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STOKESLEY The savage earth, mother of monsters, has never whelped such prodigies as does irate madness when it drives the scepter, very headstrong and puffed up with arrogance. Easier would the north wind, howling with its unconquerable roar, restrain its wrath, quicker would Charybdis, striving against the narrow sea, set a limit on its roiling, than a king in the grip of blind madness.
GARDINER It is a harsh lot which always oppresses us, complaining of things past. See how everything has been altered.
STOKESLEY I acknowledge the hand that avenges our unhappiness.
TUNSTALL God, Who punishes, also spares the afflicted.
GARDINER England has revived. Welcome peace has returned to our nation, wearing a shining gown on its splendid shoulders. So why should we be ashamed to have approved King Henry’s new desires, or to have created him head of Britain, he who, spreading his happy brilliance, arouses his buried nation with his lively torch?
STOKESLEY Deeds which create good for the nation, security for its people, and glory for its king, are not to be regretted.
GARDINER Nobody carries in his heart a stone as hard as the Caucasus, nor summons up passions as swollen as the Pontic Sea, so that he can be unmoved by his nation, groaning over its final slaughters, his nation which he sees to be befouled by long squalor and languishing in a thousand evils.
TUNSTALL He who attempts the storm-tossed sea, hoping to set foot on the longed-for shores, vainly assays the water when the south wind, violent in its wrath, strikes his masts with its strong blast. Having no hope for a better wind, I am borne to Henry, and yield him my ship, close-driven by the current.
STOKESLEY No man should feel chagrin for having done that which he has done well.
TUNSTALL Often God condemns what we think we have done well.
GARDINER Nobody thinks it wrong to have succored the wretched.
TUNSTALL The treacherous crown enslaves those its sees to have been compliant. Yet hope feeds men, and religion refreshes them. Our reborn nation itself bids me feel glad, and to be a source of its safety I gave my assent to the royal will.
STOKESLEY It is the height of wrong to abandon a prostrate nation, and I am amazed Rochester’s mind always holds its place, unmoved among such great thunderbolts hurled by the royal hand.
GARDINER Forgive Rochester. I understand the secret provocations which move him: he is timid and thinks things free of sin to be criminal.
TUNSTALL The old man will easily follow his friend who has preceded him.


TUNSTALL But see, Howard approaches quickly.
HOWARD You venerable old men, what counsels occupy your careworn hearts? When the sea is safe, the sailor vainly fears the blown-out storm.
GARDINER We are not complaining of old things. The admonitions of the Royal Council have reached us here. The bid us bring Rochester, now lying voluntarily in heavy bondage, over to our side.
HOWARD I approve your fraternal zeal. But sooner will a proud oak, soaring aloft for a hundred feet, submit itself to a playful breeze than Rochester will allow his mind to be swayed. He smiles and disdains threats.
STOKESLEY Gentle torment often softens an untamed heart.
HOWARD I have pricked him in both ways. But if you are so minded, let it be tried some more. I’m flying off in a desperate hurry to advise Audley of this hope. [Exit.]
GARDINER One evil rises from another, and the burned-off Hydra head grows back. I still await worse ills than I have seen.
TUNSTALL. Where false piety strives, there madness reigns. But sometimes a gentle tongue and the powerful discourse of an eloquent mouth sways stubborn men. Stand up, Gardiner, you are looking at Rochester.


GARDINER Royal lords send you great greetings by our mouths, men who are very grieved by your misery. As their concern for the public peace advises, they desire to right your errant course, which your excessive ardor has steered on a slippery way.
STOKESLEY Are you playing the fool? Pull back your slipping foot, great-minded prelate, and acknowledge that your king is solicitous for your welfare. Let this old madness of your cease, nor let it hurl threats with a troubled brow.
TUNSTALL A man hardly sins when agrees with somebody urging the right. The swan-like beauty of your aged head and the honor of old age shows you have an elderly heart. Your terrified mind dreads things greater than reality.
GARDINER Come, tell me what chafes your inner passion, what concern occupies your mind? Do you think the royal person unworthy of a pastor’s title? God has often granted greater things to a king.
STOKESLEY You work on your tender passion with excessive scruples, forbidding permissible desires, and imagining something to be an impious crime which nobody condemns. Where God and His cause suffer no harm, you may pretend to like a deed which you do not approve.
