number: 132
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Then it’s a poor argument to call it “neat,” Meg. When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his own self in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then—he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loathe to think your father one of them.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Margaret More
Related Symbols: Water, Tides, and the Sea
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:
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Cromwell: …But, gentlemen of the jury, there are many kinds of silence. Consider first the silence of a man when he is dead. Let us say we go into the room where he is lying; and let us say it is in the dead of night—there’s nothing like darkness for sharpening the ear; and we listen. What do we hear? Silence. What does it betoken, this silence? Nothing. This is silence, pure and simple. But consider another case. Suppose I were to draw a dagger from my sleeve and make to kill the prisoner with it, and suppose their lordships there, instead of crying out for me to stop or crying out for help to stop me, maintained their silence. That would be betoken! It would betoken a willingness that I should do it, and under the law they would be guilty with me. So silence can, according to circumstances, speak. Consider, now, the circumstances of the prisoner’s silence. The oath was put to good and faithful subjects up and down the country and they had declared His Grace’s title to be just and good. And when it came to the prisoner he refused. He calls this silence. Yet is there a man in this court, is there a man in this country, who does not know Sir Thomas More’s opinion of the King’s title? Of course not! But how can that be? Because this silence betokened—nay, this silence was not silence at all but most eloquent denial.
More: Not so, Master Secretary, the maxim is “qui tacet consentire.” The maxim of the law is “Silence gives consent.” If, therefore, you wish to construe what my silence “Betokened,” you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Thomas Cromwell (speaker), King Henry VIII
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 2 Quotes

Cromwell: I put it to the Court that the prisoner is perverting the law—making smoky what should be a clear light to discover to the Court his own wrongdoing!
More: The law is not a “light” for you or any man to see by; the law is not an instrument of any king. The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely. In matters of conscience—
Cromwell: The conscience, the conscience…
More: The word is not familiar to you?
Cromwell: By God, too familiar! I am very used to hear it in the mouths of criminals!

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Thomas Cromwell (speaker)
Page Number: 152
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Norfolk: Have you anything to say?
More: Yes. To avoid this I have taken every path my winding wits would find. Now that the court has determined to condemn me, God knoweth how, I will discharge my mind…concerning my indictment and the King’s title. The indictment is grounded in an Act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the Law of God. The King in Parliament cannot bestow the Supremacy of the Church because it is a Spiritual Supremacy! And more to this the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and the King’s own Coronation Oath!
Cromwell: Now we plainly see that you are malicious!
More: Not so, Master Secretary! I am the King’s true subject, and pray for him and all the realm…I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live…I have, since I came into prison, been several times in such a case that I thought to die within the hour, and I thank Our Lord I was never sorry for it, but rather sorry when it passed. And therefore, my poor body is at the King’s pleasure. Would God my death might do him some good…Nevertheless, it is not for the Supremacy that you have sought my blood—but because I would not bend to the marriage!

Related Characters: Sir Thomas More (speaker), Duke of Norfolk (speaker), Thomas Cromwell (speaker), King Henry VIII
Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
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Sir Thomas More Character Timeline in A Man for All Seasons

The timeline below shows where the character Sir Thomas More appears in A Man for All Seasons. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
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...unpack his basket. He takes out a jug of alcohol and several goblets, including Thomas More’s silver cup, and sets the newly revealed dinner table. He asserts, “The Sixteenth Century is... (full context)
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The newly set table suggests that we are now in Thomas More’s house in London. More and Richard Rich enter, clearly in the middle of an argument.... (full context)
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More notices that Rich’s argument sounds like the one Machiavelli, a contemporary diplomat and writer, makes... (full context)
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...made many acquaintances, he still isn’t in a position of power. Rich wonders aloud if More counts him as an acquaintance or a friend. More tells him that they are engaged... (full context)
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More reminds Rich that he could have a teaching position if he wanted, but Rich isn’t... (full context)
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The Duke of Norfolk, More’s wife Alice, and More’s daughter Margaret enter arguing about Norfolk’s recent hunting trip. Norfolk claims... (full context)
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...the Cardinal himself is the son of a butcher. Rich admits he likes Cromwell, and More suggests that Rich can use his connection to Cromwell instead of his friendship with More... (full context)
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The Steward enters with a letter summoning More to the Cardinal’s office, although it is now eleven at night. As More leaves he... (full context)
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As Rich leaves, the Steward comments on the new goblet More has given Rich. After Rich has left the stage, the Steward observes that More gives... (full context)
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The scene changes, and Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas More meet in Wolsey’s office. It is now past one in the morning. Wolsey has More... (full context)
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More and Wolsey hear the trumpet announcing the King. He’s returning from an evening with his... (full context)
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Wolsey acknowledges More’s right to his own conscience, but points out that as a statesman, he should consider... (full context)
