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


The beginnings pleased me, the deeds please me more. I can barely restrain myself. This one day suffices for many, this one day pays me back for many. Whatever crime is afoot, in my doubt I scarcely hoped for such a profit from my great labor. Burst, sad earth, hurl your cruel, lightless flames against the starts, and likewise spew forth from your vast heart the Furies, born for wars, for crimes and carnage. [An illegible stage direction described the arrival of the Furies.] Throw the homes of the living into turmoil. And here you must first throw the royal palace into upheaval. Let there return whatever the Neros, Decius and the Jewish tyrant did not dare. Brandish your blood-red torches, so that a daughter might gain her father’s bed and a mad father his daughter’s, either by fraud or by the sword. Let another dancing girl marry with John’s severed head as her dowry. Then bring your torches here, and cast your firebrands into the houses of the great. Now unite their minds for crimes done in common, with opposing wills let them hope for contrary things. Murders, discords, deaths, strifes, these I regard as common, I must make my libation with blood of greater pedigree. According to this formula, let that holy and empurpled man fall as the first victim, and the lesser of his ilk. In proportion to the degree that each man is zealous for the innocent Word, let victorious lust attack him. [The Furies come down.] Let these dooms await their descendants. Thus, thus I triumph. Now vengeance is gained, I see these undertakings a-boiling. Rochester, your ashes will give these affairs their happy outcome.


HENRY I have the leisure. Savage Nemesis summons Henry, I shall follow. I shall follow when madness steals my sleep. A great fire is devouring my singed marrow. Twenty times has the Titan traveled in his fiery chariot through all the regions of heaven on his relentless course while I have been wielding this painted scepter. What ’s the difference between being painted and being useless, helpless, idle, and weak? I have just now learned by experience how false those times were, when a rebel easily raised his head who is a prelate in a place that has scarce belonged to any prelates. But why do I pour out, and keep pouring out, empty threats and cast my words to the winds? I know the nature of the Farnese race, their rigid mind. His hard pious mind is rigid, as if his tender eye is turned to stone by Medusa’s severed head. For this to be a kingdom in which any man at all can hurl evil at its king’s person and go away scot-free!
CROMWELL. And what rebel may do the hurling and get off scot-free? To the king is entrusted the power of life and death.
HENRY I’m on fire, and in my burning I suffer no delays. Old Rochester knows that I am the king, and he will learn under what a light layer of ash this fire has lain hidden. A king’s wrath is always heavy. It did not become this arrogant prelate to have treated me like a vile serf. How great it thing is for a subject to have obstructed his sovereign in such a way? Quickly relay my orders, Audley. Let the bishop suffer for his boldness, only take care lest he obtain an honorable death. Whatever crime needs to be committed, let this guilty man die, let this royal enemy be put to death, his guilt is great enough.
AUDLEY Everything is favorable. I can see that the royal mind is angry and incensed, I should nourish this flame. While stout oaks will suffer a sad collapse when their trunks are hewn down, a slender ash can be bent with a finger.
BRANDON I perceive that this great man will quickly throw up his hands, his stiffness of neck broken, and yield to us.
BOLEYN I have long hoped he would yield, I fear nothing less. Would I could stop being afraid!
CROMWELL Come, don’t let your minds, your advice, nor anything that might animate the king be wanting.
HERESY Oh golden sentiment!
CROMWELL Meanwhile, so that our hands will not be idle in promoting these grave enterprises, I shall go inside and hasten everything along, lest unfriendly delay harm us and our crime fail out of sloth.
HOWARD Now at last we see how much the prelate’s fierce and rigid heart incenses the royal mind. Hence his anger will gain strength, the prelate cannot easily placate his king. Hurled into it, the fire will quickly burn down this house, it will not cease quickly: quicker than that, it will bring with itself downfall and ashes.
BRANDON This fury does not lie close-pent in the royal mind alone, it is widespread. The Commons follows the stronger man, and popular opinion inclines in the direction that kings indicate. And although for his excellent praiseworthiness the prelate has deserved a mighty reputation on the peoples’ lips and attracts a part of them, this great popularity and fear of the grieving king draw them to and fro. But we have a safe route: to join the king in wooing the people, reluctant though they are.


AUDLEY Let the prelate be summoned so that at length he may pronounce sentence on his crime with his own mouth.
BRANDON What do these monstrosities portend? Kings can never be sufficiently on guard. The pontiff is the supreme head of the Church, but that belongs to kings. But at least if my reason is unclouded in its sight, the king is the head of a loyal, united flock, nor does he share half of his power with his enemy, his hand is accustomed to govern with sole rule. And assuredly, if everyone were assgned their proper rights, the pontiff would subordinate his tiara to the scepter.


