To see a commentary note, click on a blue square. To see the Latin text, click on a green square.

ACT II, SCENE i
ROCHESTER, THOMAS MORE, CHORUS

ROCHESTER A doubtful light is arising, cloud has stolen away the bright daylight, as if a plague has arisen from the Pit and is infecting the air. The prince has been in wanton spirits. No shame for his reputation or fear of the mark of infamy, no horror of offended heaven or dread of Hell restrains him. So will his road to crime lie wide open, with no man barring the way? Does the clergy’s degenerate hand endorse the things he does? It contrives a dubious marriage, it approves these ill-wed people.
MORE The sin of this earth learns to acknowledge no boundaries, it knows no limit. Religion is shattered and fails. The road of commerce between the supernals and the dwellers of this earth has been cut off. The market-place is awash with crime, for costly goods please the king and the common folk take pleasure in their king’s madness. Oh, what a crop of evil will you see a-growing, you men of later days, sown by your fathers’ hand! The king wields the fire that shall have turned such great households into bait, he thirsts for blood, not water. When a river has abandoned its wonted courses, it cuts new channels by fair means or foul. Thus, thus lust deceives humankind, with swollen streams it overflows the banks of the mind. It would be a trifling cause for complaint, a trifling loss, if one or two of the flock were to fall, tainted by this plague. But this is grave, for a prince is falling. Meanwhile, noble virtue is gaining strength, so that, having been suppressed, it may shine forth with all the more force. It is like a burning coal which, when snow’s opposing virtue obstructs it, holding it in its chill embrace, gains heat from the very cold and gathers its strength in a firmer grip. Thus contempt, when well-instructed, contempt is wont to crush its foes. Toleration is a virtue, it diminishes the hateful enemy’s power by suffering it. An exile from the royal house, it seeks out and cherishes humbler homes.
CHORUS You truly noble hearts, you pious strength, have pity on a tottering England.
MORE May God tighten the bridle and reins on crime! When salvation can be hoped for from no other source, His godhead thrives.
ROCHESTER His godhead never approves crime by giving it safety.
MORE But He corrects it.
ROCHESTER No, he rewards wrongdoing with punishment.
MORE But you, my prelate, should mollify His divine wrath with prayer, or lessen the punishment.
ROCHESTER God has counted out His chastisements.
MORE Reduce the number, lest their weight exceed the mean.
ROCHESTER The crime committed has exceeded the mean, and punishments are usually tailored to fit the crime.
MORE Unless some patron does better in averting the evil.
ROCHESTER Supreme ruler of heaven, if my heart’s blood, cast in the opposing pan, can balance the people’s sin, restrain Your ire. I will spill my flowing blood and pour forth a stream.
MORE. And I shall add a bloodstained helping hand to your prayer. You, God, favor our prayers. You are not wont to reject the price of human life, which has been valued most dear. Can You hope for something greater, when a greater gift is not at hand? Are You awaiting a more costly victim? It is Yours to give us this first, then out of Your gifts we will give greater.
CHORUS You have acted abundantly, you have heaped the holy altars with fine victims, and God will give His assent.

ACT II, SCENE ii
ROCHESTER, NORRIS

[Enter Norris, carrying a mask.]

ROCHESTER What’s this costume? Why is Norris carrying a false face in his hand?
NORRIS You are beholding a man innocent in face and heart, prelate, who is always in the habit of having in hand falsehoods. The royal favor commands and I appear.
ROCHESTER I understand that. At the sovereign’s command you are preparing masques. How many plays do they prepare and act out! How many men strut about with false faces, defiling the bright day with their feigned light! You imitate the thing. That mask you have in your hand, what an innocent face it has, how modest and noble in comparison with many with whom the Court is filled. I fear that soon impiety will take off its mask, revealing itself. For a while now it has barely lain hidden, it scorns barriers, it breaks forth menacingly, with its terrible mouth it thunders forth its rages.
NORRIS And let it be revealed. Let it betray itself by its own noise. Virtue triumphs abundantly, trampling with fearless feet on its unmasked head. Is it puffed up? Let burst with its puffing. Ruptured, let it resound as does the furious sea when it strikes cliff sides with its pointless assault, and throws up spray far and wide as it is rebuffed. Let it roar, raging in vain, with virtue nowhere moved from its sure foundation. But this is your concern, lighter ones suit me. And see, here are the Earls.

