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ACT V, SCENE i
Can any shred of hope remain for a wretched man, where madness turns everything and overturns everything, where crime dictates justice in the middle of the courtroom, where the name of an innocent man is made guilty, and that of a guilty man made innocent? Just judges are falling, and unjust lackeys are proclaiming laws with their sacrilegious voice. Will anyone lighten the burden for an orphaned man, or offer his kindly embrace? There is no hope. Piety is banished, hope occupies a place next to Astraea, while grief, sorrow and misery inhabit the earth, crime occupies the highest place. You Who hold heaven tight in Your grasp and teach the faithful stars to whirl in a fixed order, be present and at length take the time to consider mortal affairs. Why do You allow Your concerns for humanity to dissolve away? Will You put no limit on this impious tyrant? Will this treacherous man put no limit on his mischiefmaking? The pious are not even permitted to shed tears with impunity. Rescue me from these evils, I pray you, oh you who are destined to be a member of the sacred company and a partner in the purple-clad choir of martyrs!
ACT V, SCENE ii
CITIZEN, JOHN MORE
CITIZEN Rochester has had no funeral, the common folk are trampling on his unburied limbs, worthy of a tomb. His head shone with heavenly brightness, now the remains of his beheaded corpse go without an urn: it was impossible for imprisoned More to give his friend the slight gift of earth to his friend. I shall take care lest something similar befall More.
JOHN [Overhearing.] See here, this rival is ready to forestall the sad duty of my father’s burial, will my lamentable lot begrudge me this too? This should not be. I shall stubbornly cling to these last duties. Enter a courtier.
Be still, and stop your weeping, my furrowed cheeks. Here is a man joined to me by our frequently shared tasks. He humbly approaches the courtier.
My friend, I humbly request a royal audience. I have often done you favors, just do this one in return.
He’s disappeared, he’s gone away, silently frowning. And perhaps he too will damn More’s cause? This is the common way: shun the man you see to be unhappy, hatefully oppress the man cast down by fortune.
CHORUS You poor son of great dying More, set aside that gloomy look, those wet cheeks, they do not suit the son of a great father. He comes out fearlessly, about to submit to death.
ACT V, SCENE iii
THOMAS MORE, CITIZEN, JOHN MORE
Thomas is led to his execution by the king’s servants.
CITIZEN Let this unhappy dependent repay More’s hand with a kiss. May the security he conferred on me befall this old man’s soul among the dwellers of heaven!
MORE You give me fair auspices. Let God grant you whatever you wish, such a brave heart never asks for forbidden things.
AUDLEY They say you have changed your mind, Thomas. If this report is true, Henry retracts his sentence, exchanging impending death for the highest honor.
MORE I acknowledge I have changed my mind. I had thought to remove the beard from my head, but now beard and head will be discarded together.
AUDLEY Thus you mock your king’s clemency with a joke?
MORE Why should I not joke? Our serene king bids me set aside things I take seriously. I obey, and set aside my head. Exit servants with Thomas More.
CHORUS What a separation draws his soul and body to different places! The one seeks its native heaven, the other falls downward, compelled by its weight. Such a separation wrenches the son away from his father. A heavy weight of sorrow oppresses the young man with its great burden, happy triumph bears the happy old man upwards.
JOHN He has gone? Alas, my parent? The power of my mind is dumbstruck for sorrow. You sluggard, do you hesitate to hear his last utterance at the point of death? Will no ear hear his last words? Partaking in his holy fervor, my ear burns with the whisper it just received, and will remember its sound, nor learn any other. That farewell has filled my mind’s inmost recesses, I am swept along, full of love’s passion. But sorrow checks my step, it prevents me seeing my father set beneath the blow of the steel. This is a place free for tears. But my falling tears would sully the fate my father is undergoing there. They ill befit a brave man’s death, they are decorations for that of a weakling. Being forbidden, they flow all the more. Against my will, they wet my face. Exit John More.
