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ACT IV, SCENE i
HENRY, CROMWELL, CRANMER, AUDLEY
HENRY Withdraw, my Lords. Cromwell, you are always a steady support to Henry in doubtful matters, and if More and the other great men of the realm were like you, then my head would be in the stars, greater than this world and greater than that man who rules the holy-hilled city with his triple crown. But my mind has learned by experience that a king is not always allowed to have his way. Meanwhile, what does More profess in jail? Cannot his heart, so many times obdurate, be swayed by bondage to comply with my will?
CRANMER If More ever allows himself to be swayed, I don’t know whether that bishop at Rome he adores might likewise agree to be swayed, who might relieve from the oppressive weight of his chains. With stubborn steps he hastens to his doom. If any image of death shown him could frighten him, let if be displayed to More. Made forgetful by terror, perhaps he’ll throw up his hands.
HENRY No hobgoblins of death will ever sway More, his mind has so often been averse to me. Now he has a heart long armored against those things, and if he is eager to join new battles, he will stand unmoved, even if the stars are moved from their stations or the sky acquires new poles.
CROMWELL If no false reports of his death avail us, let true ones succeed. At least when that unmovable head is taken from his neck it will learn to move and acquire new sense, or at lest lose the one it has.
HENRY I imagine he will lose his head’s sentiments along with his head, but never before. Nothing will benefit him, but at least let me benefit from his loss of his head and whatever else belongs to More. Let a man who refuses to obey me willingly learn to obey under compulsion. Kings must walk this path. If More were to be safe, what obedience to my wishes would the others show? What is Norfolk saying, what kind of character has youth given Surrey?
CROMWELL The boy has a recalcitrant mind, the old man a placid one. Whatever shore the royal ship puts in to, that unreliable old man directs his sails to the same place. The boy shows resistance. Being unacquainted with fear, he openly opposes your royal ways and incites his father, always too devoted to John More.
HENRY So the boy is prideful, the old man sedate. I’ll repay their different natures with different rewards, as I should. The boy will give his spirited head to the axe. As his gift I grant the old man the stagnant life of a dungeon. Bound in chains, let him drag out days harmful to nobody. What about Cranmer? What about Audley? Do they like their king’s all-daring style?
CROMWELL Cranmer used to be untrustworthy, now he’s scarce learned how to be faithful. A born trimmer, he smiles in the sunshine. If the sky is overcast with cloud he takes to his heels, born to serve the time. He does not promote the king’s name, he cares about and cherishes his own, and, pursuing fame and his new mistress, puffed up with that smooth face of his, he gives the appearance of being not a whit less the fool than his king. In his own eyes a great man, he yearns to appear important to the people. A sacrilegious priest, once perjured, twice and always disloyal. Everybody knows he changes his faith, he’s inconstant, fickle, shifty, cowardly, conscious of his guilt, changing, he’s tossed by every wind. If the king’s anchor is cast in him and the royal rudder entrusted to his care, even if he does not want to crash the ship on the rocks —
HENRY I confess I have often had in mind the same idea of the man that you are describing, he’s never pleased me enough. I’ll confront this evil quickly, the top of this proud oak will fall before the tree gains more strength. In vain he’ll ask for Boleyn, and in vain invoke this new hour. The timely raindrops of his death also impend. There remains Audley, what about him?
CROMWELL He has strength of body, but none of mind. He fights, he dances, he flits about, I scarcely know if he is lighter of foot or head. He’s a man fearsome to nobody, of no weight, if anybody did an artful job of persuading him, he’d believe Jupiter is god.
HENRY I so adore simpletons. Let him live, let him lead as days in abundance as long as the Fates allow him his thread. You have fallen in love with your king’s mind, making noises like a clever fellow. My mind remains fixed. I permit you to withdraw now, but keep your mind fixed on great things, on a sign of lucky omen.
CRANMER And I pray a luckier one for my prince. Exit.
HENRY Cranmer, if there were the time I would wish to discuss many things. I am settling my affairs with a few words. Do my wishes obtain a happy outcome? Do I possess the marriage I have so often craved?
CRANMER If my prince should wish it, who would refuse to be willing?
HENRY And so if no man opposes my intention, everything is safe, this prince holds second place to God within his island. And yet I am obliged to confess that some awe of a distinguished holy priest remains for Henry. I believe I have come to know Cromwell well enough, a great hunter after favor.