ACT II, SCENE iii
NORRIS, SURREY, FIVE COURTIERS, CHORUS

ROCHESTER I recognize your character. Exit.
SURREY We are met, Norris.
NORRIS I see, you prosperous gentlemen, that you have remembered the appointed time for our business. Surrey, you indomitable champion of the sea, and you other lights of England, now you must make trial of dancing. Gently. Well done. The six dance in pairs .
Pause, bend. The king sits on one side the queen is watching on the other. Let ever knee bend to greet the king, and then the queen. Come together a moment, then move back and, having made another bow, let us stand upright. Now show your shields in due order, which I offer to the king. They are to be explained thus. With his golden mane the prince of beasts is rampant on an ample plain, with his fiery eyes he regards the sun and asks it to shine with these words, May he shine as a victor. This reminds our sovereign that these are the prayers of his stout-hearted subjects, that he may rout ill-wishers as the sun routs the clouds. Amidst the stars a silver eagle looks down on the earth, lying wholly outstretched. Hence his I see, I choose must refer to the royal throne. Thetis fences about an island with her waves, safe from perils. The motto expresses this meaning: since the sea girds our British soil, let no man harm our sovereign’s hand with impunity. Cynthia rules the darkling night with her shining face. She shines without burning. Phoebus burns bright with his fiery rays, kindly tousling his sister’s hair. A harmless brightness adorns the royal head. A grove offers shade to cattle, as does a tall oak with its outstretched branches for the benefit of the birds. It toys with the sun, scorns the winds, beauty too provides protection, a lively enough spirit. Dark night occupies the final shield, shot through with lightning.
CHORUS Dark night, greedy fire. Do you commend this fatal emblem?
NORRIS Why should I not commend it, since life experiences the direct opposite of the symbol? It signifies that Henry’s bright torches escape the notice of no man.
CHORUS It signifies darkness of mind and frenzy of spirit.
NORRIS Whose?
CHORUS In the opinion of any man to whom you might be denounced, of the king.
NORRIS Whence comes this troublesome interpreter?
CHORUS I am a friend both of yourself and of you all. You very handsome band of youths are unwittingly dealing in a serious business, not a plaything of wit. Thus kings are wont to their subjects, they are cannily wont to assess the inner workings of their minds, unexpectedly revealed by the hidden import of a joke, the secret meaning of a sport. By this evidence a king cleverly reveals whatever lurks in a mind. Whoever you are who, happily mingling in sovereigns’ assemblies, smile and freely indulge in witticisms, and, rejoicing in all things, give voice to sarcasm, beware lest you please yourself overmuch. Somebody may be observing what you say and noting with a black mark the candor of your open heart, marking you down for death because of your unfortunately jokes, a fate I would wish you all to be spared. What would happen, I ask you, if someone were to interpret your emblems thus? First, the lion gazing at the wandering sun means that your king favors heresy and hopes it will prevail. And the eagle looking down at the ground indicates someone on high with his mind basely fixed on this earth. The island protected by the tempestuous waters shows that the scepter is wielded by a stormy mind, not a pleasant one. Cynthia, shining with her wandering and ever-changing face, indicates the king of England has a deceitful heart. Nor does the tree escape this dark reckoning: the shadow which refreshes beasts, the branch with supports birds, offer hospitality to malign creatures. Do you imagine the king will give this a friendly hearing?
NORRIS I understand that a harsh tyrant can twist these things, and whatever else piety may offer, to produce a sinister import, but our king’s lofty breast shines with candor, and has a sweet nature, gentleness and honor He will put this ill omen at a far distance, he is in the habit of forgiving the guilty. Will a false accusation ever be lodged against his subjects?
CHORUS Often an innocent man is punished for a false accusation, even when a good king sits as judge. The evil nature of our time, favor, the power of the accuser, minor mistakes, ah, how many men these things have given over to death!
SURREY And yet the fates never wholly destroy a truly wise man. This is our sure refuge.
COURTIER 2 Let these emblems be emended.
COURTIER 3 Let new ones be made.
COURTIER 2 Get rid of those foolish shields. Goodbye. [They leave.]
CHORUS You see, Norris? They fled the very word “danger,” though heard at a distance. Oh fleeting, vain hope, supported by trusting the powerful! Within this house faithful friends and constancy, that sure anchor for hope, are rarities. Fortune, virtue’s opposite, destroying the pinnacles of virtue, rules and shakes their status in accordance with the things it sees to be ill-disposed in the outer world. You should live within, come near to God in your inward life. Trample fortune underfoot when she is angry, scorn her when she is your friend. Behold how heaven turns on its great wheel, but the portion nearest the pivot has the shortest and easiest motions, closest to repose. Draw near that blessed pivot, and by its gentle turning you may frustrate the things that threaten you. Farewell. [The Chorus exits with Surrey, leaving Norris alone.]
NORRIS What’s this? Today reverend Rochester has complained of many evils. My friends have left me deserted. But when I was destitute a stranger brought me aid not to be neglected. Whatever I shall fear of such great evil? The favor of my king and the Lords puts my innocent heart at rest, but most of all my innocence. But why should I imagine that harsh men would denounce the uncertain auspices of my lot? While in safety, a ship’s steersman scans the storm signs, searching to see if there are any blots on the face of the rising sun, asking from what quarter the headstrong south wind and the north wind might bring stormy rain. You should put off this doubtful mood, Norris, hasten to where your sovereign’s gentle breeze blows. Lower your sails. Eager hope always nourishes us, so long as an unfortunate may is permitted not to know his doom. Exit.

