A Man for All Seasons

A Man for All Seasons Act 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The Common Man enters and explains that two years have passed since the play’s first act. In the meantime, the Church of England has been created. Although great changes usually come with bloodshed, the Common Man explains that this change came “by simple Act of Parliament.” Still, despite the relatively peaceful transition, he warns that those who are “against the current of their times” risk imprisonment and torture.
When the Catholic Church would not cave to Henry’s requests, he created a whole new branch of the Church, of which he was the head. This a perfect example of “man’s law” and the preferences of one man being turned into “God’s law” and a religious mandate for the entire country.
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The stage lights brighten and reveal More sitting at his desk in his home. Roper is pacing the stage in front of him. Roper is now married to Margaret. He is dressed all in black and wears a cross to signal his allegiance to the Catholic Church. More comments on how quickly Roper’s religious allegiance has shifted. Roper calls More’s decorative chain, a symbol of his Chancellorship, “a degradation.”
Once again, Will Roper has changed his religious affiliation. He was once a vocal Protestant, then he was a moderate Catholic, and now he is very committed to the Catholic Church. Notably, each of his shifts has corresponded with an equal and opposite shift in the English public—now that the country is Protestant, Will is Catholic.
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More and Roper discuss the new Act of Supremacy, which makes Henry “Supreme Head of the Church in England.” More is glad that it clarifies that the King is head of the Church only “so far as God allows,” a distinction which Roper calls “a legal quibble.” Roper wonders how far More thinks the law of God extends and allows, but More stays quiet. He warns Roper to keep his opinions quiet too, because they’re treasonous.
More morally objects to Henry’s new position as Supreme Head of the Church in England, but uses the legal language of the law to keep his conscience clear. Because the King is head of the Church “so far as God allows,” More can feel confident that he can religiously justify the extent to which he still supports the King.
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Chapuys interrupts the conversation, entering ahead of Margaret, who was guiding him to More’s office. Chapuys says he has come to visit More as a fellow “brother in Christ,” though More understands that he is really here on business. Chapuys is upset that More is allowing Henry to divorce Catherine, and argues that More, by being associated with the King, is being corrupted by his actions.
Chapuys has interpreted More’s silence regarding the King’s divorce as a silent rebuke of the King and a silent support of Catherine. Although More never pledged any allegiance to Chapuys, he nevertheless sees More’s actions as a betrayal to England, as Chapuys had previously used More’s silence to assume his political position.
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Chapuys says he has heard that More will resign if the bishops in court all submit to the Act of Supremacy. He says that if More were to step down, it would signal to the world that he did not see the King’s marriage, or his claim of religious supremacy, to be legitimate. More’s position of Chancellor would add even more weight to his silent gesture. More is concerned that his actions could be interpreted as signaling anything, especially when Chapuys explains that his abdication could inspire widespread violent resistance.
More’s opposition to the King’s Act of Supremacy is personal, as the King’s actions do not mesh with More’s personal religious convictions. Unfortunately, because he has kept his opinions quiet, More’s motivations are constantly guessed at, and his political leanings are widely misinterpreted. This is upsetting to More, who hoped his silence would be essentially apolitical.
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Conscience, Integrity, and Reputation Theme Icon
Roper enters excitedly, announcing that Norfolk has arrived with news. Chapuys quietly pretends to leave, but stays onstage, listening. Norfolk announces that England has severed its connection with Rome. True to his word, More is committed to resigning from his post, and asks for help removing his Chancellor chain. Only Margaret will help him. More sees the creation of the Church of England as a declaration of war against the (true) Catholic Church, and he believes that the war has been waged only because Henry wanted to marry Anne, instead of for some deeper moral reason.
More does not personally support the King’s reasons for a separation from the Catholic Church. More refuses to support the Act of Supremacy because it weighs on his conscience, which is why he chooses to resign—yet Alice and Norfolk accurately predict that his resignation will be interpreted as an attack on the King. More, because his motivations are pure, cannot see how his actions will be interpreted by others.
