Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More, an author, humanist, and lawyer who begins the play as a member of the King’s Council and rises to become lord chancellor of England. In his late forties, More is witty yet devout, a loyal Englishman yet a committed member of the Catholic Church. Respected throughout Europe for his intellectual and moral integrity, More dooms himself by refusing to accept Henry’s break with Rome over the king’s divorce and remarriage. By not submitting to pressure or fear, More becomes first a prisoner of his king and finally a martyr for his conscience and his beliefs.
Alice More, Sir Thomas’ wife. Also in her late forties, she is a solid, no-nonsense woman from a merchant family, and her interests are considerably less intellectual than her husband’s; she has never learned to read or write. Although she clearly loves Thomas, she is baffled and often infuriated by his stubborn stand on the question of the divorce and religious allegiance to Rome. In the end, however, she accepts his position and even his self-imposed death because of her great love and respect for him.
Margaret (Meg) More
Margaret (Meg) More, the daughter of Sir Thomas and Alice, in her middle twenties and remarkably well educated for a young woman of her time. She has the plain honesty of her mother tempered by the intellectual subtlety of her father. More clearly loves his Meg, as he calls her, above everything else in this world, and his greatest torment is to be separated from her by his imprisonment.
William Roper, Margaret’s suitor and later her husband, a young man in his early thirties who is highly opinionated and equally indiscreet in religious and political matters. Although his beliefs change several times during the drama, he is passionately devoted to each of them in sequence, from his initial fanatic Protestantism to his final staunch Catholicism. Roper’s fervent but mutable convictions are contrasted to More’s quiet but steadfast faith.
Henry VIII, the king of England. In his late thirties when the play begins, he is talented, attractive, and ambitious. He craves both power to do what he pleases and the approval of More; when he cannot have both, he does not hesitate to use flattery, force, or threats, and he ends up resorting to imprisonment and execution of More. A self-conscious character, Henry moves through the play in a larger-than-life fashion; the monarch’s actions are not restrained by the rules of logic or laws that govern other men. At times, his actions seem those of an intelligent but petulant child—but a child with enormous power.
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, prince of the church and lord chancellor of England, an aged, fat man clothed in expensive robes and surrounded by the trappings of power, with a powerful intellect undiminished by time but an equally enormous ambition frustrated by his inability to please his royal master in the service that matters: securing a divorce. The son of a butcher, Wolsey has risen in the king’s service through ability and intelligence, but when he fails to secure the divorce, he falls from favor, and only his death, on November 29, 1530, saves him from a trial for treason.
Thomas Cromwell, secretary to the cardinal. Like Wolsey, Cromwell comes from humble origins and has risen as a result of relentless intelligence and ambition, but he lacks even Wolsey’s rudimentary scruples. In his late thirties, Cromwell starts as Wolsey’s secretary and advances steadily, shifting his allegiance to the king after Wolsey’s fall. Having forsaken his own...
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moral integrity to acquire power and position, he cannot understand More, who would gladly renounce these worldly goods rather than betray his own moral values.
Richard Rich, a young man in his early thirties who wants to make his way in the world but whose moral character is unequal to either his ambition or his intellect. He would prefer to be a protégé of More but accepts other positions as they occur, ending as a creature of Cromwell. In the end, his perjured testimony serves as the pretext to convict More of treason.
Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury. In his late forties, Cranmer is More’s contemporary solely in age. He participates willingly in the trial to condemn More and follows Cromwell’s lead.
Thomas Howard, the duke of Norfolk and earl marshal of England, a member of the first rank of the nobility. His life and actions are predicated on loyal and usually unquestioning service to his king. He is a friend of More and attempts to persuade him to accept the changing situation in England. At the end, Howard remains true to his king and serves on the tribunal that condemns his friend.
Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, a professional diplomat in his sixties. His sole concern is to guard the interests of his own royal master.
The Common Man
The Common Man, a fellow in late middle age who appears throughout the play to set the scene, explain the situation, and provide commentary on the unfolding events.