CRANMER He scarcely manages a feigned mind and manners adequate to deceive his prince, which among his equals he often reveals to be in turmoil. He furls his brow, bites his lips, mutters, stamps the ground, damns the times of this world. But none of this for his king. He says nothing that is not serene, smoothes his brow, this is the Golden Age of Saturn. Oh the false fellow, laden with deception! He who knows the man well enough knows that he is proud, restless, base and cruel.
HENRY If you what you say is true, and it does bear a fair showing of truth, I confess you are perspicacious, and this showing has been beclouded. I mean to say, he has conjured up a cloud for my eyes, which I will quickly sweep away. And when it has been dissipated, he will pay a blood-price. Farewell, archbishop of our sacred affairs, be watchful for the flock entrusted to your charge. Exit Cranmer. Audley.
AUDLEY I come a-flying. Does your sacred majesty perhaps command something?
HENRY If you love me as your consecrated prince, you must make all men’s minds loyal to my crown.
AUDLEY If you would give me a hearing, I swear by God and this mind shut within my breast, Norfolk, Cromwell, and whatever else surrounds the royal side, none of them is upright, nobody is ever loyal, nobody is pious, English soil bears no subject loyal to you but myself.
HENRY At least faithful Audley will always cling tight to his prince.
AUDLEY As long as my soul clings to its body.
HENRY Thus, thus it should be. Trust me, if heaven is favorable you won’t regret it. Meanwhile hunt out those sly fellows, show Henry their naked minds. Farewell.
AUDLEY I’ll bare them, though they keep them wrapped in mist. Exit.
HENRY Oh, these traitors! Go, you worthless, faithless men. Henry is enough for Henry, he alone will suffice for himself and will conduct his business by himself alone. Exit.
ACT IV, SCENE ii
NORFOLK Will our fates never take a turn for the better? One evil always comes hard on the heels of another, a slaughter is followed by a graver one. Banished Piety flees to the stars, Impiety seizes for herself the reins of affairs, Religion, banished from the palace, yields place to Madness. Licence rules and, as she wills, lawlessly gives laws to the world. What heavier burden could heaven’s Ruler devise for a single kingdom, or who could add to these evils? Has all Hell come forth from the Pit?
SURREY If we are suffering harsh things, we have deserved them. For the hand that justly governs all things tempers everything with its just balance. A man who by his sin has earned fate’s wrath is foolish to rail against heaven. By our sin we have betrayed our faith, and then we complain that impious hands are being laid upon that faith. He who is suffering what he deserves cannot undeservedly complain.
NORFOLK I confess that by my sloth I have betrayed the commonwealth. When first this plague began to infect the realm with its poison, I should have applied my healing hand, or cut off its rotten limbs with fire and steel, so the rest would not contract the disease as the evil grew widespread. When the counsels of the lords and king were doubtful and matters not yet decreed by a black stone, the force of this mad storm could at least have been broken until its exhausted fury could have yielded way to saner counsels. Now (which I think to be the worst of all our ills), there is no hope of curing such great evils.
SURREY In hard times you forbid wretched men even to hope? I am ashamed to have heard the words of such an abject mind, this does not sound worthy of my father or my stock, or of your name. Is this my the mind of your father, whom neither the pouring sky nor all the wrath of Caledonian Mars could break, who was wont to laugh at fortune’s dire game, and who used to stand stronger than adamant, scorning sordid fear? Do the passing days diminish even old men’s minds? Come, let that early lofty character of mind enter you, let the spirit which existed for the young man return to the old. Be that which public peace and safety, the glory of your nation, religion, piety, the holy faith of our forefathers, and the great glory of our family urge you to be. The king burns with the torch of a sinful love and as an incestuous father violates his daughter’s bed. Cromwell shines as bright as the stars and with his swollen arrogance oppresses noblemen. Let the king be criminal, impious, savage, fierce, let him raise up men worthy of manacles in your place, let our faith remain untouched and unharmed, and our majesty, venerable to both this world’s hemispheres. Dare something of which every corner of the world will hear and feel, the British Sea being thrown into turmoil wherever Albion raises its broad back.
NORFOLK To dare more than you can do is madness.
SURREY To dare nothing when you can is sloth.
NORFOLK Those who are willing to dare much pay the price.