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More refuses to answer whether or not he sees Catherine as the legitimate queen. Norfolk is confused as to why More would give up everything—money and power and “the respect of your country.” More responds that he still believes in the power of the Pope, and though he admits that the Pope’s supremacy is merely a theory, it is a theory that is important to him.
More is committed to doing what he feels is right. Losing power, influence, or wealth is less important to him than losing his own moral integrity. More understands that the differences between Catholicism and Anglicanism are, at their cores, “theories,” but he is still willing to fight for what he believes is correct.
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More asks Norfolk if he will repeat what More has said. Norfolk says no, and More points out that Norfolk is then breaking an oath of obedience to the King. Norfolk accepts More’s resignation on behalf of the King and tells him that his fear of retribution is unfounded, as the King is “mindful of [More’s] goodness and past loyalty.” As Norfolk leaves, More warns him that there might be a rebellion in the north.
Norfolk’s friendship with More now puts him in danger. Because he wants to protect More, he must be less obedient to the King, to whom he has pledged total loyalty. Norfolk deeply believes in the power of friendship, and assumes the King’s friendly history with More will protect him in the future as well.
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Alice is upset. She is worried the King will punish More. Roper appreciates More’s gesture, though More says he didn’t mean for his resignation to be symbolic. More thinks his resignation was moral, but Will, Alice, and Margaret explain that morality is symbolic for most people.
More, who resigned because he was following his conscience and doing what he genuinely thought was right, is frustrated that his very earnest decision is being interpreted as a symbolic one, more political than personal.
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More believes he will be safe if he and his family remain silent. He cautions Alice to remain silent even under oath.
More believes silence is all he needs to protect himself and his family, despite the fact that people like Chapuys, Cromwell, and the King have already misinterpreted his silence.
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Man’s Law vs. God’s Law Theme Icon
More dismisses his staff, because he will no longer be able to pay them. He tells the Steward he will miss him, which upsets the Steward. The stage clears, and the Steward explains to the audience that it doesn’t matter if More will “miss” him, as sentimentality means nothing if he cannot pay his wages.
This is an instance where money and luxury take precedence, but at no true moral cost. It would be irrational to ask a servant to stay on without pay, even if they would be working for a martyr.
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Later, presumably in the palace (although it is not stated), Norfolk and Cromwell talk in a private corner. Norfolk wants to leave More to his silence, but Cromwell believes that More’s “silence” is “bellowing up and down Europe.” The two consider how to pressure More into speech. They believe that he will eventually end up on their side, and that he is not a traitor.
Norfolk believes More’s silence is good natured, and a legitimate attempt to stay out of politics. Cromwell, meanwhile, sees More’s silence as louder than words, and believes he is sending a political message in opposition to the King even though he is not speaking.
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Cromwell believes More can be blackmailed for once taking a bribe. Norfolk believes that More is too upstanding to have ever accepted a bribe, but Cromwell brings in Richard Rich and a Woman—both of whom, he says, can prove More’s guilt. Rich acknowledges Norfolk as an “old friend,” but Norfolk acts as though they don’t know each other well. Cromwell explains the Woman once tried to bribe More with a silver cup, although More did not rule in her favor, coming to a lawful conclusion instead. Rich then received the cup as a gift from More, and later told Cromwell about the bribe. Norfolk argues that this doesn’t count as accepting a bribe, because More gave the cup away to Rich as soon as he received it. Cromwell admits this was just a “trial,” and that he’ll find something else he can use to manipulate More.
Although he previously burned bridges with Norfolk and More, Rich now tries to acknowledge Norfolk as a friend. Norfolk, who sees how manipulative and selfish Rich is, rebukes him. Cromwell’s attempt to find an incriminating anecdote about More falls flat. Although More technically accepted the bribe delivered to him, he did not let it affect his moral judgment, and did his best to rid himself of an object he felt could potentially corrupt him. The silver cup, ironically, is not a symbol of More’s corruption, but of Rich’s. Rich happily accepted the cup as a gift and now uses it to sell out his old friend.