TUNSTALL In his mind Rochester imagines Henry is aiming at the holy crown of Spain and the glory of the papal tiara. The false shadow of your dream deludes you. Rochester, he’s scarcely striving to muss his royal hair with so great an honor. He regards as quite ample a government which the narrow sea encircles with its moderate straits, like a crown. Such a little glory pleases Henry, save that he adds to his title the new distinction of head of the Lord’s flock.
ROCHESTER Once upon a time an axe went into a forest rich with much foliage, and with humble entreaty it went up to the greater personages of the race of trees, asking that it might be permitted to remove a handful of wood from a lowly shrub. Taller than the rest, the ancient oak heard his prayers with a calm ear, giving its consent while being quite unawares of its future misery. Without delay, with its keen eye the axe chose a green young bush, uncertain where it should strike first. Then it wounded a shrub that matched its strength. At the bite of the iron the wood fell in a heap, unjustly surrendering its hand to the previously unskilled axe. But it, perceiving its strength to be enhanced anew, waxed proud. Greedy for greater spoils, soon it laid low an ash tree that had raised its happy head to the clouds, and, mindful of its former office, with much carnage it destroyed the other trees. And so a man who bear deceptive wiles in his heart conceals and reveals them, as opportunity allows. The axe is King Henry’s anger. You are the largest trees, and the Catholic Church is the forest. A deceptive show of religion hides his secret heart, so that by his clever prayer his wishes will be deemed pious. This feigned piety draws you to assent, clothing the profane crown with sacred honor. Even if this occasion were modest, since it is conjoined with fury and the thunderbolt of the royal hand, it quickly grows haughty, so that it kills the man who granted it, so that it despoils the church sanctuary of its honor. But the outcome proves the deed. How I wish that the armed north wind would bear Henry’s words beyond the sea’s ultimate shore, from where no power of the southern pole could command them to return to the hearts of sweet England they left behind them! I fear things more grave than my sorrow can express. Easier could a wrath-swollen Armenian lion, long vexed by the empty tooth of hunger, spare its designated prey, the timid beast, than the king’s mind, helpless with unlawful lust, could and would likewise restrain its impulse.
GARDINER We hope you will show deeds better than your words, venerable prelate. Now enough has been given to anger.
ROCHESTER Let the sorrow of our supreme house ring out, as God struggles, engaged in a war of uncertain outcome.
TUNSTALL God commands that kings be granted honor.
ROCHESTER God forbids kings to be given unlawful honor.
GARDINER That title can scarcely be unlawful, when he pledges his mind to the nation and calls it its own.
ROCHESTER Any man who vows unjust things in order to cover his crime under an honorable name commits a sin.
STOKESLEY He only wants to be the head of England.
ROCHESTER You want so frail a body to have a double brain? Then it will be very wise, so that it will display good wisdom! The Roman pontiff, the head of the world, accepts no scepter as his consort. But I shan’t say more. I express my deepest gratitude to the Royal Counsel, and I pray you to offer an old man’s prayer for their welfare, since they wish the same for me. You, God, the ever-just judge of this world, Who alone disposes all things with Your powerful hand, call back their steps from their blind impulse. Teach the Council, guide the erring scepter with better counsel. But I rightly accuse you, my colleagues, who are unmoved by the miter of our golden pontiff, nor by care for the burden entrusted you. Rather, by your sinfulness you pull down so many souls to Hell, as many as error has given you as partners in your crime.
GARDINER No man who fears sin will say that bringing consolation to one’s failing nation is sinful.
ROCHESTER The man who has decided to bring aid in times of affliction and makes things worse is guilty of a double fault.
STOKESLEY One man is easily deceived, but we are many.
ROCHESTER More prey for Hell’s maw.
TUNSTALL You consign us to Hell with impunity?
ROCHESTER How I wish you would be saved!
GARDINER This alone troubles us, that we see you to be lost.