AUDLEY Eminent prelate, to whose cares peace is at length owed, our ever-merciful Henry desires to give you the wooden sword. Repay this pious prince all the gratitude ou can. Although he has suffered hard things, such as powerful sovereigns are scarcely in the habit of bearing, he is taking pity. Once he could have punished your arrogant spirits with justified death, but he has resigned his right and, as your king and father, he would kindly spare you. And you should take pity on your own self. I have often heard him grieve when serious memories of you came to mind, at one moment enumerating and praising your merits, and at another, downcast with sad face, lamenting himself and the misfortunes which compelled him to oppress Rochester. I am surprised by this one thing, that the king, forgetful of himself, is wholly vigilant for you welfare, as if he would be safe enough thanks to your security, and likewise that he would perish by your guilt. Yet he is not unaware (and this often moves and hardens his mind) how much damage you are doing to the public peace. You are not unaware of these things, nor do you deny them. Therefore beg you for your own sake, for that of your king, and for the sake of whatever you wish for the realm and Peers, at least make yourself agreeable, spare your life, longed-for by yourself, your nation, king, and the peerage. You could easily help them, the return of your honor still exists as a possibility. Set aside your implacable heart, assume one appropriate for an old man. It behooves old men to maintain a mind that is sound, not wild. I am bearing the king’s final words to his beloved Rochester, decide what fate you finally choose. On this final night prove yourself to the king and acknowledge him to be supreme and single head in sacred matters. In what direction does your current run?
ROCHESTER My mind is hanging in doubt and does not agree to speak. I would prefer to keep my silence. But I am compelled to say what troubles it, you will indulge me, my lords. Though a man of peace, I am attacked by a double sword, the business is perplexing. Whichever side I abandon, I am assuredly in some way guilty. Grave downfall confronts me on the one side and on the other, evil is assured in this unsure business. Thus a stag is terrified and freezes in hesitation, oppressed by its dangers, as the fleet hunting-hound presses him from behind and the violent stream in front of him shows no means of escape. If I deny the royal glory, I know by now it is eagerly seeking my death. If I yield, a greater sin troubles my mind, that the eternal godhead would be despoiled of its honor. So I pray you, do away with your unspeakable wiles, let your noble hearts grow kindly amidst these doubtful evils. I do bear in mind that you extol the king’s heart as mild and capable of being swayed, I admit that God has added this to his mind’s highest endowments and the good things of his life. Regain your wisdom, prince, I am not giving you false hope of my compliance. You are unaware you are seeking titles for which the best reward is a dungeon. You will be happy enough in your British pedigree if you see prudently and retract your steps. Cease your headstrong course, and with that clemency for which you are preeminent you should not hasten along the death, bound to occur soon, of a moribund old man. This is what I say, I am compelled to prefer God to my king, whom I see are poised on opposite sides of the balance, or to suffer an shipwreck of my eternal life for the sake of a brief extension of the short span of life remaining to me.
AUDLEY Our idleness brooks no delays, the hour does not allow it. Cut short your meandering words, you have not come here as a sweet orator for our ears. Do you acknowledge that the king is supreme head in sacred matters?
ROCHESTER There is a just occasion for holding my tongue, as I hope, and the thing itself demands it, since there is no profit in speaking.
AUDLEY You’ll find that it is most profitable to speak justly.
ROCHESTER What cause is more just than an honorable silence? How better than things with which men rarely satisfy kings’ uncertain wishes! Often false words please them rather than true ones.
AUDLEY When the business is uncertain, you will more safely give your hand. There’s no danger except where certain wrongdoing is present.
ROCHESTER To yield to dangerous men is assuredly a crime.
AUDLEY Piety bids you please the king when you can.
ROCHESTER Supreme piety forbids me to deny God.
AUDLEY Does it forbid you to that which every man in the royal party favors?
ROCHESTER I am accusing no man, I am only disclosing the inmost contents of my mind. Holy fear terrifies me, and the upright standard of my mind, which rules me in my doubt.
CROMWELL So only careful Rochester is wise amidst such great perils. But do you, who alone are wise, fearfully condemn as certain sin that which so many leading men have approved in their writings, and by their deeds do not deny this can be attributed to the king?
ROCHESTER Each man has his own reasoning. I neither condemn another man’s act nor take him as my example.
BRANDON Your superstition and your guilty mind drag you to this. The little delay we gave you allowed you to gather your strength.
BOLEYN His cruel heart baffles our gullible hope.
HOWARD He does not think that a steadfast mind’s true glory lies in being flexible, nor hearing to entreaties.
BRANDON Why are we piling words on words, delays upon delays, when our good-will profits us nothing? Guilty Rochester is convicted out of his own mouth. Pronounce him guilty, judge.
AUDLEY Let the indictment be read out, so he may hear the accusation.
ADVOCATE So John, who also bears the name of Fisher, whom Rochester lately had for its bishop, and who the the city of Rome has furthermore enlarged with the title of Cardinal and the noble name of Vitalis, raise your hand.
ROCHESTER This hand is consecrated to Christ and the altar.
ADVOCATE Most high treason taints you with grave guilt, you turncoat. For which crime the incensed orders seek your punishment, because as a rebel you deny to the king that which the nation has granted him, the right and glory of supreme headship over sacred things. Am I telling the truth? Guilty or not guilty?
ROCHESTER Not guilty. No day, no violated scepter will find me a traitor. I have passed fivescore years honoring the king, and I have always honored him with an unoffending mind. Now as an old man I am at length on trial, accused of treason and unspeakable felony. Rochester’s loyalty is not yet sufficiently proven to England, nor well enough known to the king. I have lacked the guilt whereby treason can be claimed.
AUDLEY Nobody can doubt that you deserve the name of traitor and the brand of treason, with united voice every order proclaims this. Your statement comes late, our decision is already made. We want this single thing, to see if perchance you can do something thanks to which you are not guilty according to our law and should not suffer the just punishment of a traitor.
ROCHESTER I deny nothing, I offer no resistance, I admit my guilt, if my words do not show my innocence. I ask one thing of you citizens of heaven, and You, the sole Son of our supreme Father: forgive this man who creates death for an innocent men, be he accuser or be he judge.
AUDLEY Being scarce innocent, hear what penalty awaits the guilty according to our ancestral custom and appointed by our laws.


