Norfolk is defending Sir Thomas to Cromwell, explaining that he is not talking about his opposition. Cromwell explains that as a famous man of letters More’s silence is “bellowing” what he thinks all over Europe (98). Cromwell does note that More was hostile to Spain which proves his loyalty to England. Norfolk eagerly agrees. Cromwell says that all they need is a statement from him to that effect. Norfolk says to let it alone. Cromwell says the King doesn’t agree. He has evidence against More of accepting a bribe. Norfolk says that is nonsense. He is the only judge who does not accept bribes, and as Chancellor he has only been left with a hundred pounds. Cromwell calls in a woman and Richard Rich. Norfolk and Rich are sarcastic to one another since Rich was Norfolk’s librarian. The woman accuses More of accepting a silver goblet for her case, though he didn’t find for her side. Cromwell says an ex-steward of Sir Thomas’s will corroborate the story. Norfolk realizes it was the cup he saw Rich with when he was at More’s house and that More gave it away when he knew it was a bribe. Cromwell admits the evidence is flimsy, but they will find something better. The King wants Norfolk to participate in bringing More down because they are friends. Norfolk leaves and Cromwell turns on Rich for blundering the attempt. Cromwell calls More a “slippery fish” (103). He decides they must get More by the law. They might have to make one.
Just then the Steward appears, but Rich says they don’t need him after all. Then Rich says that he will be needing a Steward himself, but he remembers Matthew did not treat him with respect. The Steward explains that in those days he still had his fortune to make and imagines disrespect. But when he reaches the right level, he doesn’t notice that anymore. Rich does not know if the Steward is being impudent but agrees to take him on.
Act Two, Scene Four: Commentary
It is now a chess game to see how Cromwell can devise a trap to do away with More. More trusts in the law, so that is how he will be defeated. The law is in the hands of corrupt men, so they can make whatever laws they wish.
In this scene, there are only practical realists who have chosen to go along with the ways of the world. We expect as much of Cromwell, Rich, and the Steward, but Norfolk is a more tragic case. He knows his friend is innocent. He is a friend of the family, and Cromwell takes delight in torturing Norfolk’s conscience. He not only has to give in to the King himself, he must drag down a man he respects in order to stay alive himself. Norfolk’s excuse is that it doesn’t matter what the King says or Parliament says. Compromise may be the way of the world, but in private one can do as one wishes. Circumstance, however, has a way of polarizing the situation. One must stand up for oneself, or let others dictate one’s choices.