A Man for All Seasons


Robert Bolt

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A Man for All Seasons Quotes

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.
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Act 1 Quotes

It is perverse! To start a play made up of Kings and Cardinals in speaking costumes and intellectuals with embroidered mouths, with me.
If a King or a Cardinal had done the prologue he’d have the right materials. And if an intellectual would have shown enough majestic meanings, colored propositions, and closely woven liturgical stuff to dress the House of Lords! But this!
Is this a costume? Does this say anything? It barely covers one man’s nakedness? A bit of black material to reduce Old Adam to Common Man.
Oh, if they’d let me come on naked, I could have shown you something of my own…The Sixteenth Century is the Century of the Common Man. Like all other centuries. And that’s my proposition.

Related Characters: The Common Man (speaker)
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

The great thing’s not to get out of your depth…What I can tell them’s common knowledge! But now they’ve given money for it and everyone wants value for his money. They’ll make a secret of it now to prove they’ve not been bilked…They’ll make it a secret by making it dangerous…Mm…Oh, when I can’t touch the bottom I’ll go deaf, blind, and dumb. (He holds out coins) And that’s more than I earn in a fortnight!

Related Characters: Steward (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

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:
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
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
No matches.