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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.
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.
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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