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Before Norfolk leaves, he tells Cromwell that he isn’t interested in persecuting More. Cromwell tells Norfolk that the King is aware of his friendship with More, and for that reason wants Norfolk to persecute More even more aggressively, to prove his loyalty to the crown.
Norfolk’s friendship with More continues to put him in danger. The King is now aware of his split loyalty, and the only way for Norfolk to prove his allegiance to the King is to sever his relationship with More, which he is reluctant to do.
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Once Norfolk has left, Cromwell and Rich begin to scheme. Rich explains he is “only anxious to do what is correct,” and Cromwell agrees that they must obey the law, even if they have to make up new ones themselves. More’s old Steward then enters. Cromwell had called him to the palace to corroborate Rich and the Woman’s story about More accepting a bribe, as he was also present the night More gave Rich the silver cup—but, because Norfolk found the story unconvincing, the Steward was never asked to testify. The Steward asks Rich if he needs a servant now that he is wealthy. Rich says he does, but remembers the Steward being rude to him back when he was poorer. The Steward counters that when Rich was not powerful he was also insecure and assumed people were treating him badly, but now that he is powerful he doesn’t notice and doesn’t feel disrespected.
Rich’s desire to “do what is correct” is ironic, because up until now he has only been doing what benefits him. Cromwell’s comment makes it clear that they are only barely operating within the law or any set of moral codes. They only follow the “law” so that they themselves will not be indicted for criminal activity. Although the Steward had actually been rude to Rich when he was poorer, this was based more on Rich’s personality than his status. However, now that the Steward has something to gain from Rich, he will happily flatter and manipulate him.
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Back at More’s house, Chapuys has come to visit. Chapuys and his Attendant comment on how cold the house is. They understand that since More stopped actively supporting the King he’s become much poorer. They then discuss More’s goodness. Chapuys thinks that because become More is opposed to Cromwell, then he must be allied with Spain, and therefore he is a good man.
More has sacrificed a life of luxury in order to live according to his own conscience. As he has earlier, Chapuys mistakes More’s personal moral code for a political criticism of the King. Chapuys assumes that anyone who opposes Cromwell is an ally of Spain, and any ally of Spain, in his eyes, is morally good.
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More enters and greets Chapuys. Chapuys delivers a letter from the King of Spain. He insists it isn’t political; it is just a thank-you to More for taking a stand against Henry’s divorce from Catherine. More will not take the letter, which he fears will incriminate him, and insists he has not taken a stand. More explains he is still loyal to the King, which surprises Chapuys, who had assumed More was against England. Chapuys leaves, and complains to no one in particular that More is “unreliable.”
More is not unreliable as Chapuys claims—he is steadfastly committed to his own conscience and his own personal interpretation of religion. Chapuys finds him unreliable because he has assumed More’s silence was actually a political gesture opposing Henry and supporting Spain.
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Margaret enters with a bundle of plants for the fire as Chapuys leaves. More describes the fire as a “luxury,” although Alice is upset with their new, lower standard of living. More argues that things aren’t all that bad—they still have food and each other.
Although his family disagrees, More places the luxury of living according to his own values above physical and economic luxury.
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Clergy from the Catholic Church have collected money to thank More for opposing the King. Alice wants More to accept their charity, but he is worried that it will appear as though he is being sponsored by the Church.
More doesn’t want to seem compromised in any way. He worries that accepting money, even charity, could be interpreted as a bribe or declaration of allegiance, and he could be seen as corrupted, and his silence as politically motivated.
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Roper enters and announces that More must go to Hampton Court to answer charges brought by Cromwell. Roper comments that Cromwell is a devil. More responds that Cromwell is only a lawyer. He tells his assembled family that he is not worried because he believes in the strength of his case.
More assumes, as he has in the past, that he can protect himself with the laws of man. Unfortunately, More is not as safe as he thinks, because Cromwell rarely follows the law strictly, and will happily manipulate the rules to get his way.
