Table of Contents
Analysis of Major Characters
Themes, Motifs & Symbols
Summary & Analysis
Act One, scene one
Act One, scenes two–three
Act One, scene four
Act One, scenes five–six
Act One, scene seven
Act One, scene eight
Act Two, scenes one–two
Act Two, scenes three–four
Act Two, scenes five–six
Act Two, scene seven
Act Two, scene eight
Act Two, scenes nine–ten
Important Quotations Explained
Study Questions & Essay Topics
Suggestions for Further Reading
The Common Man figures prominently both in the plot of the play and also as a narrator and commentator. Although treated in more detail in other sections, in the following plot summary, his presence is indicated only when he interacts directly with the other characters in the play.
SSir Thomas More, a scholar and statesman, objects to King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce and remarry in order to father a male heir. But More, ever the diplomat, keeps quiet about his feelings in the hopes that Henry will not bother him about the matter. At a meeting with Cardinal Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, More reviews the letter to Rome that requests the pope’s approval of Henry’s divorce. More points out that the pope provided a dispensation, or exemption, in order for Henry to get married in the first place, since Catherine, the woman Henry married, was the widow of Henry’s brother. More doubts that the pope will agree to overturn his first dispensation. Wolsey accuses More of being too moralistic and recommends that he be more practical.
After conversing with Wolsey, More runs into Thomas Cromwell, the king’s confidante. Cromwell, recently promoted to the position of cardinal’s secretary, insincerely tells More he is one of More’s greatest admirers. More also meets Signor Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador to England. Chapuys takes More’s noncommittal response to questions about his meeting with Wolsey to mean that More agrees that the divorce should not go through. Chapuys stresses Christian morals and Catholic dogma and seems most concerned that Henry does not insult Henry’s wife, Catherine, who is also the king of Spain’s aunt. Chapuys thinks he has found an ally in More.
Back at More’s home, More’s daughter, Margaret, has received a visit from Roper, her Lutheran boyfriend, despite the late hour. Roper asks More for Margaret’s hand, but More refuses to allow a Lutheran, in his eyes a heretic, into his family.
Meanwhile, Wolsey dies, leaving the position of Lord Chancellor vacant. The king was displeased with Wolsey’s failure to secure a papal dispensation to annul his marriage to Catherine, and Wolsey died in disgrace. More is appointed as Wolsey’s replacement.
Cromwell meets with Richard Rich, a low-level functionary whom More helped establish and to whom More gave a silver cup he was given as a bribe. (More did not realize that the cup was a bribe when he received it.) Cromwell tempts Rich with an opportunity for advancement, and the spineless Rich seems all too eager to accept the job in exchange for information he has about More. Rich and Chapuys, who has just entered, ask Cromwell what his current position is, and Cromwell announces simply that he does whatever the king wants done. He mentions that the king has planned a boat ride down the Thames to visit More. Meanwhile, More’s manservant, Matthew (played by the Common Man), has entered the room, and Cromwell, Rich, and Chapuys are eager to bribe him for information. Matthew tells them only the most well known facts about his master, but the trio pays him off anyway.
Back at More’s home in London’s Chelsea district, the king is set to arrive, but More is nowhere to be found. After fretting over his absence, the family eventually finds him busy at vespers (evening prayers). When the king arrives, all are on their best behavior, and More comes off as the most flattering of all. However, More does tell the king that More...
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