A Man for All Seasons

by Robert Bolt

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What traits does the Common Man portray in A Man for All Seasons?

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Qualities the Common Man portrays in A Man for All Seasons include universality and pragmatism. He also keeps a low profile and does the dirty work of the rich and powerful. All of these traits make him a foil, or opposite, to Sir Thomas More.

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In act 1, the Common Man wonders why he is addressing the audience, as he is not a king or a cardinal or anyone of importance. He finally says,

The Sixteenth Century is the Century of the Common Man. Like all other centuries. And that’s my proposition.

The statement shows the universal quality of the Common Man. He represents the common person in any period of history. The common person is the ordinary guy with very little power. He works in one of the everyday jobs that keep society running, even if these jobs never bring fame or fortune. In the play, the Common Man plays, for example, the boatsman, the jailer, Thomas More's steward, the foreman, and the innkeeper. There is also a character called the Common Man, who represents the combined voices of all the ordinary people in society and offers observations on what he sees. Bolt said of the Common Man that he represents “what is common in us all.”

Other qualities of the Common Man beyond universality include pragmatism. The Common Man is trying to survive, make some money, and get by in life, not be a saint or change the world. Being morally perfect is not this character's goal, which makes him a good foil, or opposite, to Thomas More. The Common Man, unlike More, takes the path of least, not most, resistance, because he knows that resistance to authority is futile.

This leads to a second quality of the Common Man: keeping a low profile. In act 2, the Common Man says,

It isn't difficult to keep alive, friends—just don't make trouble.

The Common Man also acts as More's executioner. This highlights a third characteristic of this character: he does the dirty work the high and mighty want done but don't want to do themselves.

The pragmatic, survivalist morality of the Common Man highlights how uncommon Thomas More's speaking truth to power is: most of us are not going to step under the spotlight of behaving with moral grandeur and taking on a king.

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