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Everyone in a man for all seasons is pursuing their own ends

Everyone in A Man For All Seasons is Pursuing Their Own Ends. What Makes More


Often, it is impossible to reach our goals without resorting to some sort of

pragmatism. In A Man For All Seasons every character has their own ends to meet,

and the only distinguishable feature between them is how they go about it. Some

characters disregard all sense of morality as they plunge into a approach which

primarily encompasses self-interest. In all, most of the characters in the play

personify selfishness in one way or another. Of course there are some whose

selfishness is more noticeable than others, however at some point they are all

deficient in their consideration of others and live chiefly for personal profit.

All, except for one. Sir Thomas More is a man who subconsciously is a slave to

his conscience. He executes selfless acts in order to do what he knows is legal,

and what he thinks is right. He is one of very few people who have died with

their integrity intact. He is a special man, who is steadfast in upholding his

principles, even when death breathes down his neck. Sir Thomas More truly is a


One character in the play particularly concerned with his goals, regardless of

the path he must take to reach them is Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is the

personification of pragmatism and is willing to do anything, providing the end

sees him satisfied. "...our job as administrators is to make it as convenient as

we can," Cromwell states in reference to the King's divorce and the pursuit of

More's support. He is "...the King's ear," and is thus responsible for all the

menial tasks which the King would otherwise have to perform, including seeing to

it that Sir Thomas More either agrees to give the King his support or is

punished. One of these duties is to spy on others for the King's benefit. One

instance of this is on the night More goes to visit cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell ‘

magically' appears as More is on his way home. He asks of More, "You left

his laughing mood, I hope?" This was Cromwell's method of establishing whether

the divorce had been discussed between More and the Cardinal that evening. For

if it was, there was no way the Cardinal could be in any sort of "...laughing

mood." One thing Cromwell fails to realise is that by doing his job for the King

and arranging More's death, he, "...plants my own." In order to reach his goal of

receiving flattery and credit for the King's business he is scheming and brutal

and boldly proclaims, "When the King wants something done, I do it." He is

completely amoral by the end of the play and is not seen to possess many human

characteristics, especially that of empathy and sensitivity towards other human


Another skill which Cromwell possesses is that of being able to easily sense the

weaknesses of others. He can clearly see that More is facing a huge problem with

the technicalities of the divorce. He knows that, "The trouble is, his innocence

is tangled in the proposition that you can't change your woman....unless the Pope

says so." He continuously endeavours to find out how easily More can be

manipulated, by manipulating Rich. Cromwell questions rich about the details of

a court case More was once was involved in to confirm the allegation that More

took a bribe.

In essence, the perpetrator of More's downfall is the king himself. Not even

More can understand why the king is so insistent on having More's support with

regard to his divorce from Queen Catherine. However, the King claims that it is

because More is, "...known to be honest." He is certain that More would not give

his approval of the divorce and subsequent marriage unless he was sincere. The

King deduces this from the fact that More stands out as the only supporter of

the King with genuine reasons for doing so. Henry believes that, "There are

those...who follow me because I wear the crown...and there is a mass that...follows

anything that moves...- and there is you." This statement alludes to More's ‘

special' qualities which make him such a unique man.

Primarily, Henry does not possess an immoral or sadistic character, rather he is

merely determined to get his way. In order to become autonomous, he will, "...

brook no opposition..." and to monitor this he employs Cromwell as his spy who is

responsible for gathering any information pertaining to the King. Cromwell is a

loyal subject and knows exactly how and where to get all the information he

needs. Cromwell is well aware that, "This ‘silence' of his [More] is bellowing

up and down Europe." Cromwell can not stand the fact that there is any

possibility that More is not frightened of what might become of him should he

not support the marriage. Cromwell tells Rich that the King, "...wants either Sir

Thomas More to bless his marriage or Sir Thomas More destroyed." In many

respects he too, like Cromwell, represents the idea of pragmatism. However his

representation is on a different level to that of Cromwell. Henry clearly knows

what he wants and is fully aware that he may unquestionably use any means to get

there, simply because he is the King and the Supreme Head of the Church of

England, an infallible combination.

Undoubtedly, the character in the play with the most defined goal is The Common

Man. Although each role he assumes is different in nature, they all share common

aspirations which Bolt indicates as, "...that which is common to us all." They all

share the willingness to be selfish in trying times merely to stay alive. They

all put their needs before others' in an effort to remain disassociated with

controversy. Unfortunately, The Common Man is a representation of exactly that,

common, ordinary human beings like ourselves. Perhaps this is why we are quick

to sympathise with The Common Man and feel an affinity for him. However, under

all the comedy, "Old Adam" is selfish, deceiving and has a philosophy of self


The selfish nature of The Common Man is best evidenced when in More's hour of

need, his steward Matthew deserts him because he is not satisfied with taking a

cut in his salary, regardless of how good an employer More had been to him. For

the duration of his employment, More always exhibited tolerance of Matthew's

actions, even when he sneaked a drink of More's wine or gave out information to

Cromwell and Chapuys. Therefore the final remark he makes, "You never had time

for me, Sir," is selfish, yet rather fitting considering his nature. As the

jailer, The Common Man admits that, "I'd let him [More] out if I could, but I

can't." The Common Man is not willing to take any risks to save a great man, for

it may result in the endangering of his own life. Naturally this is a chance he

is not about to take for he is far better as, "...a live rat than a dead lion."

