The Common Man takes off his jailer’s hat and puts on a juryman’s hat. He is now John Dauncy, the Foreman of the Jury. They are in Westminster with banners, heraldry, and trumpet fanfares. Norfolk addresses More as being tried for High Treason. More says he prays God will keep him in his honest mind to the last hour and asks to sit from weakness. Cromwell reads the charge of conspiracy to deprive the King of his title, Head of the Church in England. More says he has never denied that title. Silence is not denial. He is being punished for silence, not for any act he committed. More begins to sense the trial is rigged, and says philosophically that death comes for us all, even for Kings, and he graphically portrays God’s power over the King’s power by imagining the King’s death.
Cromwell goes into a crafty argument about kinds of silence. Some silence is complicity. He asks if there is a man in England who does not know More’s opinion of the King’s title. More is impatient with a bad argument, and says the law is that “silence gives consent” not denial. More says the Court is bound to go by the law, no matter what other people think. He asserts that a subject must be loyal to his own conscience, to have respect for his own soul. Cromwell asks what about his place in the state. More says it is no help to the King for him to say good to the state’s sickness. Cromwell is more and more angry. He calls Richard Rich as a witness. Cranmer administers the oath. Rich lies, saying that More admitted to him in the Tower that the King’s title was not legal. More says he is sorry for his perjury. He denies what Rich says and he, More, believes in oaths and would not perjure himself as everyone knows.
Cromwell asks More if he has anything further to add. More says no, for he is already a dead man. He is being hunted down not for his actions, but for the thoughts of his heart, and “God help the people whose Statesmen walk your road” (157). More asks Rich a question about the chain of office he is wearing. What is the red dragon? Cromwell explains he is Attorney-General for Wales. More indicates Wales is hardly a good exchange for Rich’s soul.
The jury precipitously pronounces More guilty of High Treason. More interrupts and says that the tradition is to let the prisoner have a last say. More says that he tried every possible way to avoid having to say what he thought. But since he is going to die, he’ll tell his opinion that Parliament cannot bestow the Supremacy of the Church because it is a spiritual supremacy. The Church is protected in Magna Carta and in the King’s Coronation Oath. It is not because of this they want to kill him but because he would not yield to the marriage.
Act Two, Scene Thirteen: Commentary
The conclusion is at last played out in this scene with The Common Man now the jurist rendering the verdict on cue. Sir Thomas demonstrates his superior reasoning, legal knowledge, and morality in this scene against the backdrop of the treachery and pettiness of his opponents, many of whom were former friends. Cromwell is angry when even in defeat More shines as a brilliant mind who can see through his false legal arguments. “Sir Richard” Rich demonstrates what More says, that the poor young man who wanted a career in the beginning of the play has given his soul for a title. The reference to Wales indicates Henry’s achievement of legally uniting Wales and England.
There is a direct proportion between Rich’s rise and More’s fall that indicates the state’s sickness, as More calls it. More is able to hold on to his self and conscience, while it takes very little to lure Rich away from honesty. Henry and his government are going in the direction of the Cromwells and Richs and not in the direction of the Mores, though Henry was a friend and admirer of More and felt his presence in his government gave it respectability. More’s imagining the death of a King at his trial foretells Henry’s death at the relatively young age of 55. This illustrates the limit of the King’s power.
If More is the English Socrates, it is because he is always teaching moral lessons. Even with his last breath he wishes to point out that the principles upon which Henry and Cromwell are building a state for their people are dangerous ones. Henry has become a tyrant, not the enlightened and wise ruler his humanist education prepared him to be. He was a Renaissance Man and gathered to his court scholars and artists trained in the new humanist learning from Italy. As comes out in the play, he was an accomplished musician, author, poet, and songwriter He was an avid huntsman like Norfolk, and a sportsman. He was one of the founders of the English Navy as illustrated in the scene of his sailing to Chelsea in his ship. In the beginning, More and Henry saw greatness in each other.