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The scene changes to Cromwell’s office. More has come to hear Cromwell’s accusations, and Richard Rich has joined them. More refers to Rich as an “old friend” and comments on his expensive gown, but Rich does not acknowledge him.
Rich’s expensive gown is his reward for selling out More. More’s reminder of his and Rich’s former friendship falls on deaf ears—Rich, who never particularly valued this friendship, has sacrificed it for his own advancement.
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Cromwell explains that the King is displeased both by More’s silence and his resignation as Chancellor, but says the King would reward him for blessing the divorce. More is not moved to action.
More refuses to give into the King’s implicit bribe, which will restore his status in exchange for More’s verbal approval.
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Cromwell next brings up up a treasonous woman More once wrote to, but More explains he has witnesses and a copy of the letter that prove he was not conspiring against the King.
More also refuses to cave to threats made by Cromwell. He is confident that he has spent his life acting morally, and cannot then be manipulated by those questioning his morality.
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Cromwell tries a final strategy to pressure More into approving the King’s divorce. He brings up the King’s book, which More co-wrote many years ago, called A Defence of the Seven Sacraments. Cromwell argues that More actually wrote the book, and says that it is treasonous because it supports the Pope. More denies this, claiming he only answered the King’s legal questions. Finally, Cromwell lets More go home, but first he reads a letter from the King, which denounces More as “traitorous” and “villainous.”
More has remained faithful to the King despite his opposition to key decisions Henry has made. This commitment and loyalty continues here—the King was said to have written his book, and so More refuses to name himself as a ghostwriter, which would essentially call out the King as a liar. Despite his earlier assurances, the King’s past friendship with More will not now protect More from Henry’s wrath.
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Alone in Cromwell’s office, Cromwell and Rich scheme together. More had said he was not scared because he had nothing to hide, but Cromwell still believes he can find something incriminating in More’s past that would frighten him. Cromwell explains to Rich that “the King’s a man of conscience and he wants either Sir Thomas More to bless his marriage or Sir Thomas More destroyed.” Rich doesn’t understand, and Cromwell tells Rich that he’s confused because he has no conscience.
More acted as the King’s external conscience for so long that now that he seems unlikely to cave the King must live with a guilty conscience forever, or else destroy More, and thus symbolically destroy his own conscience. Rich, who long ago gave up any moral tethers, is predictably confused by the concept of moral reservations.
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Waiting at the banks of the river, More is upset that he cannot get a boat to take him home. He runs into Norfolk, who criticizes his behavior. Norfolk thinks it is fine for More to put himself in danger, but it is unfair for him to also put his friends in danger. More suggests Norfolk stop being friends with him, but Norfolk resists. He doesn’t think friendship can be turned on and off like a switch.
More’s inability to get a boat symbolizes how far against the Church of England he has gone, and how conflicted he is in his decision to remain silent on the Act of Supremacy. More and Norfolk’s friendship has finally become too dangerous to remain unaddressed. Both men value the friendship, but More values his friend’s wellbeing above the relationship itself. In contrast, Norfolk cannot separate the friendship from caring about More’s wellbeing.
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More begins to insult Norfolk, in an attempt to end their friendship. He begins with mild insults, but eventually accuses Norfolk of being entirely self-serving. More tells Norfolk that he has no conscience, backbone, or noble pedigree. Norfolk is so upset that he slaps More and exits.
Although Norfolk has demonstrated much more conscience and loyalty to More than almost anyone else, in the end he is still more concerned with his own wellbeing and political career than More’s. While he could have remained silent and impartial, he has chosen to actively involve himself in Cromwell’s schemes. What More says is harsh, and is meant to provoke Norfolk, but this doesn’t mean it’s untrue.
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Roper and Margaret find More on the riverbank and tell him that a new Act of Succession has been passed. It will require everyone, More included, to take an oath supporting it. More heads home to read the bill to see if there is anyway he can take it and keep his conscience intact, or if he must avoid it. He makes a speech to Roper and Margaret about man’s purpose, arguing that man is made to serve God, and “if he suffers us to fall to such a case that there is no escaping” then he must try his hardest to escape.
