A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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What is the role of The Common Man in A Man Of All Seasons?

The Common Man, as the play's narrator and several of its characters, provides a voice for the average man in Tudor England. He shows us how people who are not members of the elite can be affected by events beyond their control and how they can often be drawn into situations where they feel powerless to do anything about it. The character of The Common Man is a reminder that even if you're an ordinary member of society, you are still part of history, just as much as those at the centre of power.

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The Common Man shows us how the power struggles of Tudor court life effect everybody, not just elite members of society such as Sir Thomas More. The various characters played by The Common Man are from much further down the social scale than the play's protagonist, yet through regular contact with their upper-class masters they find themselves being sucked into a dangerous world where self-preservation is everything.

As the play progresses, the respective guises of The Common Man come to display a greater degree of awareness of the part they play within such a repressive society. Yet even so, they do not rebel against their guilty consciences; they do as they are told by their alleged superiors. The jailer, for instance, wonders aloud whether he should set Sir Thomas free before eventually deciding against it. In such a society as this, individual acts of bravery simply won't change anything, and so the jailer remains wedded to doing his legal, if not his moral, duty.

In the numerous guises of The Common Man, Bolt is suggesting that most of us would behave in a similar manner were we to find ourselves in the same position. Extensive historical research has repeatedly shown the degree of complicity of ordinary members of the public in the crimes of all manner of brutal regimes such as Nazi Germany. In a state in which fear reigns unchallenged, people tend to be too scared to do anything brave; they tend to keep their heads down and get on with their lives as best they can. And it's no different in the picture of Tudor England under the tyranny of King Henry VIII presented to us in A Man for All Seasons. The character of The Common Man forces us to consider the appropriate response to such evil and gives us pause to reflect on our own moral values and whether they'd be strong enough to withstand such a serious test.

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The Common Man in this play is meant to be taken as a character that everyone can identify with. The Common Man in this play is both universal and base in his character, identifying one of the key themes of the play - that man is base and immoral at heart. The Common Man acts out many roles in the play to establish his universal nature, but actually develops into his own character as the play progresses. He starts off by acting out Matthew and the boatman, who are lowerclass characters who poke fun at upperclass characters. Yet this theme of immorality even penetrates these characters, as we see that Matthew tries to ignore his guilt at having sold Moore out.

The Common Man as the play develops becomes more aware of their own immorality. The Jailer for example directly addresses the audience as he agonises over whether to set Moore free. At the end of the play it is the Common Man that states that being alive is the only thing that counts. By using the character of the Common Man and establishing his involvement in the persecution of Moore, Bolt wishes to draw us all in to the moral dilemma that is at the heart of the play.

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