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Written by Aruna Popescu
The Common Man
In the introduction, Bolt himself describes the common man as a ‘properly belittling account of that vulgar person’ with which ‘everyone would be able to identify’. It becomes clear to the audience that he will endure the test of time as he is willing to do anything in order to survive. Throughout the play he takes on many roles such as Matthew (the steward), a boatman, the jailor and part of the jury that convicts More. This later roles reinforce the idea that he is ready to take part in an obvious injustice in order to keep himself safe during this turbulent period. At times, he also directly addresses the audience in order to give them more historical context or to comment on the action presented.
Thomas More is the Chancellor of England who renounces his office and in the end is executed. He cannot acknowledge the Act of Succession due to his deeply rooted Catholic faith thus attracting his tragis end. He is portrayed as an intelligent, fair man who relies heavily on the law for his own protection thus somewhat foolishly believing that his silence on the matter will keep him safe. As proven when he defends himself at the trial, he is also a skilled orator. However, in the end, he is unable to renounce his faith and as such he accepts his death.
Rich starts out as More's highly ambitious protegee but by the end of the play he attains a position of power by betraying More. His obsession with appearance (constantly minding his clothes) suggests that he is a vain person who cares solely about social standing. This proves to be true as he sides with Cromwell and aids in the plot agains More just to get a better position.
The Duke of Norfolk is More's friend who unwillingly takes part in the plot against him. Cromwell informs Norfolk that the King himself ordered him to go along with the trial and as such the Duke needs to comply in order to protect his own interests. He vehemently tries to make More acknowledge the Act of Succession but fails thus having to see his friend condamned to death.
Alice is Thomas More's loyal wife. We are told early on that she is not particularly educated but she is naturally clever. She is able to sense the danger posed to her husband before he does. As she loves Thomas very much she sufferes when he decides to respect his faith and disobey the King almost to the point of not understanding his reasons. The scene of Alice visiting her husband at the Tower of London perfectly displays her pain and her desperate attempt to make Thomas reconsider.
Margaret is Thomas More's daughter as well as Roper's wife. In contrast with her mother, she is very educated and well versed in ancient languages such as Latin. She is extremely closed to her father on an emotional as well as intelectual base. Margaret uses her intelligence in trying to persuade her father to swear by the Act of Succession but fails.
Cardinal Wolsey is the Chancellor before More. He attempts to obtain a divorce for Henry but fails and as a result he is imprisoned and eventually dies. His violent end foreshadows More's fate as well as the fate of anybody who dares to intervene in the King's affairs.
Cromwell is presented as the main antagonist of the play. He uses lies, violence and deceit in order to get his desired result. Although the very opposite of More in most aspects, he is also cunning and a brilliant orator as proved by the scene of the trial. In the end, his plot against More succeeds and thus he eliminates the only opposition to the divorce between the King and Queen Catherine.
Chapuy is a symbol of the presence and interest of Spain in the events of the play. As the Ambassador of the King of Spain he tries to remind the characters the wish of his country but he never directly challenges Henry's actions. He meets More and hints support from Spain for his noble and religious endeavour. However, as most other characters he fails to understand that More's actions are due to private reasons and are not meant as a sign of resistance.
Roper is Margret's husband and thus More's son-in-law. Compared to his father-in-law's rigid principles, his own beliefs are described as 'sea going' meaning that they are prone to frequent change. For example, at the start of the play he is a Lutheran but he changes back to Catholicism in order to marry Margaret. Due to his nature, he fails to understand that More's refusal to swear by the Act is not a grand gesture and that in fact it puts him in danger.
King Henry VIII can be seen only once in the whole play although his presence is constantly marked by the monogram HVIII. The one time the audience gets to meet the King is in More's garden as he promises not to get More involved in his divorce. However, he goes back on that promise and ends up executing More. Throughout the play the King is the symbol of ultimate power as we see his servants - mainly Cromwell - setting about to fulfill his wish.
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You might consider the detail given to the goblet at the end of the scene.The goblet will become important later on in the play. The cup becomes instrumental in More’s conviction at the end of the play.