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Wolsey asks More who should be the next Cardinal. More suggests a man named Tunstall, but says he... (full context)
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The scene changes to the banks of a river. More calls for a boat and the Common Man appears dressed as a Boatman. More tries... (full context)
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Before More can start on his way home, the diplomat Chapuys appears on the bank of the... (full context)
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More turns to the Boatman, who agrees to row him home. They discuss the river. More... (full context)
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Back at home, although it is very late at night, More finds Margaret is still awake. Her suitor, Will Roper, is also at the house. Margaret... (full context)
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...with Martin Luther and The Protestant Reformation, and believes that the Catholic Church is corrupt. More counters that Roper is constantly changing his mind regarding religion, and so his opinions can’t... (full context)
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Alice wakes up and joins More and Margaret. The two women want to know why Wolsey called More to meet. They... (full context)
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...died a traitor, and Rich, once a political unknown, is rising quickly. Cromwell describes Thomas More and Rich as friends, which Rich is hesitant to confirm. Rich instead describes More as... (full context)
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 Cromwell reveals that the King will soon visit More in his home and ask him for another answer regarding the divorce. The King will... (full context)
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More’s Steward enters. Clearly both Cromwell and Chapuys want to talk to him. The two men... (full context)
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...Attendant reemerge from behind the curtain to talk to the Steward. The Steward reveals that More prays and goes to confession often. Chapuys knows the Steward is serving as an informant... (full context)
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The scene transitions to More’s house. Alice, Margaret, and Norfolk are looking for More. The King is arriving soon on... (full context)
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King Henry arrives by boat, which he himself navigated. More, Margaret, and Alice all pretend that his visit has surprised them. The King flirts with... (full context)
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The King finally turns his attentions to More. At first he doesn’t talk about politics. Instead he talks about the “great experience” he... (full context)
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Henry and More discuss the late Cardinal Wolsey. More comments that Wolsey was “a statesman of incomparable ability.”... (full context)
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Although he has promised not to, Henry once again brings up his divorce. More says that although he’s been thinking about it since their last conversation, he hasn’t come... (full context)
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More wonders why, if Henry is so sure of himself, he needs More’s approval. The King... (full context)
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The King tells More his “conscience is [his] own affair,” and that he, the King, will leave More alone... (full context)
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Alice is upset that More has not been more cooperative. She asks him to “Be ruled!” or else rule the... (full context)
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...Parliament, and because of his “inconvenient conscience” doesn’t know whether or not to take it. More suggests that Roper would be a good fit because of his heretical religious views, which... (full context)
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...visit uninvited. Rich is in a strange mood, and complains that he feels unwelcome in More’s house. He confesses that Cromwell has been asking questions about More. Rich says that More’s... (full context)
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More’s family wants to arrest Rich. Margaret thinks he should be arrested for being bad, as... (full context)
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...down every law in England” if it meant he could somehow indict the Devil, but More argues that laws are important for the safety of mankind, even if it means that... (full context)
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...has transformed himself into a Publican (Inkeeper). He jokes that he can barely understand what More is saying because he is so common. Cromwell enters the pub and asks for a... (full context)
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...though Cromwell suspects he lost it a long time ago. They both believe that Thomas More has an innocent conscience, but Cromwell nevertheless begins to plot to manipulate him. Cromwell believes... (full context)
Act 2
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The stage lights brighten and reveal More sitting at his desk in his home. Roper is pacing the stage in front of... (full context)
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More and Roper discuss the new Act of Supremacy, which makes Henry “Supreme Head of the... (full context)
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Chapuys interrupts the conversation, entering ahead of Margaret, who was guiding him to More’s office. Chapuys says he has come to visit More as a fellow “brother in Christ,”... (full context)
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Chapuys says he has heard that More will resign if the bishops in court all submit to the Act of Supremacy. He... (full context)
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...listening. Norfolk announces that England has severed its connection with Rome. True to his word, More is committed to resigning from his post, and asks for help removing his Chancellor chain.... (full context)
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More refuses to answer whether or not he sees Catherine as the legitimate queen. Norfolk is... (full context)
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More asks Norfolk if he will repeat what More has said. Norfolk says no, and More... (full context)
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Alice is upset. She is worried the King will punish More. Roper appreciates More’s gesture, though More says he didn’t mean for his resignation to be... (full context)
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More believes he will be safe if he and his family remain silent. He cautions Alice... (full context)
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More dismisses his staff, because he will no longer be able to pay them. He tells... (full context)