ROCHESTER He who dies so well will suffer a death none should mourn. So that I may defend the rights of your pontiff, Rome, let my soul be empurpled, let me be reddened by an impious sword, let my bosom rain blood on the ground. Whatever blood-thirsty thing the vast ocean, teeming with evil, nurses, whatever fearful thing the earth, fertile in monsters, holds in its vast expanse, let me expose my unprotected self to this before being called a traitor to the Christian flock. By the holy anointment, by the mark which our holy order has stamped upon my soul, by the sacred weight of the Host, which once hung from the bountiful cross, I adjure you never to do violence to the head of the Italian see, nor the faith you have pledged to Rome. Rather, it pleases me to renew the fight, my ancient heart unbroken, and with my spilt gore to consecrate the pious blood which the Church may drink with a happy heart, so that a new tree may grow from a fertile seed, and with its full crop can redeem its first losses. Thus Stephen, the leader of our choir, suffered death when with a great assault a hail of stones overwhelmed his head. Thus without damage that martyr splendid with his laurel, a companion of the portico, applied his flank to the fiery griddle. Thus that Phoenix Thomas, the glory of the English world, offered his brow to the bloody axe. Thus after their deaths the rest of the empurpled choir of Saints gained the prizes of the Elysian Field. You must strive, a similar fight with its palm awaits you, and if your slothful mind shudders with dread, I fear worse things. If the purifying fire or [ . . . ], the chaos of eternal death, terrible, dire, sad, fearful, seizes you. But I see your cheeks to be wet with a rain of tears. Oh happy tears, if you regret what you have done! Repentance is the one rescue from hateful sin. Bathe your bosoms, equally wet, with an immense stream of tears, prick your hard hearts, and with this double stream wash away the foul stain of unworthy sin. Oh, that life is never safe which Hellish madness captures, enmeshed by its wiles! But he errs better who is on his guard thanks to his own example. Clothe your heart in great virtue, maintain your faith. You are afraid to retract your step, after error has once made it go astray. [Exit with yeomen.]
STOKESLEY What inward emotion makes my mind doubtful? What Scylla in my raging heart accepts or allows such great currents? Now I want to follow the king, now flight seems better. My wounded faith pricks me. Neglected, the king’s scepter condemns my loyalty.
GARDINER Once I have cast my sail to the wind, it shames me to turn back.
STOKESLEY No man should be ashamed of the good.
TUNSTALL May the tyrannical north wind command me to visit the extremities of the winter pole, where the day shines late and the land is hard with ice and sluggish, being frozen by long cold. There a better fortune will perhaps find a gentler lot.
GARDINER Whoever suffers adversities fears ones yet worse, yet to have tested the king’s temper is a worse thing than the prelate’s entreaties.


CRANMER Encountering this hoped-for company is pleasing to my wishes. Greetings, you greatest glory of snowy-haired men. How goes the business? Is Rochester taking a turn for the better, or is his heart rigid in its accustomed course?
GARDINER He only seemed to be slipping in an unsteady gait.
AUDLEY The business is finished. My mind conceives new hope, and is inventing future pains for him. I am seeking the opportunity to carry out my secret schemes in peace.
GARDINER God prosper your wishes.
HERESY I’ll breathe forth flames, thunderbolts, blazing torches.
CROMWELL Carefully apply yourselves to the future deed. Meanwhile let your minds be at ease until I may attack the prelate in his appointed person, and confront him with your schemes, no yeoman being present.
HOWARD In my mind I don’t yet grasp the hidden recesses of your chosen plan, tell me what great thing you heart, devoted to this project, is hatching.
AUDLEY I think nobody is unaware how many ties he has with More thanks to their long association, their similar advancing age, and above all by the fact that a similar punishment is oppressing them both for their undertaking. The result as that both wish to live and die together. Hence I shall pretend that with his submissive agreement More has given his assent to the actions of the king, so that with this false face I may draw the prelate to this party and at the same time make More an unwitting party to my scheme.
HERESY Oh, the crime! A misdeed worthy of Hell itself!
HOWARD It is difficult to trust an assertion made upon an enemy’s faith.
HERESY What one considers wrong coming from an enemy, his fear believes.
CRANMER A mind accustomed to wiles is hard to deceive.
AUDLEY He’ll find it hard to resist when such wiles are pulling at him.
HOWARD I praise your intentions, I approve your scheme. I am going quickly to the royal palace to announce your enterprise.
HERESY A fire crackles within.