SURREY A man who fears to dare what is in his capacity pays a greater.
NORFOLK A man who wants to stay alive should not be daring.
SURREY A man who wishes not to die should dare everything.
NORFOLK The mark of the young is hot-headedness.
SURREY It is common for the old to be too sluggish.
NORFOLK The fault does not lie in your young mind, the fault is your father’s. When a fresh shadow of fuzz covered my cheeks at a similar age, this fervor used to grip me, but long age and experience have taught me to make haste slowly in great affairs. For the long passage of time engenders that which impulse cannot. In time, whatever our present storm of adversity has taken away will rise anew.
SURREY Perhaps it will strike us too, joining us to the other men the wave has overwhelmed. Look here, the two stars of our commonwealth, More and likewise Rochester, his partner in life and death, have given their heads to the axe, offered up to impious wrath. Another company of men went before them. How I fear that when this fury does not know whom to attack, we ourselves will provide the catastrophe to this drama! Exeunt.
ACT IV, SCENE iii
A ROYAL PROSECUTOR, HENRY, CROMWELL, NORFOLK, SURREY, MORE, GUARDS, YEOMEN
PROSECUTOR The supreme power of heaven, which rules this earth, gave the sublime name of kings as a divine authority, it appointed this as a help to the weak, a support to the oppressed, as a harbor for good men and a source of fear to the wicked. If wars oppress peoples, if some storm troubles them and prevents the dubious state of the republic from standing firm, the single person of the prince is set against it in the first rank, and at his peril he either drives the evil away from his subjects or shatters it. If the barren earth denies its crops and dark famine depopulates cities, he provides food and takes care that it is delivered. The poor common run of humanity is fed by the king’s sweat. What the soil does not give to its inhabitants will be granted by the vigilance of their country’s father. Your Englishman, if anyone else, is indebted to his king for these things. Henry is vigilant, consumed by great care. By his effort he anticipates public needs, strives on our behalf, toils on our behalf, exhausts his body, and he is prepared to give up his soul, as long as this would benefit his subjects. Nor does he think that our happiness would be sufficiently measured by his reign, he would wish it to be everlasting, knowing no limit. By his great exertion he seeks an heir and addresses our commodity, without regard for his personal reputation. He scorns foreign threats, solicitous for England. So that the Thames may flow at peace, being great in spirit he scorns the eddies of the Iber and the floods of the Tiber, ready with his hand but readier with his patriotism. My fellow citizens, with his ungrateful words the criminal More who stands here dares slander the king, who has surpassed your prayers with good things. More has no hesitation to refuse obedience to such a pious king, he think that laws established by your consensus should be quashed null and void. Are you suffering this crime in silence? But you will hear: being a criminal, let him reveal his crimes, for, as I see, he is reluctant and holds his silence. An opportunity will be given him to set forth his fine argument. Upon your oath, More, do you condemn these acts of the people or do you think they should be ratified?
MORE Does someone require that I give my approval to things I do not understand? I do not know that Parliament has met, and I am required to approve its decisions? What custom is this? Let me know what my fellow-citizens have bid me approve, I approve of that.
PROSECUTOR Wise words, if you say them seriously. The king, joined with and relying upon Parliament, orders that the Pope’s Roman laws be condemned. Prince Henry is England’s only head. He alone governs the faith of the Church and rules the clergy. As the orders of your fellow citizens have done, confirm this on your oath and depart an innocent man.
MORE This suffices to attest my innocence, that I have done nothing against the scepter or the laws. Let it suffice that this one thing has been confirmed by my voice: what guilty man could be absolved by his own word?
PROSECUTOR A man whose own word is a crime.
MORE But I have never let slip a word by which I can be convicted.
PROSECUTOR Here stubborn Rochester has gravely suffered for your conversations, likewise unfortunately deceived by the false splendor of the purple. But merciful Henry grants you this indulgence: return to your sane mind, learn what the realm approves, and enjoy the advantages of the realm as an upstanding citizens.
MORE Assuredly Rochester has not suffered for conversations had with me. The man’s virtue and learning, known throughout the world, never had any need of a whisper from me. I should imagine he never sought the purple. On this earth virtue was a quite ample reward, perhaps making him more fit to be rewarded with heaven than in his homeland. Concerning the law, if there is any such, I chose to keep my silence. Word of its legislation has come to me late. Let it be allowed me to keep silent, since there is no advantage in speaking.