Ironically, The Common Man recites these lines whilst twirling the keys to

More's cell on his wrist. This signifies that often great people's opportunities

are hindered by our selfish actions. It almost seems that we hold the key to

their success or their downfall and the path which they follow is entirely

dependent on our attitude towards them. In all, The Common Man is offered by

Bolt for us to identify with. However accurate Bolt's assertion may be,

identifying with a character who deserts More when he falls, betrays him to

informants, interrupts his farewell to his family, pronounces More guilty and

finally executes him is rather uncomfortable.

The goals and means of reaching expediency of the other characters in A Man For

All Seasons are all illustrated throughout, however they are not as prominent as

those of Cromwell, Henry and The Common Man. There are characters like Chapuys,

whose main aim is to spark a civil war which will ultimately cause the downfall

of Henry VIII, and possibly England. This is because he is a Spaniard and is

representing Catherine, his queen and Spain, his country. He supports More

because one consequence of More's "bellowing" silence is that, "...a signal would

be seen."

Alternatively, there are characters like Norfolk, who as More's friend faces

dilemma after dilemma in order to reach his goals. Norfolk wants More to take

the King's oath simply so they can retain their friendship. Norfolk wants More

to follow the lead of others who have supported the King, "...for fellowship." All

Norfolk wants is to have the best of both worlds, which unfortunately for him is

impossible. In spite of the way he is dismissive of More after he ends their

friendship, Norfolk is undoubtedly loyal. He admits to More that, "'re

dangerous to know," yet he knows that More will, "...break his heart." What

Norfolk fails to realise is More has just saved his life for the time being by

ending the friendship. Sadly, Norfolk fails to see the selflessness More has

exhibited and simply continues to do his job on the investigative committee

which is ultimately responsible for More's death.

More too, is pursuing goals of his own. However, there are dramatic differences

between his pursuit and the pursuit of others. More's primary goal is to pursue

good, in the true sense of the world. More wants justice and the word of God to

govern England, however he still wishes to remain loyal to his King. He

shamelessly admits to the King that he would be willing to lose his right arm if,

" that means I can come with Your Grace with a clear conscience." In order to

do so as best as he can he must refrain from disclosing any information relating

to state affairs to anyone. He knows that, "...silence is my safety under the

law," however this silence must be "absolute" and must not even be broken to his

own flesh and blood. In doing so More acts in very selfless ways which are

unfortunately misconstrued for acts of selfishness, especially by those nearest

and dearest to him.

This assumed selfishness is insinuated by More without any intention of doing so.

He knows that God and the law of the land must rule him, but he believes that, "...

there's a little...little, area...where I must rule myself." This little area is no

doubt, his soul. We can infer that he also means his identity, his self, the

something we as humans should choose not to violate. More than any other

decision More makes in A Man For All Seasons which could be interpreted badly,

his resignation is most definitely the most ill received. Alice, More's wife

views his actions as sheer stupidity and selfishness. She asks More, "Is this

wisdom- to betray your ability...forget your station and your duty to your kin...?"

She does not understand why More has stepped down, and it upsets him that under

no circumstances can he tell her. She tells Roper earlier on that, "He's not

said one simple, direct word to me since this divorce came up." More selflessly

remains silent in order to protect both himself and his family, " the

thickets of the law..." even though it pains him dearly to do so. If he does so he

believes, " man in England is safer than myself." Sadly, this affirmation was

not enough to save him from his death.

There is no denying that More is a special man. There is no other character in

the play who considers both the legal and moral ramifications of everything they

say or do. More does both because he is true to his King, his religion and to

his conscience. More knows that the law is his safety and he candidly tells

Roper that in the "thickets" of the legal system he is "a forester." More knows

that if all the laws were to be "cut down," even he would not be safe from the

Devil himself. More can appreciate that Man's law nor God's law is enough to

uphold society but if both coexist, then both moral and civil justice can be

carried out.

Ultimately, More is a human being, just like Cromwell, Rich and The Common Man.

He makes mistakes and he knows, "...I'm not God." However what he does know is

that he is not willing to compromise the one thing he is not willing to let go

of- his integrity. He will not resort to Rich and Cromwell's search for ‘

convenience" nor will he forgo his fundamental principles all for the sake of

"fellowship." For he tells Norfolk, "...when we stand before God...and I am damned

for not doing according to mine [conscience], will you come with me, for

fellowship?" For it is only a special man like More who can waive his life

whilst selflessly saving the lives of others, all for the sake of his conscience.


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