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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The Common Man fills
us in on what has happened in the two years since the end of Act One. Much has
happened. It is an eventful period in history. It is now May of 1532. He begins
to read from a book that he carries. The book brags about England’s ability to
compromise even in a situation like the present one. The Church of England came
into being by an act of Parliament, not through warfare. It adds that anyone who
did not agree met with disaster.
being read by the Common Man makes it sound like, for some people, disaster is
much better than war. Those in prison awaiting death might have their own slant
In the time just past, February 11, 1531 to be exact, Parliament
made King Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. Five months later,
Henry separated from Katherine and banned her from the Court. The following scene
takes place about ten months after that.
The scene is at Sir Thomas
More’s home in Chelsea. Sir Thomas, who is seated, watches Will Roper, who is
now More’s son-in-law, pace back and forth. Roper is now a Catholic. Roper’s clothing
is black and he wears a cross. More questions the meaning of what he is wearing.
It shows that he is a Catholic. More says that he looks like a Spaniard, but it
is a good thing that he is not in Spain because, during the period when he was
not a Catholic, he would have been viewed as a heretic and burned at the stake.
Roper then comments on More’s chain of office, which he is wearing. It
is degradation. More repeats what Roper has already been told. If the bishops,
in their convocation, submit to the wishes of the king, he will remove the chain
of office. Presently there is no reason to speak against it. Great men have worn
the chain of office.
Roper and More debate the current state of affairs
in England. To Roper it appears that what the king wants has already come to pass.
More reminds him of the part of the Act of Supremacy that states, “so far as the
law of God allows.” That is enough to give More a way around the Act.
Roper wants to know how far More thinks that the law of God allows the king to
be the supreme head of the Church of England. More will keep his opinion to himself.
Roper is willing to give his opinion, but More does not want to hear it.
He fears that it is a treasonous opinion. Roper now has a wife who is of concern
to More because she is More’s daughter, Margaret. He must not speak out on this
subject. Margaret joins the conversation, saying that she does not want Will to
be discreet. Sir Thomas thinks that they are behaving foolishly.
the Spanish ambassador, enters. He sees nothing foolish about speaking out against
the Act of Supremacy. More, not pleased by the ambassador’s remarks, wants to
know why he is there. He has come to see the “English Socrates,” he says. More
shoots back that he has no interest in hemlock. What does the ambassador want?
Chapuys calls them “brothers in Christ.” Sir Thomas reminds him that can be said
to anyone. He then requests that Roper give them privacy because Chapuys is there
on business. Roper and Chapuys exchange Latin good-byes. Then Chapuys asks More
how much longer he thinks Latin will be spoken in England. More tells him that
it isn’t really holy, just old.
Chapuys is ready to discuss the business
at hand. He tries to make More feel guilty for not separating himself from King
Henry. Sir Thomas is not an ordinary person. He is the Lord Chancellor. What he
does has influence. So, he has responsibility. More reminds him that the situation
might be even worse with a different chancellor. What exactly does Chapuys want?
Chapuys has heard rumor that, if the bishops submit, More will resign his post.
Would Chapuys like that? Why would he like it? Because it would be a “signal.”
It would be a signal to whom? According to Chapuys, half of the English are waiting
for such a signal. Chapuys has recently been to Yorkshire and Northumberland and
heard the discontented grumbling. Those in the north are ready. They are ready
for what? They are ready to resist. How would they resist? They would resist with
weapons. Roper enters, followed by the Duke of Norfolk along with Alice and Margaret.
Roper tries to tell More the latest, but Norfolk insists that he be the one to
give him the news.
At this point, Chapuys heads for the exit. Norfolk
tells Sir Thomas that the bishops have submitted. More wants to remove the chain
of office, as planned. Norfolk will not assist him. Alice won’t either. He turns
to Margaret and she does help. She does not understand, but she knows how important
it is to him. Norfolk tries to call the action cowardice. More, to explain, says
that the king has declared war on the pope. Norfolk wants to know how More feels
about the marriage of Henry and Catherine. More will only share his thoughts on
that subject with King Henry in private. The duke does not think that Sir Thomas
is being sensible. Too much is at stake. More tries to explain himself in an obscure
manner. Right now, what is needed is obscurity. More goes on, asking Norfolk if
he will keep a secret. Will he keep a secret from the king? Then, when Norfolk
promises to do so, More accuses him of disloyalty to the king. Norfolk claims
that More trapped him. But, More is just illustrating for him the political climate
in which they live. Sir Thomas admits to being fearful. Norfolk assures him that
Henry will continue to be his good lord. More is grateful. Norfolk starts to leave.
More stops him. He has news of Chapuys trip to the North Country. The people there
are unhappy with what has transpired. The Catholic Church there is still very
strong. Next spring there may be problems there. Perhaps even France will become
involved. Norfolk is aware of the situation. One of Cromwell’s men made the journey
with Chapuys. Norfolk is surprised by More’s patriotic spirit. More is offended
by his surprise. Norfolk leaves.
Alice wonders what Sir Thomas will do
now that he is no longer acting as chancellor. More is sure that he will keep
busy. Perhaps he could teach Alice to read. She is not interested in learning.
More hopes for a
good word from his son-in-law. Will calls his act a “noble gesture.” Sir Thomas
tells him that it was not a gesture. He is not making a gesture. He is being practical.
Roper disagrees. Alice and Margaret agree with Roper. More calls the rest of his
family cruel and Alice says that he is the cruel one. When Margaret disagrees
with her harsh assessment, Alice tells Margaret that she would follow her father
anywhere. And Will would lead him to the Tower. Alice does not believe that the
king and his men will leave More alone. More stresses the importance of everyone
keeping quiet. Alice complains that she knows so little. More tells her that makes
it easier for her to keep quiet. To Alice, the lack of communication shows a lack
of trust on his part. More explains that, if she truly does not know things, she
will not need to lie when questioned.
Matthew tells More that the staff
is waiting for word about their future. More says that, while he won’t be able
to continue to employ them, he will find places for as many of them as he can.
He turns to Matthew, wanting to know if he will accept a lower wage. Matthew feels
that he cannot do that. More tells him that he will miss him. Matthew, while not
saying so to More, doubts that he will be missed. More leaves.
Matthew talks to himself. He feels badly about Sir Thomas’ bad luck, but he doesn’t
have any good luck to share with him. He nearly fell for More’s show of concern,
but he didn’t.
The northern resistance that
the Spanish Ambassador, Chapuys, speaks of seems to be the start of what historians
refer to as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The people who lived in the North Country
were unhappy about the Act of Supremacy. They were also unhappy about the dissolution
of the monasteries. They did not want the increases in government control that
they saw. They did not want to see their pastures enclosed. Thomas Howard, who
we know as the Duke of Norfolk, played an important role in the confrontation
The Apostolic Succession of the Pope is a theory in which
Sir Thomas believes. Put simply, it means that the popes are successors of the
apostles. This gives the popes an authority that they would otherwise not have.
That is why it is so very important to those who believe in the Catholic Church.
The “Old Alliance” that Sir Thomas speaks of was between the Yorkists,
who were on the opposite side of the Tudors in the thirty year long War of the
Roses that preceded the reign of Henry VIII’s father, and Burgundy, which is now
part of France.
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