A Man for All Seasons
Act Two, scenes three–four
Summary: Scene three
Norfolk protests Cromwell’s intention to pursue More, claiming that since More does not actively oppose Henry’s divorce, they do not need to bother him. But Cromwell contends that everyone understands More’s silence to be disapproval. Since More has shown himself to be a patriot by passing on information about Chapuys’s rebellion, Cromwell contends, More should have no problem swearing an oath of loyalty to the administration.
When Norfolk protests again, Cromwell points out that he has instructions from the king to get More to consent. Cromwell plans to use the information Rich provided about the silver cup to blackmail More into submission. When Norfolk refuses to believe that More has ever accepted a bribe, Cromwell brings in Rich and the woman who gave More the cup. Though the woman did not get the judgment she wanted from More, she nonetheless admits that she sent him the silver cup. Rich attests that More received the cup, and Cromwell has enlisted Matthew to corroborate the fact that More gave the cup to Rich. Norfolk, however, remembers the night that Rich received the cup, and he reminds Rich that he got the cup the same month that More did. Thus, Norfolk asserts, as soon as More realized the cup was a bribe, he got rid of it. Cromwell admits that the scenario Norfolk proposes is possible, but he promises to find some better gossip that he can use to force More’s hand.
When Norfolk insists he wants nothing to do with Cromwell’s campaign to discredit More, Cromwell mentions that the king particularly wants Norfolk to participate because Norfolk is known to be More’s friend. Norfolk’s involvement will make Cromwell’s campaign look less like malicious prosecution and more like a fair investigation of facts. When Norfolk exits, Cromwell turns on Rich and rebukes him for not remembering that the duke was present the night More gave Rich the cup.
Just as Cromwell and Rich are leaving, Matthew appears and reminds Rich that he said that he might need a steward. Rich hesitates since he feels that Matthew treated him poorly back when he was More’s servant. But Matthew insists that Rich’s memories are incorrect, and as he follows Rich offstage, he announces that he thinks Rich will be a good match for him.
Summary: Scene four
Back at More’s home, the family’s fortunes have dwindled. Chapuys has come to pay a visit, and he and his attendant chat about how cold and poor More’s house suddenly seems. Chapuys speculates that More supports Spain and seems to be against Cromwell.
When More arrives, Chapuys promises that his fortunes are sure to change, implying that an alliance with Spain could be very profitable. He hands More a letter from the king of Spain, but More refuses to take it. Chapuys assures More that no one saw him coming to his house, but More feels that opening the letter would be unseemly and that he would feel obliged to take it straight to Henry. He warns Chapuys not to be so sure about More’s views on the divorce and points out his patriotism. More even has Alice witness that he has not accepted the letter or broken its seal. Departing, Chapuys announces that he suspects his king will admire More all the more for having refused the letter.
Meanwhile, Margaret has entered with a pile of bracken to burn to heat the house. More calls it a luxury, but Alice is unconvinced. More announces that though the bishops offered him some money by way of charity, he cannot accept it since it will make him appear to be in their service. Alice gets angry again, complaining about their poverty, her husband’s refusal to explain his motives, and his sudden preoccupation with how things appear. More replies that he has to consider appearances in such dangerous times, though he hopes his fears are misplaced. Roper arrives and announces that someone has come to take More to Hampton Court to answer some charges. Alice is alarmed, but More is stoic and even jokes that he will bring Cromwell back for dinner later that night.
Analysis: Scenes three–four
The scene between Matthew and Rich demonstrates an instance in which the Common Man believes he truly figures out what another man is all about. The knowing look in his eye and the tone of his comment as he exits the stage indicate that Matthew believes he has duped Rich into taking him on as a servant. He senses Rich’s pride and gullibility, perhaps concluding that with Rich he would never be accused of being missed as he was with More. He definitely feels a sense of power over his new “master.” Intellectually and ethically, Matthew thinks himself better than Rich.
More’s demonstration of loyalty to the king when he refuses Chapuys’s letter seems out of step with More’s character. In the first place, by all indications More owes nothing to the king, and both politically and religiously he has more in common with Spain. His choice to refuse the Spanish king’s letter seems impractical and unrelated to his morality, unless he views patriotism as a moral duty in and of itself. More clings at least as surely to king, country, and law as he does to the mysteries of faith. Even at his trial at the end of the play, as his sentence is pronounced, he prays for Henry and calls himself a loyal subject. In More’s eyes, it is a statesman’s duty to consider his private conscience, and so he sees himself as the most faithful of subjects that a king could hope to have. Just as the doctrine of freedom of speech must allow for those to speak out against it, More’s disagreement with his king is not tantamount to disloyalty, but rather a testament to his commitment to the king’s best interests. More operates as much as a teacher in the play as he does a practical man concerned with his own moral salvation.
More’s concern with appearances when he refuses to take money from the bishops also seems out of keeping with More’s character. His concern shows that although he sees resignation as the only moral choice he can make, he recognizes that he must also weigh other concerns—his own safety, the safety of his family, and the law. Once again, More disproves the claim that Wolsey and others made that More ignores practical concerns.
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