Many times in literature characters follow a common flow with society. In the story A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt, the Common Man is a conformist who highlights many important roles of society in England during the fifteenth century. The Common man appears throughout the play as: Sir Thomas More’s steward named Matthew, a boatman, a publican, a jailer, a jury foreman, and a headsman who decapitates Sir Thomas More.
The significance of the Common Man lies in his role in representing society as an individual and as a foil to Sir Thomas More.
The Common Man is first introduced in the play as Sir Thomas More’s steward, Matthew. Matthew is very effective in expressing the role of the common man because he takes part in much slander in order to benefit himself such as in Act One Matthew takes money from Chapuys and Cromwell and gives them information about Sir Thomas More in return. In the opening of the play Matthew is displeased with Sir Thomas More’s generosity when he gives the silver cup to Richard Rich.
Matthew replies to this act by saying “My master Thomas More would give anything to anyone.
Some say that’s good and some say that’s bad, but I say he can’t help it and that’s bad… because some day someone is going to ask him for something that he wants to keep; and he will be out of practice.
There must be something that he wants to keep. That’s only common sense. ” This quote is very significant because it foreshadows Sir Thomas More’s death. Sir Thomas More could have prevented his death if he would have given up his sense of self and went against his conscious and beliefs. Another significant act by Matthew is in Act Two, Sir Thomas can no longer afford Matthew and so More dismisses Matthew from his home.
Matthew seeks employment from Richard Rich; this shows the common man’s only concern for himself and his aloofness to any loyalty to Sir Thomas More. In Act One the Common Man takes on the role of the Boatman. The Boatman most closely represents society of our time because he complains about his low income and his aging wife. When More asks the boatman for a ride home the boatman replies “Bless you sir – that’s all right. I expect you’ll make it worth my while, sir. ” This quote indicates that the boatman is looking for money, as most characters played by the Common Man behave. In Act Two the Common Man plays the role of a jailer.
The Jailer also is guilty of complaining about his low wages. More continues to go against the flow of society even more as the story progresses. As king Henry said in Act One to Sir Thomas “There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown, and there are those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I am their lion, and there is a mass that follows anything that moves – and there is you. ” This quote implies the decisive difference between Sir Thomas More and the Common Man. It establishes his role as the counter part of the Common Man which is the role of the man for all seasons.
The last character played by the Common Man is the Headsman. It is ironic that the Common Man plays the role of decapitating Sir Thomas More. It is important to realize that this is not a symbol of society defeating Sir Thomas More, rather it shows that Sir Thomas More is loyal enough to his self that he was able to face death even at the hands of the Common Man. As one can see, the role of the Common Man throughout the play A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt emphasizes the moral of the play. The significance of Sir Thomas More would not be expressed so greatly without the roll of the Common Man.