Man’s law and God’s law come together in More’s decision regarding the Act of Succession, which will legitimize Henry’s divorce and his children with Anne Boleyn. The Act itself is a law written by humans, but More’s objection to it is spiritual. Still, More finds solace in legal codes and rules, and so even though his reservations are religious he is always looking for legal ways to justify his behavior.
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The Common Man enters an empty stage. He explains that he is now a Jailer, and is in charge of watching the newly imprisoned Thomas More. An envelope descends from the sky, and he opens it and reads—it contains the fates of various characters from the play. Cromwell will be found guilty of High Treason and executed in 1540, and Norfolk will be found guilty of High Treason in 1547, although he will not be executed because the King will die before he can sign the order. Rich, in contrast, will continue to rise in rank and will die of natural causes. No longer reading from the letter, the Jailer adds, “so did I” die in bed, of natural causes, “And so, I hope, will all of you.”
It is difficult to make thematic claims about the deaths of real people, and it’s important to resist saying that Cromwell and Norfolk were sentenced to die because they sacrificed their personal integrity, but it is likely that it became clear to the King and others that their motivations were based more on self-interest than a genuine desire to help the nation. Rich, although he sacrificed all of his personal integrity to advance himself, surprisingly paid no political price for his behavior.
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At one o’clock in the morning, the Jailer wakes More up. Cromwell, Norfolk, and Thomas Cranmer have come to visit. Cromwell presents More with the Act of Succession, which states that the King’s marriage to Catherine was unlawful because the Pope didn’t have the power to approve it, along with a list of people who have already sworn to it. More explains that he recognizes Queen Anne’s children as legitimate heirs because “the King in Parliament tells me that they are,” but he still won’t agree to the Act. Cromwell argues that if More won’t take the oath he must have treasonous reasons. Norfolk agrees that this is a “fair assumption,” but More counters this, saying, “the law requires more than an assumption; the law requires a fact.” He explains that if his motives are not known, he cannot legally be executed for his motives.
More relies on the intricacies of the law to protect him, even now that the law has landed him in jail. He also defers to the law, acknowledging the legitimacy of Anne’s children, even though he morally opposes the the Act that legitimizes them. Although More’s silence has not protected him thus far, he still falls back on it for protection. Silence makes his motives mysterious, and he trusts the law not to assume any motivations.
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Norfolk is frustrated by More’s silence. He argues that he, along with many others, have already signed the Act, and that, for the sake of “fellowship,” More should too. More again refuses to sign. He says that although Norfolk believed it was the right thing to do and followed his conscience, More’s conscience will not let him. He clarifies that he doesn’t think those who signed the Act are damned—just that he personally would be.
More has never been one to “go with the flow,” and so just because others have signed the Act doesn’t mean he will. He honestly believes that other men could sign the Act with clear consciences—if they had no real moral qualms about it—but he cannot. Norfolk sees the bonds of friendship as strong enough to overcome moral reservations, whereas More’s adherence to his conscience will always be more powerful than peer pressure.
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Cromwell calls More out for honoring his doubt more aggressively than he has honored the King of England. More neither agrees nor disagrees, and asks to go to bed. More also criticizes Cromwell for acting like a “dockside bully,” instead of lawfully, with justice.
Because More values the law so much, Cromwell’s prosecution of him, which is barely legal, is frustrating, because he cannot defend himself through the usual legal pathways.
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Frustrated, Cromwell, Norfolk, and Cranmer eventually leave. Cromwell asks the Jailer if he has heard More say anything treasonous. The Jailer has nothing to report, and Cromwell has him swear an oath promising he is telling the truth. Cromwell then promises the Jailer money if he hears anything, though Cranmer adds that the money is not a bribe. In an aside to the audience, the Jailer explains that the offer of money makes him suspicious, and says he doesn’t want to become involved in anything political.
