A Man For All Seasons: Act 2, Scene Fourteen

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Cromwell and the Common Man change the props for the next scene. The foreman takes off his cap and puts it in the basket. Cromwell pulls a black mask from the basket and puts it on the Common Man, turning him into the executioner. He sets up the block and takes his position with his ax on the platform outside the Tower of London. Norfolk and Cranmer are with More at the bottom of the stairs. Norfolk offers him a goblet of wine, but he refuses, saying Christ had only gall, not wine. Margaret then runs to her father and rushes into his arms. He tells her not to trouble herself; death comes for us all. He tells her, “You have long known the secrets of my heart” (161). A woman stops him and says that he gave a false judgment against her and may he remember it now. He assures her he would not change his opinion in her case. When More sees Cranmer coming with his Bible, More kindly asks him to go back.

 

More tells the executioner, “Friend, be not afraid of your office. You send me to God” (162). Cranmer mutters something in an envious tone about More’s certainty. The kettledrums begin, then blackout, as we hear the trapdoor bang.

 

The lights come up and the Common Man removes his mask. He remarks that it isn’t difficult to stay alive if you don’t make trouble. He asks that if you bump into him, you will recognize him.

 

Act Two, Scene Fourteen: Commentary

 

The way Bolt portrays the Common Man, he is “common,” nothing special. He can be found everywhere. He isn’t important in the world’s terms, but because he lets himself be a tool of others, he often does the dirty work he doesn’t want to think about. Does this mean he is evil? The Common Man was there at every turn helping to promote the downfall of More, though More is always good to him, especially in the person of his Steward, to whom he gives the moral choice to help him. Bolt and More would probably say that the Common Man was not consciously evil like Cromwell, but he is a bit “sub-human.” He acts as though he has no soul or responsibility to it. The hope that More stood for was that proper training and education could make people more human, more aware, more reasonable. It is an ability to think for oneself that he stands for.

 

More takes leave of his daughter as a philosopher, saying that one should not grieve for the inevitable. He has already left her the secrets of his heart, the greatest legacy he can give her. More does not want Cranmer, the hypocrite, to read him the last rites, but he does not insult him directly. It was traditional to forgive the executioner for doing his job, so that it would not be considered a sin, and yet it is the commonness of the Common Man (executioner here) that is a major part of the problem that More faces in the world. The fact that the Common Man always turns to the audience to make his remarks to them implies their complicity.

 

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