Places: A Man for All Seasons

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1960

First produced: 1954, as a radio play; 1960, full-length play; 1960, at the Globe Theatre, London

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Historical

Time of work: 1530-1535

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Man for All Seasons, ACapital city of England that was torn by religious controversy during the reign of King Henry VIII. After defying the Roman Catholic pope, the king established the Church of England, with himself as head, and in so doing severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church. Although Sir Thomas More had long served Henry loyally as lord chancellor, he remained a staunch Catholic and refused to accept the English king as head of his church.

*Tower of London

*Tower of London. Famous prison by the River Thames in central London, with roots going back to the reign of William the Conqueror in the eleventh century. More was imprisoned there for refusing to take an oath to acknowledge the supremacy of Henry VIII over all other foreign kings, including the pope. In 1535 he was executed in the tower, whose cells are the location of the play’s scenes depicting his final days.

Stage set

Stage set. Like the Globe Theater where William Shakespeare’s plays were first performed, and like other Renaissance theaters, the stage set for A Man for All Seasons is divided into three primary acting areas. Playwright Robert Bolt visualized the set as “two galleries of flattened Tudor arches, one above the other, able to be entered from off-stage” and “a projection which can suggest an alcove or closet, with a tapestry curtain to be drawn across it.” A stairway connects the upper and lower acting areas, and a table and heavy chairs are the only permanent props on stage. As in Shakespeare’s plays, the stage space is used quite flexibly, and specific locations are defined by the actors’ language and props brought on for each scene. The style of the production has strong affinities with the history plays of Bertolt Brecht, whose works were particularly influential in England in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

The much-acclaimed film adaptation of A Man for All Seasons, directed by Fred Zinnemann (1962), abandoned all of the play’s Brechtian devices and was notable for its elegant costumes, historic locales, and spectacle.

Sources for Further StudyBrown, John Russell. A Short Guide to Modern British Drama. London: Heinemann, 1983. A valuable overview of the works of Robert Bolt, including A Man for All Seasons.Corrigan, Robert, ed. The New Theatre of Europe: An Anthology. New York: Dell, 1962. A collection of five European plays including Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons along with Bolt’s preface to the play and an insightful introduction by the editor.Garstenauer, Maria. A Selective Study of English History Plays in the Period Between 1960 and 1977. Salzburg, Austria: University of Salzburg Press, 1985. A concentrated and extremely thorough study that examines the play from a variety of views. Helpful for placing the drama into the context of its times.Harben, Niloufer. Twentieth-Century English History Plays: From Shaw to Bond. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble Books, 1988. The volume contains a useful chapter, “Three Plays of the 1960’s: Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons; Peter Shaffer, The Royal Hunt of the Sun; John Osborne, Luther.”Nightingale, Benedict. A Reader’s Guide to Fifty Modern British Plays. London: Heinemann, 1982. A brief statement on the life and writings of Robert Bolt followed by a useful analysis of his play, A Man for All Seasons.Taylor, John Russell. The Angry Theatre: New British Drama. New York: Hill and Wang, 1969. In his epilogue, Russell places A Man for All Seasons in the context of other British writings of the time.Tynan, Kenneth. A View of the English Stage, 1944-63. London: Davis-Poynter, 1975. A highly personal, even idiosyncratic view of the play. Since the bulk of the essays in this volume were originally reviews, they provide a clue as to how the play was received during its debut.Vinson, James, ed. Contemporary Dramatists. 3d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982. There is helpful discussion about A Man for All Seasons that places the drama within the scope of Bolt’s career.
Categories: Places