ACT II, SCENE 4
A DESPAIRING CITIZEN, CHORUS

CITIZEN I shall lie, a corpse. No hand will lift me from the ground, and my soul will be bound in Hell’s cave. You hard-hearted Judge of all things, why did You create me from nothing? Why did You not permit me to go on existing as nothing? A man asks for less than nothing, and this is denied him? Let Him grant me this end. In vain I seek an ending to my ills. Death itself flees this unhappy person, albeit death will never put an end to my ills. But let me at least be allowed to make this alteration, let me be translated to those evils which afterwards I cannot change. If any baleful terror lurks in death, let even this be granted me. I seek darkness instead of light, and night for day. Let it last forever, as long as it comes quickly, and will come when I summon. I curse the air and this dirt, the single thing I seem to love. If nothingness be denied, grant me eternal chaos.
CHORUS You man, unworthy of the daylight you damn, what madness agitates your mind? Why savagely turn your black tongue against your Creator? Does the human mind know how to attain to even this degree of sin? Are you full of demons, that you rail against heaven and God?
CITIZEN Another man adds himself to the number of witnesses. Day by day my damnation grows, day by day malice increases in its abundance. Go, ask a man damned in his own eyes why he condemns other things. Ask him. Or, if you will, pass beyond the sphere of the moon and cling to a star. The space is measured, you measure it likewise, and if I’m not wrong you’ll see a place where the earth yawns wide and opens a road leading straight to Hell. Nations without number clog the road, the gates are wholly packed by the multitude. Steal closer with furtive steps, with your keen eye you’ll see what’s inside. Bloodless fear and black grief will greet you, followed by unhappy pains, and the Furies’ thousand thousand hands are contriving new torments. Amidst so many, none lacks its appropriate crime, everything is made fit to suit. Bloody dukes find their burden, as do earls and kings. Heavy adulation weighs down the fawning courtier, the sly sycophant atones for his wiles. How much does luxury pay? Alas poor me, what a place awaits me amidst these things! And everything underneath the cave of this dark dungeon is horrible, it exudes ghastly sulfur, dyed with which the fire roils, balefully roaring, and is dark with squalid smoke, scarce burning bright. But, blind as is the soul being punished, it takes its strength only from the fire’s heat, yet a great strength nonetheless. There is a place appointed for me, where I must go. Why do I burden the earth in my sinfulness? Why am I fouling the air, drawing the breath of life? Come, you Furies, the man due you is coming.

