A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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Student Question

What do we learn from Bolt's preface in A Man for All Seasons?

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In A Man for All Seasons, one learns in Bolt's preface of the historical events that led to Henry's break from the Roman Catholic Church. These put More into a situation of having to decide between his church and his king. Bolt also states that he rejects a Marxist view of history to focus on the individual. However, he is influenced by Marxist playwright's Brecht's idea that theater should raise moral questions. Finally, he introduces the Common Man.

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The preface provides a synopsis of the historical events that lead to More being placed in a situation in which he has to decide between his church and his king.

Bolt also states that he rejects a materialist or Marxist view of history when he says that he wants to focus on the qualities of the individual. He is particularly interested in More's rock hard “sense of his own self.” For More, in Bolt's reading, compromising who he was as a person was the equivalent of dying. He couldn't pretend to be something he wasn't, even to save his own life.

Although not a Marxist like Brecht, Bolt says he borrows from the playwright's idea that theatergoing should be more than entertainment. Like Brecht, he wants, he says, to offer the audience moral or philosophical questions about which to think.

In the preface, Bolt also introduces the character of the Common Man, who both acts as a commentator on the action of the great figures in the play and plays the kinds of roles ordinary people usually enact, such as a servant, a rower, a jailer, a juror, and ultimately, More's executioner.

The preface is important for providing a context for understanding why More behaves as he does. He truly believes he cannot serve both his God and his king. The preface also prepares us for the focus on More as an individual and for the idea that the play will be more than just entertainment.

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