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Written by Aruna Popescu
Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.
Thomas More heaviy relies on the law as means of protection. He believes that as long as he is silent on the King's divorce he cannot be accused of treason. This rhetoric point is a way of explaining to Roper the main principle of the law: that is has to apply to everyone, even the Devil. If he would be willing to ignore the law in order to catch the Devil, when he will be done there will be nothing that could offer him protection and the world would be in chaos.
It is perverse! To start a play made up of Kings and Cardinals in speaking costumes and intellectuals with embroidered mouths, with me.
The decision to open the play with the Common Man directly addressing the audience may be a sign that the true purpose of the characters is to deliver a story with a lesson. The Common Man reminds us that this is a 'play' thus somehow making it seem less real and alienating the audience. It could be argued that the real purpose of this is to force us to consider the message rather than the story presented.
Every man has his price!
Rich makes this comment early in the play and it is subsequently echoed by other characters such as Cromwell. It forshadows his betrayel and part in the plot that brings about More's downfall. Furthermore, Rich's lack of morals contrasts with More's steady principles thus making the later an even more sympathetic figure, a true man for all seasons.
My master Thomas More would give anything to anyone because some day someone's going to ask him for something that he wants to keep, and he'll be out of practice.
This line foreshadows the tragic ending of the play as More cannot renounce the one thing that is most important to him: his faith. It also shows the king, generous nature of More and reinforces the idea that his execution was a humongous injustice by men who were less able to stand by what they believe in. In regard to the character of the Common Men, this line shows the audience that he respects More and that he is clever enough to realise what is going to happen.
The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain-sailing, I can't navigate.
Throghout the play the public life is associated with a river. It is not only dangerous to navigate but also one has to be able to bend and do what is needed in order to survive. Here More plainly states that he is unable to do this. Although he is intelligent and suitable for powerful positions he cannot renounce his beliefs and act in an immoral way. As such he is deemed to fail because, unlike Roper (to whom this line is addressed), his principles are not 'seagoing'.
Better a live rat than a dead lion.
This is the principle according to which the Common Man acts. Throughout the play we can see him doing his best to survive regardless of his personal beliefs. For example, although he expresses his dislike for Rich he end up working for him out of pragmatism as More no longer has the income to keep all his servants. Also, as part of the jury he finds More guilty of high treason although he knows this is an injustice. In contrast, More is the proverbial 'dead lion' who is noble, powerful and stands by his beliefs at the price of his own life. At the end of the play it is ambiguous whether it really is better to be a 'live rat than a dead lion'.
Why, Richard, it profits a man to give his soul for the whole world...But for Wales!
This line is humorous as More tells Rich that if he was to betray his principles he should have asked a higher price. This way the audience is reminded of Rich's guilt and his despicable actions. However, More does not seem to hate him although his actions did cause him pain thus reinforcing his kind disposition.
What Englishman can behold without Awe.
The Canvas and the Rigging of the Law!
Cromwell's opening of the trial is ironic as there is nothing about is that should be held in awe. This great injustice is hidden behind a very public and grand albeit rigged proceeding. The 'rigging of the law' is a clever pun as 'rigging' may either mean the ropes of the masts or a dishonest, pre-arranged result. Again, the naval imagery suggests that public life is a river thus the danger and unexpected turns of fortune. Lastly, the lines rhyme thus reinfrocing the idea that it has all been rehearsed and that the trial is rigged.
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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.