A Man For All Seasons: Act 2, Scene Twelve

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The jailer wakes More. His family has come to visit. The jailer lets More out of his cell, and he enfolds his daughter in his arms. The family is poorly dressed. Alice enters on Roper’s arm. Roper is in shock at the torture device, and says what a terrible place it is. More remarks that it is like any other place except that it is keeping him from his family. Alice looks More over and announces that his cell drips. He says the cell is near the river. Alice goes to the side. She looks bitter. Margaret takes a basket of food to her father. She doesn’t look at him. Roper begs him to swear to the oath and come out of prison. More realizes that is why they were allowed to come. Roper says Margaret is under oath to persuade him. More asks her if she wants him to swear to the Act of Succession.  She repeats one of his sayings to her about God caring more about what is in the heart than in the words. More says an oath is what we say to God. At such a time, a man holds his own self in his hands. If he lies, he is lost.

 

Margaret says that in a state that was good, More would be raised up high. It’s not his fault the state is bad and that he has been forced to be a hero. More tries to explain that if virtue is rewarded then common sense would be enough to make us good. Because bad exists, we must choose to be human. Margaret is emotional as she begs her father, has he not done all that God could reasonably want? More says it is not a matter of reason; it is a matter of love.

 

At this Alice explodes with hostility, asking if he is content to be shut up with rats. More claims he would escape if he could. Margaret tries to tell him how desolate their home is now, without the bare necessities or his comfort. This is the emotional torture that Cromwell was hoping they would put on him. More claims they are cruel, for the King has not tortured him. The jailer interrupts, saying only two more minutes to go. More tells Roper to go out and play dice with the jailer to give them more time. He gives Roper the bottle of wine to take.

 

More tells Alice and Margaret they must leave the country. Margaret says, they couldn’t go without him. He says, he will not be allowed to see them again. They must all go on the same day but on different boats. Margaret says, after the trial they will go. More says there will be no trial. Margaret says they will do as he asks. Alice turns her back on her husband. He tries to compliment her on the food, but she bursts out at him in anger.

 

More says he can bear everything if she only will say she understands why he is doing this, but she says she does not believe it had to happen. More is afraid of Alice and says he does not know how he can face his death. She tells him she is afraid she will hate him when he goes. More is breaking down, and then Alice goes to him and they embrace. She says the only thing she understands is that he is the best man she ever knew, and if anyone wants her opinion of the King, she will tell it! More looks relieved and calls her a lion. The three of them comfort one another.

 

The jailer breaks up the family and says they will have to go. Margaret embraces her father and dashes up the stairs, followed by Roper. More begs the jailer to give him a moment to say goodbye to his wife, but the jailer insists she must leave. More calls goodbye to Alice as she exits.

 

Act Two, Scene Twelve: Commentary

 

This final scene with More’s family is the emotional climax of the play, as they finally stand by him at the end in a show of solidarity. One can see the kind of humanist education More gave Margaret in their exchanges, as she tries to reason with him first, using ideas he has taught her. After that fails, she turns to emotional appeal about the family’s suffering. More is afraid the power that his family might have over his conscience, especially when Alice threatens to hate him for what he has done. He does not know how he can face death without her understanding him. This gives More a very human touch and makes the drama more believable. The only real temptation was, as Cromwell guessed, a softer one. He is not entirely negligent of his family’s welfare, warning them how best to escape England. More denies in this scene, however, that he is a hero or a saint, saying simply that one has to actively choose good to be human. He also repeats what he said earlier to Norfolk about losing oneself by swearing a false oath. Though More uses religious language, about his relationship with God, his arguments are chiefly humanist. That is, one must choose to exercise the human gift of reason in one’s actions, to keep one’s integrity and full human status. When the jailer says to More about his cruelty in making the family leave when they were saying goodbye, “I’m a plain, simple man and just want to keep out of trouble” (147), More replies, “These plain, simple men!”  (147) More has few equals, too few of his fellow men want to be human. They are motivated by animal passions such as fear and greed. Like the jailer, they all declare that they are just following orders and doing their duty without examining what that means. However it is put, More believes in a higher order and truth than those around him, and he is willing to die for it. It is no wonder Erasmus calls More the English Socrates who practices what he preaches.

 

 

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