What does the Common Man symbolize in A Man for All Seasons?
Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons, is about the conflict that erupts when the pope, Sir Thomas More, refuses to grant King Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. More remains obstinate in his refusal, despite enormous pressure from the king and cajoling from the Duke of Norfolk to bend his principles and comply. But More will not do so, for he steadfastly believes that the law of God trumps the law of Man.
Bolt's re-visioning of the events that transpire between More and King Henry VIII includes a character called the "Common Man." The Common Man serves a role much like that of a Greek Chorus, in that through his asides about the action, the audience gets a more nuanced understanding of the tensions that exist and the rarity of a man of More's outstanding character.
The Common Man is quite different in appearance and action, however, than a traditional Chorus. He is, indeed, quite common. He is hardly a great physical speciman. He is overweight, middle-aged, and serves in many "common" working capacities, including acting as More's steward, as the boatman, as the jury foreman, and as the "headsman" (executioner).
He is symbolic of the common man because he takes the common path, that is, the easy way out. There were few men of More's integrity in his day, and indeed, there are few in modern times. Bolt's deft execution of how little things change makes the A Man for All Seasons timelessly relevant.