CHORUS False love is an image of true love, holy ardor thoroughly banishes false ardors. It wonders, it burns, it praises, it asks, it flees, it hastens, it hangs back, at once it dares and fears, it rejoices and grieves, it asks, it exults. This boy is happy for his heart’s just ardor, but he is unhappy for being oppressed by a just sorrow. You very piteous boy, your catastrophes could compel us to weep, if the public calamity did not require the tears we are giving for you. Your More did not just die for his son. He is taken from you, but stolen from England.
ACTUS V, SCAENA iv
HENRY Gods, what’s this? Whether Phoebus lies hidden beneath the world, or whether he illuminates our world with his bright torch, dispensing the day, some Hellish companion savages me with his barking, bringing with him a thousand thousand sorrows, nor does he allow my mind to enjoy its peace. Always some owl is singing is sad song in my ears. Sleep does not relieve my mind of its daytime cares, as is its wont, nor does any powerful pleasure avail me with its sweet art. Savage sorrow floods me, my liver burns white hot with fires as great as those that seethe in Aetna’s ovens. Often the condition and image of the realm comes to my wounded mind, squalid with its withered cheeks it comes to my mind and tears at it. Oh, often my cheeks grow wet of their own volition! Oh how often I have unwillingly smote my breast with a lamenting hand! Hence a dire throng of crimes weighing on my heart terrifies my fearful mind, a trumpet blaring, and, as banished Piety demands her former place, she bids raging Fury cease. Hence, again, blind Fury, not knowing how to bear moderation, blindly sweeps my mind headlong with a cruel struggle, and my mind becomes divided as their prey. What do you command? Just once, tell me. How long will you continue to be perplexed, my mind, to reject what you wish, to desire what you do not wish? Come, do you wish to abandon the shameful yoke of your sins, and are you ashamed to be oppressing your realm with harsh slavery? Are you hungry, being glutted with innocent blood? My mind repents uncleanliness. Its own? Think what you have fallen from, and at a rapid pace.
He who wields the scepter denies access to no man. Yet something within me rebels and refuses to comply.
CROMWELL [Entering, and hearing only Henry’s final words.] Who refuses to obey a royal command? Let him pay deserved penalties for his crimes. Where is the dire fellow hiding? He will learn what it is to disdain royal government, and what it is to suffer his prince’s wrath. But who refuses to submit to your government? Rochester has long since suffered execution, and More, who was the single enemy of your scepter, has given his head to the axe, and forfeits to you.
HENRY Oh you contriver of crimes, you manufacturer of frauds, you butcher of my lords, you plague upon the kingdom, you disgrace to England and blot upon its Court, will you never cease oppressing innocent men with your tyrannical steel and slaking your dire blood-lust with the killing of our nobility?
CROMWELL My lust gave innocent lords to death whom the laws of the realm bid die.
HENRY Men whom your laws accuse and convict.
CROMWELL Men who refuse to do as their king commands.
HENRY Men firm in their upright minds, scarcely like you.
CROMWELL Rebels against their sovereign, scarcely like me.
HENRY Men who strive for the public good.
CROMWELL For their king’s evil.
HENRY Men whose sinless lives prove to be innocent.
CROMWELL Men whom punishment owed to crime proves guilty.
HENRY Men who enjoy the people’s praise.
CROMWELL But men deprived of the light of day.
HENRY Men worthy of a better fate.
CROMWELL Of a worse death.
HENRY In your opinion.