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...is not stated), Norfolk and Cromwell talk in a private corner. Norfolk wants to leave More to his silence, but Cromwell believes that More’s “silence” is “bellowing up and down Europe.”... (full context)
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Cromwell believes More can be blackmailed for once taking a bribe. Norfolk believes that More is too upstanding... (full context)
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Before Norfolk leaves, he tells Cromwell that he isn’t interested in persecuting More. Cromwell tells Norfolk that the King is aware of his friendship with More, and for... (full context)
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...they must obey the law, even if they have to make up new ones themselves. More’s old Steward then enters. Cromwell had called him to the palace to corroborate Rich and... (full context)
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Back at More’s house, Chapuys has come to visit. Chapuys and his Attendant comment on how cold the... (full context)
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More enters and greets Chapuys. Chapuys delivers a letter from the King of Spain. He insists... (full context)
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Margaret enters with a bundle of plants for the fire as Chapuys leaves. More describes the fire as a “luxury,” although Alice is upset with their new, lower standard... (full context)
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Clergy from the Catholic Church have collected money to thank More for opposing the King. Alice wants More to accept their charity, but he is worried... (full context)
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Roper enters and announces that More must go to Hampton Court to answer charges brought by Cromwell. Roper comments that Cromwell... (full context)
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The scene changes to Cromwell’s office. More has come to hear Cromwell’s accusations, and Richard Rich has joined them. More refers to... (full context)
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Cromwell explains that the King is displeased both by More’s silence and his resignation as Chancellor, but says the King would reward him for blessing... (full context)
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Cromwell next brings up up a treasonous woman More once wrote to, but More explains he has witnesses and a copy of the letter... (full context)
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Cromwell tries a final strategy to pressure More into approving the King’s divorce. He brings up the King’s book, which More co-wrote many... (full context)
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Alone in Cromwell’s office, Cromwell and Rich scheme together. More had said he was not scared because he had nothing to hide, but Cromwell still... (full context)
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Waiting at the banks of the river, More is upset that he cannot get a boat to take him home. He runs into... (full context)
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More begins to insult Norfolk, in an attempt to end their friendship. He begins with mild... (full context)
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Roper and Margaret find More on the riverbank and tell him that a new Act of Succession has been passed.... (full context)
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...he is now a Jailer, and is in charge of watching the newly imprisoned Thomas More. An envelope descends from the sky, and he opens it and reads—it contains the fates... (full context)
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At one o’clock in the morning, the Jailer wakes More up. Cromwell, Norfolk, and Thomas Cranmer have come to visit. Cromwell presents More with the... (full context)
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Norfolk is frustrated by More’s silence. He argues that he, along with many others, have already signed the Act, and... (full context)
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Cromwell calls More out for honoring his doubt more aggressively than he has honored the King of England.... (full context)
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Frustrated, Cromwell, Norfolk, and Cranmer eventually leave. Cromwell asks the Jailer if he has heard More say anything treasonous. The Jailer has nothing to report, and Cromwell has him swear an... (full context)
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...and explains to Rich that time is of the essence. The King is impatient, because More’s continual refusal to sign the Act makes him feel illegitimate. More had acted as a... (full context)
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In the early morning, More’s family comes to visit him. They comment on the awful conditions of the jail, but... (full context)
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Alice, Roper, and Margaret are all happy to see More, but they reveal that they are just visiting to convince him to take the oath.... (full context)
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...will not accept a bribe to extend it. In his final moments with his family, More tries to compliment the food Alice has brought for him, but she is upset because... (full context)
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Norfolk begins the trial by charging More with High Treason. However, he makes it clear that if More were to repent now,... (full context)
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Cromwell counters that there are many kinds of silences. Although More did not speak, he made his opinion known through his silence. Therefore, his silence is... (full context)
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Cromwell accuses More of using legal jargon to make the case more complicated. More argues that the law... (full context)
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...be reminded. He lies under oath, and tells an invented story. He claims he visited More in jail, and while he was there he asked More why he wouldn’t accept the... (full context)
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More is given a final opportunity to speak before the jury deliberates, but his fate is... (full context)
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The jury does not even take any time to deliberate the case. They immediately declare More to be guilty of High Treason. After years of silence, More finally speaks out and... (full context)
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...a chopping block replaces it. The Common Man dons a new costume, becoming the Headsman. More approaches the Headsman, but is intercepted by Margaret. He tries to comfort her, explaining that... (full context)
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There is a total blackout, during which the Headsman executes More. Then the Common Man, who has changed out of his of his Headsman costume, comes... (full context)