Rochester, or if you prefer to be called prelate or Cardinal Priest of this city, use whatever title you desire. you shall be returned to the place whence you came, and from there you shall be taken to a place of punishment, and there on a gallows, you shall be hanged until the life has nearly departed your half-dead body. Then the black rope will be cut with an axe and your bowels will be torn from their seat while you still breathe, and the executioner shall set them before your eyes, destined to be burned in hot flames. He shall sever your neck and cut off your treacherous head. Then your bloody limbs shall be hewn from their trunk and, at the king’s pleasure, will hang from the tower as memorials of your grave, grave misdeed, as a warning that old men should abstain from crime. And so may God have mercy on your soul.
ROCHESTER I acknowledge your words, I have attained my hoped-for glory. O Christ, eternal Son of our ever-living Father, Who once, naked, weighed down the cross with Your body’s weight, I happily sacrifice to You my offending self. How I would wish to submit to the cruel flames and become prey for beasts! I wish to make this sacrifice often, it is too little to have given my life once. But I offer this little to You, kind Jesus, so by the red river pouring from my side I may repay Your drops of blood. On the point of death, I ask you lords for a brief delay while I say my last words.
AUDLEY No, you ask for a delay to heap up your frauds.
ROCHESTER What heap, I ask you, can be built in such a short time?
AUDLEY No time is too short for evils that have been prepared.
ROCHESTER Me prepare something criminal, an old man, on the point of death? I don’t think you have to fear.
AUDLEY In a guilty man I fear everything.
ROCHESTER If he should be an old man?
AUDLEY And a traitor.
ROCHESTER If a prelate?
AUDLEY And a traitor also.
ROCHESTER I make no delay, yeoman. Lead me away.
BRANDON Stop, the merciful king gives delays to convicted men, and he will give better to a prelate, should he ask.
ROCHESTER You lords are compelling me to abandon by cruel death the burden which nature has been seeking for herself, my thread being nearly spun out. I am convicted of treason and condemned by your unanimous voice because I always deny that the king is head of the English church. No fear, I do not deny that which a man can see if he scrutinizes the case, and as an upright judge weighs it with an impartial hand. Meanwhile, that all order can be maintained in this business, I cheerfully embrace my death and whatever else my Jesus adds, after Whose example I give back to my nation and to God whatever remains of my brief life, repaying a double debt with a single death. But since a judge’s hard voice consigns me to death, first I shall boldly set forth what I have kept silent in my heart, so that men of later times may know the mind of Rochester at the hour of his death. Henry cannot arrogate to himself the name and title of supreme head with his piety unsullied. God has never conceded kings any power over the Church, Christ entrusted it to His beloved shepherd Peter. All the world acknowledges the word of Peter, pious men acknowledge it, nor did sovereigns deny it. This has always been the chief glory of Christian Britain. And if piety should be compelled to depart, having abandoned her home in the heart of England, alas, what evils you will soon experience! What great catastrophes will follow this new head of yours! Only that peace which the sea granted us when separating us from all the world, has allowed our sound minds to come together in agreement, and now great hatreds are preparing to wrench this from us. I see hostile kings menacing you, you espy enemies in whatever direction you look. And other enemies exist at home, which the dire bane of sins and schisms are daily manufacturing. Be more wise, prince, ah, be more wise. Cease dragging yourself and your subjects towards ruination. Often an angry God strikes lesser sins with a greater thunderbolt. And for men whose punishment He postpones, granting them a day, when it comes late he makes it heavier. Such a great crime cannot escape unpunished. A man who waits for God’s angry hand will feel its weight, he provokes it in its inactivity. Now, Christ my judge, I gladly offer my blood to Your thirst. Stop this violent crime. Let this be its limit, let our sorrow depart together with wrath, which often attends on better things. Send the king better counsels, cling close to the side of his Council, so that he might turn back his footsteps, very hesitant and not yet steadfast, and govern a scepter set in order with placid peace.
AUDLEY This time has not assigned you the duty of delivering a sermon.
ROCHESTER I have spoken, give your command, I willingly submit to the rest. Lead me away, yeomen. The home of a guilty man is the Tower. [Exit Rochester.]
HERESY The sparks are blazing up, now let the black ash smoke.
ADVOCATE The Carthusians, oppressed by sad starvation, squalor, the black dungeon and cruel neglect, have at length perished, and lack the light they hate.
CROMWELL By such an easy death? That grieves me. I had wanted to put them to the torture first, and find out whether their words were given in anger.