HENRY You will discover that there is the greatest advantage in speaking, when you have found out that keeping silence is a supreme crime.
PROSECUTOR And let no false confidence in your prudence deceive you. You praise the old man overmuch, you impudently lift up your traitorous head. The bishop extolled More to his king and nation. Thus the guilt is equal. When their guilt has made these men equals, their punishment will likewise equalize them.
SURREY Let this be understood to be a crime, as long as a reasonable limit is set to his punishment.
CROMWELL If More would wish to deliberate, when he has examined the loegislation he may wish to approve whatever Parliament has commanded by law. That which displeases at first sight might please him when it is thoroughly comprehended. Tardy assent does not condemn a man, indeed it shows that he is all the more firm in his approval. You who are dear to the king, and always distinguished in my eyes for your proven virtue’s sake, I attest your love, prudence and faith. For your sake the king hopes that you always think on the highest goods. As long as you have proven yourself his man this day, this is a day that gives you honors and strengthens your household. He granted you supreme legal power, just attribute supremacy in law to him. What good it is to chase after the empty sound of a false reputation by your death? If (as I believe) you easily disdain your fate, at least let your family move you. My affection for you surpasses the laws of the courtroom. This opportunity for dispelling your guilt is offered you, by displaying your devotion to the king, to us, to your kinsmen. Or if you will weigh the laws more closely, ask for a delay, and time will be granted for your decision.
MORE Neither delay nor any concern for my family will sway me, who do not reckon the days of my impending death. For what would delay teach a man about evil that he does not know? Would it make me innocent? But he is not guilty who could be absolved by the delay of the shortest of nights. What great honor would arise for me, endowed with which I would choose my fate to be changed? If it is necessary for me to die because I am lacking in guilt, everywhere the innocent man dies in blessedness. Indeed I shall perhaps feel this sorrow, and this sorrow alone, that this catastrophe of mine makes you men guilty. If anything can justly be objected to me, produce it. I demand evidence and witnesses. Let this person who complains so often that the scepter has been violated by my crime name the crime whereby I have done that injury. He is a vain accuser who attributes an unproven crime to an innocent man.
PROSECUTOR You require evidence and witnesses? More himself is a witness, confirming the case against him by his own words. You have the laws of Parliament as witnesses, if you deny this. And your denial will serve as evidence of the facts. Again you are asked, will you confirm these acts? You are silent? You deny, let the judges pronounce this denying man guilty. The king’s business is at stake, let the judges pronounce him guilty
HENRY. Cromwell, you speak first. Is More guilty?
CROMWELL I say this unwillingly, but I say it. I admit he is guilty of treason.
HENRY Does the illustrious Duke have a different view?
NORFOLK He is guilty of high treason, I affirm it.
HENRY And what is the sentiment of the Earl of Surrey?
SURREY Like the others, I pronounce More guilty. I would prefer not to have said this.
HENRY All of these men adjudge you guilty. You alone deny it, but you should learn to consult better for your affairs. You should appeal to Henry, even if he is the offended party. When offended, his habit is to forgive. But as the judge presiding I condemn More, whom I see to be guilty. Let him be returned to the place of imprisonment whence he came, and from there let him be conveyed on a hurdle to the place of punishment. Let him be taken, hanged by a rope, then let him fall to earth again, half-alive. Let his guts be pulled out and burned. Let his body be quartered, his head be displayed on the Bridge and his other limbs at gates. And so may God have mercy on your soul. Let this pronouncement of sentence be the end of my authority, I set aside my high position, but I mourn yours, More.
MORE Oh, let no friend mourn this destiny. Let nobody sully this my favoring final day, which I have much sought with my prayers, a day given at my request. How often, Father, have I in my doubts asked for this day with my prayers! You with Your supreme hand crown Your humble servant, You bless him, though unworthy, and grant him the highest things, though undeserving. Am I to follow pious Rochester? You command, I shall follow wholeheartedly. Let eternal hymns of praise be sung in Your honor.
CROMWELL Whatever consolation More requests in his extremity we shall gladly provide.