AUDLEY If this trick comes to naught and Henry is not called the supreme head of Britain, Rochester will groan beneath this sword, his hair drenched with a shower of purple.
HERESY Would that would happen!
CRANMER And with its force this hand will assist your avenging one, should it falter.
HERESY I shall follow as your companion.


AUDLEY Come, you man whose face cannot be changed by horrible quarters in a foul prison, you man whose course is unaltered by the royal wrath, fearful for a hundred evils after you see you can overcome nobody and bring them to your side, after you see More has sworn his assent and acknowledged the king to be the sole head of England. Bright with a changed faced and new honor, he shines in his former brilliance.
CROMWELL Thus he swears to exist in that faith I trust.
CRANMER I swear to that which your ear has heard.
ROCHESTER I am torn in doubtful directions, and my heart wavers with a divided mind.
AUDLEY With happy step you should follow the path More marked out. You may give your assent to the king in safety, and your accustomed miter, their former glory, will encircle your ancient locks. As the crime sought you an accomplice, so forgiveness seeks you as a partner.
ROCHESTER Wavering does not make my heart uncertain because of that. Only my mind is running over your news with its doubtful truth. On the one hand, with its many sure indications this news bids me believe that More has retreated, on the other hand his indomitable constancy makes me imagine that Thomas’s heart is set against these evils, like a lofty crag, set in the middle of the ocean’s surge, sets its face against the current.
HERESY Lie, swear an oath.
CROMWELL As Phoebus shines during the day, as he hides his rosy glow when night comes on, More consented that the king may be Britain’s supreme head.
ROCHESTER Thus, More, you behead our supreme pontiff. Oh, rather that the savage headsman with his armed hand should separate my hair from my severed neck to make good such great injuries, and redeem your glory, supreme shepherd, from this offense.
HERESY Keep going, make him compliant to your will.
CRANMER Where are you being swept off to, prelate? Learn to imitate that wise man.
ROCHESTER What wise man can be so impiously foolish?
AUDLEY Take Thomas’ advice, then you’ll be wise enough.
ROCHESTER Will I fight alone? I shall plant my foot, even if he should bid me die a thousand deaths.
CROMWELL Arrogant prelate, are you so great that by your own deeds you may condemn the achievements of so many men?
ROCHESTER He condemns who gives his assent under compulsion, nor in my eyes does the number of men obscure the wrongdoing. I am not fighting alone, but all the prelates of Italy, that mother of the faith, take my side, as do all the thunderbolts against the Hydra of heresy that Spain possesses.
CRANMER I am speaking to an inhospitable mountain of the Caucasus, to anything cruel, hard, baleful, crazed and wild that the sea hides in its deepest waters.
AUDLEY Go away, you gloomy old man, seek out your prison. You should fear worse things.
ROCHESTER I don’t fear death, I hope for it, if that is what you threaten.
AUDLEY I’ll overcome your hope with evils.
ROCHESTER You can do nothing worse than death, you can do nothing better than death. [Exit.]
AUDLEY Too late he’ll see that I could, when his head is fixed high on the Bridge for public viewing. And I vow no lesser punishments for you, More, unless by your deeds you compensate for what you have done.


CRANMER Sh, he’s hurrying to meet us. You come at a hoped-for time. Thus far, More, you are not being wise concerning your danger. A captive, you yourself are furnishing letters to Rochester, whose stubborn error has made an enemy to the king.
MORE Should captured letters given to my captive self beget harm for their owner? By itself, incarceration is a sufficiently splendid punishment. Sometimes to relieve this, trying to dissipate hateful concern with mute conversation, I sent him penciled greetings (for I often lacked proper ink), and, scribbling with a happier pen, I filled the page with labored notes.
AUDLEY I commend your friendly hearts. Would that your deeds agreed as do your strivings! Come now, More, join with Rochester in turning back your steps. He wears his usual miter on his lofty head, hailing the king as the sole head of Britain.
CRANMER In solemn assembly the people run to greet him, and the crowd spends the happy day in holiday.
CROMWELL I am here as an eyewitness. He has sworn an oath of loyalty to Henry.
MORE I am torn in doubtful directions, and my heart wavers with a divided mind.
AUDLEY Why hesitate to obey the king’s commands we have all hoped for?