The Jailer is one of the only characters besides More to understand the power of silence. His silence protects him, because he understands that any overhead murmurings worth paying for could potentially also be worth killing for, and he doesn’t want to be involved in this deadly level of politics, whether or not he might receive some money in the process.
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On their way out, Rich and Cromwell talk. Rich wants a new, better, job, specifically that of the retiring Attorney-General of Wales. Cromwell ignores Rich’s request and explains to Rich that time is of the essence. The King is impatient, because More’s continual refusal to sign the Act makes him feel illegitimate. More had acted as a stand-in for the King’s conscience, and as long as he dissents the King’s conscience remains guilty. Cromwell briefly considers torturing More, but decides he’ll fine “some gentler way.”
Rich is always scheming and looking for new ways to increase his wealth and status. Again, the King sees More’s dissent as his own conscience speaking against him. As long as More is alive and in opposition he makes the King feel guilty, which he does not like or want.
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In the early morning, More’s family comes to visit him. They comment on the awful conditions of the jail, but More argues it isn’t that bad—the worst part is being separated from the people he loves.
More’s commitment to his conscience is more important to him than even his freedom. Although he is stripped of every luxury, he still refuses to complain.
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Alice, Roper, and Margaret are all happy to see More, but they reveal that they are just visiting to convince him to take the oath. More explains that by taking an oath he would be betraying himself and God. Margaret tells More how sad and cold the house is without him, and More complains that hearing her speak is more torturous than anything the King or Cromwell has come up with.
Cromwell has allowed More’s family to visit because he hopes they will convince him to finally give in. However, More remains steadfast. By giving in he would be betraying not only himself but also God, and, he believes, would suffer both in this life and the next.
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The Jailer cuts their visit short, and will not accept a bribe to extend it. In his final moments with his family, More tries to compliment the food Alice has brought for him, but she is upset because he will not give in and return to family life. More thinks he can make a “good death,” but she angrily replies, “Your death’s no ‘good’ to me!” However, she eventually concedes that she trusts God’s plan, even if she doesn’t understand it.
In Alice and More’s last conversation Alice finally begins to understand his point of view. Even though she doesn’t want to leave him and absolutely doesn’t want him to die, she finally understands his commitment to himself and to God and why he cannot give up.
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The scene changes from the jail cell to a courtroom. The Common Man changes out of his Jailer’s costume. He constructs a makeshift jury out of hats, each representing a man. Half of the hats are costume pieces from roles he has played, including the Steward, Boatman, Innkeeper, and Jailer. Cromwell enters, praising “The Canvas and Rigging of the Law.” He then reminds the Common Man that he will serve as the head juror, or Foreman.
Although man’s law is usually represented by dry land in the play, Cromwell’s reference to its canvas and rigging (both parts of a ship) suggests that the law has become too complicated for even More to navigate. The Common Man’s many hats in the jury help demonstrate the role common people played in historical affairs.
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Norfolk begins the trial by charging More with High Treason. However, he makes it clear that if More were to repent now, he would be pardoned. More rejects the offer. Cromwell accuses More of denying the King his title of Supreme Head of the Church of England. More is upset because he has never denied this. He argues “silence is not denial.”
In the end, More’s life is a luxury he is willing to give up to remain true to his morals. Once again, More is frustrated by those who willfully misinterpret his silence. He purposefully remained silent because he did not want to deny Henry’s supremacy, even as he privately disapproved.
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Cromwell counters that there are many kinds of silences. Although More did not speak, he made his opinion known through his silence. Therefore, his silence is “betoken.” It is technically a silence, but it is as loud and as well known as a spoken rejection of the King. More reasserts that if silence is taken to mean anything, then “silence gives consent.”
Silence here means two different things to two different people. More sees his silence as no answer, or consent if an answer must be assumed. Meanwhile Cromwell takes the same silence to signify that More does not consent and does not approve.
