Have decided to explore how Bolt uses the Common Man to emphasise the features of the major characters

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The significance of the Common Man in ‘A Man For All Seasons.’

I have decided to explore how Bolt uses the Common Man to emphasise the features of the major characters and to illustrate the main themes of the play.  I will also explore the role the common man plays in the structure of the play and his effect on the audience.

The Common Man is the only character who speaks directly to the audience, which I think is important as it means they can feel part of the play: there is interaction between the audience and actors.  This communication may increase the enjoyment of the audience as they are more involved with the production and is different to watching a drama or film on television.  As Bolt says in the preface, ‘The Common Man is intended to draw the audience into the play, not thrust them off it.’

The fact that he is the only character that speaks to the audience means he can introduce them to the characters. (Eg: when the audience first sees More, he says 'that’s Sir Thomas More') Although this is a very simple function it is important to eliminate any confusion the audience may have.  This direct communication also means that he can make judgements on other characters.  In the first scene as the steward, for example he observes that Rich will ‘come to nothing’ and that Thomas More ‘will be out of practice’ when someone asks him for something he wants to keep.  These judgements provoke the audience to agree or disagree with him and therefore increase their involvement in the play.  In this case, both the Common Man’s judgements are proved wrong: as the play progresses we learn that Rich eventually becomes Lord Chancellor and when Thomas More is asked to give up his sense of right and wrong, he is not out ‘of practice’ at keeping what he wants, as he chooses not to accept the King’s divorce and give up his

conscience.  The Common Man’s comments on the characters may also raise moral issues amongst the audience.  For example, the Common Man remarks on More’s ‘wilful indifference to realities.’  In one sense the audience may agree with this as they may feel More does not take a very realistic approach to government.  This is illustrated in scene two, when More and Wosley are discussing the divorce, they may feel that Thomas’s ideal to ‘govern the country by prayer’ is not very practical.

Wosley: you’d like that wouldn’t you?  To govern the country by prayer?’

More: ‘Yes I should’

However, others may disagree with the Common Man and think that More is realistic in judgement.  For example, he ensures his family does not know any information they could be asked about in court, to make sure they stay out of danger.  Therefore the common man is significant in the sense that his commentary has an effect on the audience: his judgements may cause the audience to ask themselves if Thomas More deserves the title ‘A Man For All Seasons?’

Because this play deals with events that actually occurred (eg: the reformation of the church) and people who actually lived, the common man plays a significant role in telling us the real events of the time, which relate to the plot.  For example, in Act two scene 4, he tells us what happened to the characters in the play: Cromwell, Nolfolk and Cramner were all executed and Rich lived a long life, dying in bed. This historical speech is not out of place, however, as it connects to the plot: if Cromwell is executed for treason is the dishonesty he shows during the play worth it?  These speeches are often presented in a shocking, which keep the audience interested.  For example, when the Common Man tells us of Wosley’s execution, the red robe of the cardinal is

thrown into the spotlight.  The Common Man then ‘roughly piles them into his basket.’  This rough treatment of the cardinal’s garments emphasises the harshness of society at the time that the play was set: Wosley was condemned of treason because he could not get a divorce for the king.  If he had not died, he would have almost certainly been beheaded.  These factual speeches allow the common man to make predictions, adding anticipation.  For example in act 2 scene 2: ‘imprisonment without trail and even examination under torture were common practice.’  This foretells the problems that More may face by living in such a society.  It also reminds the audience that we live in a world similar to this one described by the common man- he highlights the point that the world is still an unfair place and people are still imprisoned unfairly.

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When the Common Man is involved in the acting, I think nearly every role the common man plays is important in terms of theme and character.  I will therefore only discuss the scenes that I think are particularly important. Bolt presents the Common Man as someone the audience can relate to, he is described as ‘late middle age.  He wears from head to foot black tights which delineate his pot-bellied figure.’  His age, figure and the fact that Bolt has dressed him in black shows that he wants him to appear as an average person who has an appearance ...

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