ACT II, SCENE v
CITIZEN, MORE, BONVISIO

BONVISIO Peace, poor man.
CITIZEN No peace is owned me, no remission, Bonvisio, yet at Bonvisio’ command let silence stifle my punishments.
MORE What’s the reason for this?
BONVISIO You see a man befouled by an unhappy lot, I do not know why. I know him to be an upright man of sound reputation, deserving of your help.
MORE God alone will assist his embittered heart.
BONVISIO God will give His assistance, but More will apply it. I have bid him stop your ranting when he greets your eyes. [Aside.] If More’s prayers and virtue refuse their aid, then he should utterly despair.
MORE Oh, in what condition my life is, overwhelmed by such calamities! On one side and on the other, what a storm vexes mankind! Where can my doubtful wishes come to rest? This pauper hungers for wealth, that rich man wastes and squanders his money. They provoke their Creator’s wrath yet they complain of it. They shudder at the final day, yet hurry it on. Why do I oppose my breast to evils that encroach ever farther? A guilty man, as long as I live I am wretchedly adding sins to sins. Why am I feeding the flames for that final day?
CITIZEN Why am I feeding the flames for that final day?
MORE That pyre will mount up and reach to the sky.
CITIZEN That pyre will mount up and reach to the sky, yet never match my sins.
MORE The mighty Judge will match punishments to my sins. What will escape His eternal hand or deceive His eye?
CITIZEN He punishes what He sees.
MORE He sees whatever occurs.
CITIZEN And punishes it.
MORE Where is a merciful God?
CITIZEN Where is a merciful God?
MORE Does God cruelly destroy His creature? Let that not be. Has he loaded humanity down with punishments? He brought Man forth from nothingness, filling him with a soul. As never-ending food for you, Gehenna? Let that not be. He painted the globe to decorate it, does He permit it to be ruled by sinful men, and suddenly cast them down for straying in their frailty? God will never do this. That this might not happen, He left the stars, for a while He sent away the bright choirs of angels. Seeking out this earth, God chose to exist in need. Oh dust, ash, rise up, see how you have taken our good God and dared to call Him harsh and merciless with that impious mouth of yours. He forgives this. From which you ought to learn that, being a sinful man, you will not be given over to the foul spirits, no matter how much you deserve it. You will be free from dire Hell’s tormentors. What can I ask God to wish but that this soul always be safe, redeemed by His own blood? You are alive, and you abandon your inordinate terrors? Live, have pious hope. [Exit.]
CITIZEN Divine virtue has lain concealed in this old man’s voice, it has filled my whole heart with new strength. I acknowledge the godhead which he proves to be pious, I feel the kindly God he breathes force with his voice. Happy hope enters my mind, my horror banished, and I stand here ready, wondering how that maze baffled my journey. Like a sailor, having long wandered the uncharted waves and having suffered the storm’s wrath, exhausted by his ocean wanderings, after Phoebus has returned to the light and the new-dawned day reveals the night’s damage, and, thanks to a zephyr, the sea’s fury has passed, marvels at the great darkness the raging storm has brought, and then collects his broken oars, tests the rigging with his hand, and carefully studies all his ship’s damage, so what my conscience has suffered is given back to me. First I should purify myself. The next task for a grateful mind is to inquire who gave me back to myself. Salvation is neglected when its author lies hidden in neglect. Exit.

CHORUS

The man whom the earth sees to be noble for his piety, him no rumor of world-shaking Mars will quail, no ram brought up to his walls will drive to vain fits of panic. The fire which is wont to course across wide fields and overwhelm forests with ugly ash, which the winds set a-rolling, will abate in accordance with his opposing will and retract its widespread flames. No monsters born in the savage sea, no beasts driven wild by prolonged madness, whose hunger has drawn to young bullocks they have espied, no air, polluted by plague when Sirius with its venomous fire provokes the Lion to which it is conjoined, no war fearful because of the savage of Parthians, no royal threats have had any power against virtue’s weapons, of which one suffices for all the world. While Epidaurus feared being overwhelmed by the sea’s mad waves, on the behalf of his beloved city Hilarion was moved to combat the opposing storms. By the wood of the Cross he overcame and drove back the sea’s stormy floods. Aquilia’s towers fell to the ground, unequal in war, but Rome withstood that furious man, victorious thanks to its piety. At the place where it enters the Po with a gentle whisper, being made a comrade of the rivers, the fleeting stream Mincius witnessed this. They sat alike on either bank, the army that had hastened from a faraway world, and that which had come from the city of Rome, but this army was not alike in the number of its battalions. Then Leo opened his mouth, full of piety, and with his voice terrified Attila, whom the lofty Alps had not hindered, with his voice he drove him to rout. No less does virtue heal those minds which sin has laid low with its grave war, which headstrong wrath and lust have swept away, those restrained by no fear for their safety, whom no hope inspires to sure salvation. He bears witness to this who just now was bound for the lakes of the Underworld, whose prostrate mind More’s virtue lifted up, snatching him from the dark Hell he had glimpsed.

Go to Act III