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Cromwell accuses More of using legal jargon to make the case more complicated. More argues that the law isn’t supposed to be a clear “light,” but instead a guide for those who already have a strong conscience. Cromwell responds that conscience is a term used by criminals, and people who serve their consciences are more selfish and less interested in serving the King and the State. More explains that he sees conscience as a personal loyalty, but one that can coexist with a loyalty to the King. In fact, More believes that by following his conscience he can even better serve the King—because his conscience will only allow him to tell the truth.
More believes that the secular and religious laws are only useful if they are used in tandem with a person’s own conscience. He has no desire to manipulate the law, but simply wants to operate within it according to his personal moral code. Cromwell, meanwhile, uses the law as a weapon to get what he wants. A central conflict of the play has been the question of whether one can be loyal to the King while also being loyal to something or someone else—for example, one’s conscience or one’s friends. More thinks it’s possible, but Cromwell and the King disagree.
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Related Quotes
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Richard Rich is called as a witness. He is now the Attorney General for Wales, and is dressed in expensive clothing. He takes an oath and promises to tell the whole truth, but forgets to say “So help me God,” and has to be reminded. He lies under oath, and tells an invented story. He claims he visited More in jail, and while he was there he asked More why he wouldn’t accept the King’s title as Supreme Head of the Church of England. He says More verbally rejected Henry’s title. More immediately protests. He rationalizes that after years of silence, it wouldn’t make any sense for him to suddenly confess, in private, to Rich.
Rich has ascended to his most prominent social position yet. He has traded all of his “friendships” and moral reservations for wealth and power. He lies under oath, and uses his former friendship with More to add legitimacy to More’s invented confession. Rich has completely forgotten any morality he once had, as evidenced by his symbolically butchered oath.
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More is given a final opportunity to speak before the jury deliberates, but his fate is already sealed. He accuses Cromwell of persecuting him not for his actions, but for his thoughts, and he calls out Rich for selling his soul for Wales.
More’s silence has officially been interpreted as treasonous. Although he expected the law to be on his side, he was less protected than he thought. The law only protects the innocent when all parties choose to obey it—and when the men who make the law decide that it does.
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The jury does not even take any time to deliberate the case. They immediately declare More to be guilty of High Treason. After years of silence, More finally speaks out and defends himself, although he notes how backwards it is that he only gets to defend himself once he’s already been declared guilty. More explains that the King’s Act of Parliament goes against the “Law of God,” because the King, a man, cannot control the Church, but in spite of this More is still a loyal subject of the King. He reiterates that he meant the King no harm, and that even now he will die for his King. He is angry that he was persecuted not because he denied Henry’s supremacy, which he sees as a large, important religious issue, but because he denied Henry’s divorce.
More’s only true crime was staying true to his own conscience, which went against the King’s desired divorce. Although he should have been protected by the law in his silence—since he took no treasonous action—the law has been corrupted beyond recognition. This can also be seen in the order of the trial—More is only allowed to try and clear his name once he is already sentenced to die.
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The scene changes. The courtroom disappears and a chopping block replaces it. The Common Man dons a new costume, becoming the Headsman. More approaches the Headsman, but is intercepted by Margaret. He tries to comfort her, explaining that his execution, and death in general, is the will of God. Cranmer approaches him with a Bible, and More comforts him too, explaining that he is being sent to God, and so he is not upset.
More’s deep spirituality protects him in his final moments. Although other people would probably be scared, he is confident that he has made difficult but morally justified choices, and even if they have led him to his death he can go knowing he did what he believed to be right. The grief and distress of the characters surrounding More emphasize how personal his beliefs are.
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There is a total blackout, during which the Headsman executes More. Then the Common Man, who has changed out of his of his Headsman costume, comes out of the darkness. He cautions the audience not to make trouble, or “if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that’s expected.”
The Common Man’s final lines are a warning—More was punished for his dissent, but also for his unanticipated steadfastness. More’s commitment to his morals was inexplicable in a world full of changing “tides” and morally compromised people. Unable to break his will, the King decided to take his life.
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