MORE Wavering does not make my heart uncertain because of that. Only my mind is running over your news with its doubtful truth. On the one hand, with its many sure indications this news bids me believe that the prelate has retreated, on the other hand his indomitable constancy makes me imagine that Rochester’s heart is set against these evils, like a high rock, set in the middle of the ocean’s surge, sets its face against the current.
AUDLEY Let the dark Styx hide my person in shadowy night if I am swearing falsehoods.
CRANMER And may it overwhelm me with a similar doom if he does not approve Henry as the supreme head of England.
MORE Will I fight alone? I shall plant my foot, even if he should bid me die a thousand deaths.
CROMWELL Restrain your mind’s unbridled impulse, Thomas, nor condemn deeds which so many assents approve.
MORE He condemns who gives his assent under compulsion, nor in my eyes does the number of men obscure the wrongdoing. I am not fighting alone, but all the prelates of Italy, that mother of the faith, take my side, as does all the thunderbolts against the Hydra of heresy that Spain possesses.
AUDLEY Sooner will Etna, boiling with Vulcan’s furnace, quench the fires in its inmost guts than a man who bears arrogant spirits in his mind. Go, seek out your prison. You should fear worse things.
MORE I don’t fear death, I hope for it, if that is what you threaten.
CROMWELL Perhaps he’ll invent some evil that brings more trouble for you.
ROCHESTER You can do nothing worse than death, you can do nothing better than death. [Exit.]
AUDLEY It dumbfounds me with amazement that More and the prelate’s answers have the same tenor. The responses they give with words and deeds neatly harmonize.
CRANMER My mind is astonished with the same amazement.


CROMWELL The thing is through. I swear by heaven, Ganges were to enrich my fields from its golden riverbed, or if the Pactolus, shining with precious gems, would drench my head with a shower of wealth, no pearl’s beauty dangling from a wealthy chain upon my neck would be more welcome to me than you, hanging from the gallows by a hempen rope.
AUDLEY Armed with wrath and a sword, I’ll offer you my avenging hand for a companion.
CRANMER But doesn’t this sound like a monstrosity? Each of them, though separately imprisoned, gave the same response in their writing and words. Aren’t you equally astonished, Cromwell?
CROMWELL I am surprised, and all the more so because Rochester sometimes gave his penciled letters to More. Their words do not alone agree, but also their actions. But whatever these monstrosities portend, I swear by God, the avenger of sin, Britain will see the Tyburne gallows groaning with their weight, and by a double punishment the Bridge, disdaining their crimes, will support their pair of heads.
HERESY I’ll increase the number.
AUDLEY Whoever denies the king’s head its ultimate will offer up his own.
HERESY The Stygian realm will provide you with your ultimate home.
AUDLEY With its wishes frustrated, the royal fury will breathe a favorable wind. Let Megaera produce burning brands with her fiery torch, with her companion Allecto bringing her head with its many snakes. Let her turn loose her furious mind with tragic murders. If the crime surpasses her understanding, lo, I am present as her accomplice.
CROMWELL AND CRANMER We follow you eagerly.
HERESY And I must bring up the rear.


ROME This tyrant surpasses the monstrosities of the first centuries. Nero should hold his silence about Rome’s savage and blood-stained leaders. Whatever cruel thing Hell encloses in its inmost caverns wrath, armed with raging scepters, quickly reveals, fearful for its pestilent slaughter.
ENGLAND The tyrant rages, as when once I was set ablaze by Inguar, when he left my land full of blood, and the rushing Thames full of black gore. He does not rule who is governed by madness, but is whirled along by his impious mind, whether he bids his followers travel to seething Etna or barking Scylla.
SPAIN Thus the Moor once trampled on warlike Iberia, when madness armed his impious scimitars, doomed to rush against a wrath consecrated by the citizens of heaven. Like that, ardent Henry burns with his blood-thirsty passion. Fight him, you citizens of heaven, let a new enemy cast his spear against the supernals, winning a triumph to match the Giants’.
GERMANY As he is wholly roiled by anger, behind that face which betrays him he reveals his horrible ways, imitating the deeds of barbaric kings and passions worthy of the Vandals, who with the blood they caused to be shed speeded the movement of the two-horned Rhine itself, and with grievous slaughter laid waste the widespread fields of Germany.

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