The Common Man enters to announce that in the two years that have passed, the Church of England has been established. He wears spectacles and reads from a book that the Church was created by an act of Parliament and not by bloodshed. Only a few people opposed it. These dissenters were dangerously behind the times, the Common Man reads, and they put themselves at risk, since torture was the order of the day.
More and Roper discuss the new Church of England. More makes fun of Roper’s outfit. Now an ardent Catholic, Roper wears all black and a large cross around his neck. He claims that More’s chain, which indicates More’s position as Lord Chancellor, is a disgrace. More reminds Roper that the convocation of bishops is meeting to decide whether to give their allegiance to London, as King Henry requests, or to Rome. More promises to resign if the bishops give in to King Henry. Roper reminds More that regardless of the bishops’ decision, the Act of Supremacy has made the king the head of the English Church. More points out that the act includes the caveat, or warning, “so far as the law of God allows.” Though Roper thinks this caveat is irrelevant, More says it allows him to agree to the act, which is an otherwise repugnant piece of legislation to him. When Roper offers his opinion on More’s interpretation of the act, More quiets Roper down, calling his point of view high treason. He reminds Roper to think of Margaret, who is now Roper’s wife, his children, and his responsibilities.
Margaret enters and tells Roper to forget responsibilities and follow his heart. Chapuys arrives and agrees with Margaret’s instruction, calling them all saints for their devotion to the Church. When More asks what Chapuys wants, Chapuys asks demurely whether he cannot simply pay a friendly visit to a “brother in Christ.” But More recognizes that the ambassador is actually on business, so he asks Margaret and Roper to excuse them.
Alone with More, Chapuys chastises More for letting himself become associated with the actions of King Henry. He reminds him that as Lord Chancellor, More bears responsibility for his actions and stances with respect to the king. Finally, he asks More about the bishops and a rumor he has heard that More is going to resign if the bishops submit to Henry’s request. Chapuys would admire More for resigning, but when he calls it a “signal,” More balks. To More, resigning would not be a signal but a moral obligation. Chapuys announces that he has been on a tour of Yorkshire and Northumberland, and he sensed that the people there were displeased with Henry’s actions and ready to resist by force.
Just then, Roper and Norfolk rush in. Chapuys excuses himself, claiming to have been visiting simply to borrow a book. Norfolk tells More that the bishops submitted to the king and agreed to cut all ties with Rome. When More starts to take off his chain of office, Norfolk refuses to help him. More declines an offer from Roper to assist him, and he asks Alice to do the honors. Alice refuses. Finally, Margaret helps her father. Alice accuses her husband of behaving “like a printed book.” Norfolk calls the resignation cowardice, but More tells him that he considers Henry’s actions to be war on the Catholic Church. He refuses, however, to tell anyone but the king whether he thinks Catherine is Henry’s true wife. More replies vaguely when Norfolk asks why More would sacrifice his station in life for a theory. More says, “I believe it to be true, or rather, not that I believe it, but that I believe it.”
More tells Norfolk that he is afraid, but Norfolk curtly announces that the king is disappointed but will not punish or pursue More. As Norfolk goes to leave, More stops him and repeats what Chapuys has told him about the threat of armed resistance. Norfolk testily applauds More’s desire to be of some service to his country, but he tells him that one of Cromwell’s agents took the tour of the countryside to assess public sentiment with Chapuys, which makes More slightly jealous and uneasy.
How does Thomas More differ from Thomas Cromwell on religion and politics?
Why do the characters in the reading react as they do to Richard Rich reading Machiavelli and knowing Cromwell?
How does More differ from Wolsey in his opinion on the King’s divorce?
How does Thomas More feel towards Henry VIII?
How does Henry VIII try to persuade More to change his mind?
How does More resemble Henry VIII?
How do Cromwell’s words and actions with Richard Rich demonstrate his political and moral Machiavellianism?... Read more→
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"He maintains that if he does not speak his opinion concerning his disapproval of the king’s intention to divorce his wife, then, according to the Bible, his silence will connote consent, not dissent."
This scene is from late in act 2, in his trial. But the argument about qui tacet consentire - silence gives consent - is not a matter of the Bible, but a matter of law: “’The maxim is “qui tacet consentire”…. “Silence Gives Consent”. If therefore you wish to construe what my silence “betokened”, you must construe tha