MORE I ask this single thing, that they give ear to a few words. I have closely read Scripture, I have compared new authors to old, so that I might dig out this single truth for all men. The supreme pontiff is our head, I see this to have been lawfully established. Christ appointed him the head of His body militant when He appointed Peter as its foundation of rock. He first ruled wandering and discordant nations with his word, and smote with death the yoke of disbelief which, imagining this man full of the Spirit capable of being deceived, had furtively stolen away his gifts, then collapsed, worthy of black death. Learn what it is to disparage the rights of the supreme pontiff. He first distributed ranks, duties, offices, orders. He decided what laws the holy assembly of the Church should use, and the ritual whereby God’s kingdom would grow. Rome was appointed as its capital. From Rome it spread its teaching throughout the world, three regions of the world sought their laws from it, their doctrine, their faith. Now so many pious centuries have rolled by from the time that Rome has governed crowns and freed nations from sinful wiles. Hence, stricken, he who dared contribute novel deceits about the Trinity took a fall. Hence for his knavery Donatus the African had his due end, as did any false man who chose to lay hands on the Faith. For this reason he perceived that here he had to make his beginning, he recognized that these papal keys were opposed to himself and wished they did not exist. And for this reason he perished, stricken by lightning. This, prince, is the most important thing about our Christian God. Upon the faith of a dying man I affirm my words, I ratify them by my death, and I condemn this new law, possessed of unspeakable sin.
PROSECUTOR Now you show yourself to be a traitor and, having confessed, you should absolve your judges. Thus you see art deluded by deceitful art. You are spewing forth pious words, but words that will do you no good. Now you confess to the crime of which you stand accused, and you are adding a fresh one. Presumably you are afraid lest you die insufficiently guilty.
MORE My thought that this should be restrained was created by a scruple remaining in my mind. Fear held my tongue lest I hasten my end and grow sinful, and that I myself should destroy the glory of my martyrdom. My assured belief makes me certain that I am called to this, and not the vain rigor of this new unjust law. Let God not deceive me.
CROMWELL And that you might be called a martyr you condemn these men. Being a martyr, in dying you call your judges unjust and brand your pious king with the name of a tyrant.
MORE Let no man call King Henry a tyrant, as long as a pious council sits for him. Let faithful Lords be given him, he is an upright prince. An unjust prince is the fault of his councillors: nature has made him upright, his education pious, but bad advice can turn him towards evil. I perceived him to be following bad counsels, I chose to remove my clean hand from the seal. This he granted. Separated from high position, in your assembly I prayed for wholesome counsels, but God allowed the bad. Now I stand here like Him Who first sanctified our true faith with His blood, and I hope, or at least I would wish, that the God who granted bloody Saul to be swayed and become Paul, given to all nations as a witness of our salvation, so He would turn you men, who have gone astray, to the way of righteousness.
CROMWELL With you sitting as judge, our prince is guilty and we rascals made him impious. Nevertheless, Henry feels the sentence of death should be mitigated, he permits your limbs burial. The removal of your traitor’s head will suffice to expiate your atrocious crime. Do you say he is mild and pious?
MORE At least he is saving work for the hangman.
Oh God, Who witnesses human affairs from highest heaven, and divides men’s days and times with Your rotations, what is not set revolving by the just order of Your counsel? Or what is ever empty of You? Although the innocent man may groan amidst his punishments, like a man neglected, and the wrath of mighty kings, like a whirlwind, may issue its orders and remove right from its position, although such a king may wax proud over the slaughter of innocents, and although crime might become all the more puffed-up over its success, in the end as an avenger You thunder at kings with a dire death, and You grant rewards to those constant of mind and faith, whom conquering Patience places in golden heaven after the shifting delays of this life. Thus You bless More with double honors of life and death, so that his life may bear the glory of his death, and that his death that of his life. Thus it befits More to die as it befell him to live. Most blessed are the lots of your life and your dying. Blessed is that necessity which, while it compelled More to die such a noble death, took away both his life and his death. Most blessed is the nation which so bore you for itself that it seems to die in its son.
God granted Man the enjoyment of the breath of life and of the soul for brave uses, and prudently He in his justice granted the stars themselves to be grasped by human effort. By this art and his own divine majesty carefree More wends his way towards the fiery citadels, he thrusts aside the common run of humanity blocking his way, hastening to his well-earned crown. Emboldened by the death he freely chose, he did has shuddered at his king’s countenance, nor in his mind did he shrink, destined soon to submit his lifeless limbs to the stroke.
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