BRYAN Has Rochester’s crime gone according to our wishes. Has he called God his judge? Has he assented to his death?
CROMWELL Rochester’s a ghost, the judge has pronounced him guilty.
BRYAN Let his greedy ghost seek out the ghosts roaming Hell.
BOLEYN What does this urge on our Bryan’s savage heart?
BRYAN See how I glitter, laden down with the proud spoils of that traitorous prelate! For my king blesses me with a great treasure. I immediately sent my servants to Rochester, I bade them pull down and demolish his house, that they should scour both its open and secret parts. When the greedy crew arrived, they went a-flying through the empty rooms. Hither and thither they roamed, wherever their hope of great booty and hunger for wealth led them. This man furtively sought out his cloisters, that one madly lorded it in his high hall, a third made an attempt on his strong doors and intact inner chambers. Finally all his apartments and inmost recesses were thrown open, they keenly ransacked everything, but their effort was in vain. So, roaring, they surrounded the chapel where the prelate used to bother God night and day by pouring out his prayer, by force they made themselves a way and the loot-hungry gang burst in. Soon a chest stoutly bound with iron caught their eye. Their hopes were sweet, they fell upon it, broke it, and, behold, it poured forth its contents — hair shirts and scourges! Perish the old goat! Now harsher flails await his shoulders, the gallows and the axe. The king desires you, he’ll have no rest until the business is finished.


ROME You noble descendants of great Troy, mourn for Rochester, taken off by death. Let the Capitoline rock shed a tear, let the Tiber mutter with its complaining current, let the seven hills unfurl their steep peaks with their said fountains. Let the whole world resound, and let the whole city be soaked with tears. Alas, that athlete for the Roman faith has perished! In death, that stern man who so often put the army of the black Styx to rout pours forth his empurpled soul.
ENGLAND England, harsher than the very sea which encircles your glassy walls, follow the lost father of an unworthy nation with a sad song. He fell, stricken by our ax, so that he might bequeath his own life to our children. Let your eyes pour forth a double stream of tears, let great Thames, tide-driven, ebb and flow with their perpetual salt. Let your meadows, shining with their green color, bristle everywhere with a black garb. Let them mourn the father of their hard-hearted nation.
SPAIN Let whoever seeks great Iberia join me in resounding songs, which, echoing with multiplied complaint, in their ordering reflect the image of your voice. Catherine, you rare glory of your family, set aside the woven gold in your hear and the crowning that blazes with its inset jewels. Alas Rochester, the half of your soul, is dead, the single hope of our oppressed faith. Queen, squalid in your mourning garb, lament, scatter enduring complaints. Imitate her, Spaniard, and you others of your nation’s devoted throng, lament, accompany your mistress. Sadly groan over departing Rochester.
GERMANY Wherever the Danube, unstinting in its current, swells with its great waters, here let Echo resound, stricken with mournful sounds, whether she lurks in an opposing font, or whether she loves more the first breeze of the noble hills. Taking the lead, Charles, with your sad mouth, groan over this death with a gloomy song, sadly groan for your friend Rochester. And you rest of the German throng, accompany your leader, you nation devoted to the God of battles.
ENGLAND He will live, destined to enjoy eternal life. Fame, swift on her flying wing, escorts him, where the swift sea encircles the British world.
ROME He will live, destined to enjoy eternal life, where the winding Tiber will bend its golden stream or the triple gold will gleam on a consecrated head.
SPAIN He will live, destined to enjoy eternal life, whether the armed Spaniard will penetrate to unexplored waters, or will visit the discovered Indian.
GERMANY He will live, destined to enjoy eternal life, whether his renewed fame should chose to ride over German plains or climb her lofty mountains.

Go to Act V