CROMWELL And of all your followers, for this opinion stands fixed in the minds of all your lords. If it behooves kings to fortify their scepters, then they should punish all who are recalcitrant. Should a man be the scion of a thousand ancestors, let him die. Should he gleam with gold and overflow with wealth, let him die. Should he be more courageous than Mars himself, let him die. Should he sail his course enjoying the breeze of popular favor, let him die. Should he wear a tiara on his anointed head, let him die. Even the man who wears a triple crown on his head, should he choose to invade your border and refuse to obey your commands, be he Clement himself, yet let him die. It is by this way that he who craves a stable kingdom must be borne, it is impossible for a man to reign who, grasping a slothful scepter with a languid hand, suffers anyone to resist him with impunity. If I were to rule your scepter, and to stain my axe-edge with the blood of More alone, or with at a stroke to have removed both the mitered old gentleman’s miter and head, would I shrink from this? With a harsh death I’d even punish my father, should he disdain my commands. Who fears a king who does not avenge crimes? If he is not feared, the royal name perishes. Whoever wishes royal glory to remain intact must wish to be feared. For the more they are feared, the more they are like God.
HENRY An oration worthy of its speaker! Oh me, happier than all kings, for fortune has given me as the champion of my scepter and my honor! I acknowledge your loyalty, a great witness to your noble character and familiar to me in arduous circumstances. No small dignity has attached you to my crown, no cheap splendor has summoned your aid. Continue with your undertakings, the preserved dignity of your king will give you no trifling reward. So no man survives to condemn my deeds. Rochester is a shade, More lies headless, having breathed his arrogant spirit into the air. Come, come, my slothful mind, why are you idle? Come, awaken, the day you long prayed for is at hand. Go forward, with no man hindering you, now at length you can gain your revenge on these papal insults in any way you have been minded, wherever sea-girt Britain extends her shores. Cromwell, you servant of our government, continue at a quick pace. Whoever from the cloister leads his celibate days beneath a hood must immediately hotfoot it from his house. And if anybody should dare deny Henry is the head of the English Church, let him die the death with which traitors are traditionally punished, killed by the steel. Thus I command.
CROMWELL Thus it befits true kings to act. Exit.
HENRY Has the accursed plague gone? Go on, you rascal, continue, you architect of crimes. Saturate your hands with the blood you desire. Overturn everything, pervert everything, by fair means and foul strive to please your prince’s will. Pull down monasteries, kill off the monks, drive saints from their homes, profane altars, give saints’ shrines to the flames, either give their ashes to the waves or cast them in the air. And when your madness has slaked itself, you will receive a worthy reward for your efforts, your laurel-crowned head will be spiked upon the Bridge. And you, my mind, must run headlong at a mad gallop. Your undertakings incite you, cast aside the reins. Let it be a source of shame if you cannot surpass old crimes with some new one. When once you begin your onrush, it is folly to be turned back. When a man has once violated the laws of shame, let him give his mind to his frenzy, and by means of his crimes he must always recklessly progress to new ones. Let your breast armor itself with brass, and in its heart let it don the flint which the hard crags of the Caucasus begets. Let it continue to harden, let your hard mind, already black, continue to blacken, until it is blacker than the Ethiopians’ skin, until it is blacker than Hell itself.
ACT V, LAST SCENE
Set down this beloved burden, set down this noble, eternal subject for your tears. You must feel fear, you soothsayers, you must feel fear, you sages. More, made a silent corpse, warns you of this. A corpse much wished for, to be given to earth with many a prayer. Cruel Audley urges its limbs be cut apart with steel. The prince is bestowing this gift on More, that it be permitted his son to bury his father’s limbs. But first I shall water his rigid corpse with righteous tears. Why tears? Oh, my eyes, give generous floods, let my long sighs resound, and let my breast shake as my hand strikes it. Let Thames and the hollow marbles of Lud echo my laments. Father, could I look forward to this day, when a humble throng crowded about your house, when at break of day the highest nobility came a-flocking to you, when the king freely sought your advice, when sitting on the bench you handed down your decisions to a courtroom packed with your fellow-citizens, to the applause of the Commons, when you eloquently swayed ambassadors’ grave minds? Father, alas!
Praise be to God, the blessed Virgin,
and to the English martyrs.
Thrice given, it always pleased.