A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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Critical Context

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Bolt has shown considerable versatility as a playwright, moving from a rather conventional treatment of men and women in modern society in Flowering Cherry (pr. 1957), to historical drama in A Man for All Seasons, back to contemporary issues in The Tiger and the Horse (pr. 1960), and then to the world of fantasy and nature-myth in Gentle Jack (pr. 1963). All four works, however, manifest his concern for the problem of the individual’s struggle to define and preserve a sense of self in the world. Hence, while A Man for All Seasons is set in the sixteenth century, the major issues that transfix audiences and remain topics for subsequent discussion are distinctly tied to twentieth century concerns about the interaction of individuals and institutions.

A contemporary of the “angry young men” of the post-World War II English theater, Bolt has maintained in his drama a blend of conventional stagecraft and experimentation. Critics have linked his works with those of the Irish revival poetic dramatists William Butler Yeats and Sean O’Casey. The techniques of presentation used in A Man for All Seasons have been compared to those used by Bertolt Brecht, but with one important difference: Where Brecht uses devices such as onstage changes of scenery and characters who speak freely with the audience to give playgoers a sense of alienation from the action of his dramas, Bolt uses the Common Man in A Man for All Seasons to create a sense of recognition in viewers that they, too, share characteristics with both the saintly Thomas More and the villainous Richard Rich. In striving to build that sense of recognition, Bolt is trying to show how theater can do more than simply give aesthetic pleasure: It can act as an agent for change.

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Critical Evaluation