Cromwell tells More that Rich will be recording their conversation. More compliments Rich’s fancy outfit. Cromwell admits that he greatly admires More, but as Rich starts to write that down, Cromwell stops him. More asks what the charges against him are, but Cromwell insists there are no charges, just questions. More asks Rich to record the fact that there are no charges.
Getting down to business, Cromwell announces that the king is not pleased with More and would reward More handsomely if he would only change his mind. More refuses. Cromwell changes the subject, bringing up the Holy Maid of Kent, a woman who was executed for sermonizing against the king. More admits that he knew her and sympathized with her, but when Cromwell accuses him of having withheld information about her treasonous talk, More assures him that their conversations were not political in nature. He even says he knows people who can testify to the fact that they were completely innocent.
Cromwell then accuses More of having written A Defense of the Seven Sacraments, a work attributed to King Henry himself. More admits that he answered a few of the king’s questions on canon law, but he denies that he wrote the book, which defends the pope’s authority in England. When Cromwell finally broaches the subject of Queen Anne, More says that the king told him not to inquire about that anymore. He calls Cromwell’s accusations empty threats. Cromwell then produces a letter from the king, who calls More a villain and a traitor. More is finally unsettled, and Cromwell excuses him. Cromwell tells Rich that the king has said More will die if he does not consent. Cromwell says that, as a man of conscience, the king cannot abide what he sees as More’s disapproval.
Outside, More tries to hail a boat, but no one will stop for him. Norfolk enters and says he has been following More. He points out that it is dangerous even to know More, much less be seen with him, but he tells More about Cromwell’s smear campaign and his own role in it. More insists that Norfolk must forget their friendship and do his duty. But Norfolk protests that such a thing is impossible. Norfolk announces that the only solution is for More to change his mind, an idea that More finds impossible. Norfolk sarcastically protests that the only thing steadfast in this world is the fact that More will not give in to the king, and More replies that he thinks highly of friendship but must remain loyal above all to his own self.
More picks a fight with Norfolk that is playful but that has serious undertones. He accuses Norfolk of neglecting his own conscience by giving in to the amoral actions of the state, and he suggests that Norfolk is not fit for heaven. Norfolk finally gets angry, hits More, and departs. Just then, Margaret and Roper arrive to announce a new act in Parliament that calls for the administration of an oath regarding the king’s marriage. More asks about the wording of the oath, hoping he will be able to take it with a clear conscience. More describes for them his philosophy about man’s struggle for life. More says that God made angels to show him splendor, animals to show innocence, and plants to display simplicity. God made man, however, “to serve him wittily, in the tangle of his mind!” More goes on to say that man’s lot is to try to escape death for as long as possible, until it becomes evident that his time has come. When men finally die, More clarifies to Roper, men can rant and “clamor like champions,” showing God splendor. Until then, More proposes, they go home and look over the king’s new act.
Rich’s fancy costumes highlight his slow but steady rise through the ranks of the royal administration. More’s comment about Rich’s attire recalls Rich’s grumbling in his first scene with More about his shabby clothes. We have witnessed Rich’s moral undoing, and throughout the rest of the play, we watch as he reaps the benefits of his evil ways. The contrast between the servile, pathetic Rich in Act One and Rich the haughty administrator in Act Two continues throughout subsequent scenes.