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ACT ONE, SCENE FOUR
Sir Thomas More arrives home. He is tired after his meetings with Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, and Chapuys. He inquires of Matthew whether Lady Alice and Lady Margaret have retired. Lady Alice has retired. Not only has Lady Margaret not retire, she has a visitor. It is William Roper, who is courting her. Sir Thomas is not pleased to find him there at such a late hour. He is also not pleased to find out that William has proposed marriage to Margaret. For More, William’s social standing is not the problem. Rather, he is against a marriage between William and Margaret because William has left the Catholic Church and now believes the teachings of Martin Luther. More considers William to be a heretic. They argue about whose beliefs are correct. This leads to discussion of King Henry VIII’s desire for a divorce. Knowing what many young women know, that one should not let one’s suitor and father argue about religion if one has any hope of marrying the suitor, Margaret tries to silence William.
More hopes that Roper, who formerly was a Catholic, will return to the faith. When More mentions praying for William’s return, William asks him not to bother. The discussion turns to William’s departure. He can take Lady Alice’s horse for his trip home.
After William departs, Margaret questions her father about the chance that he might change his mind and let her marry William. Her father will not allow it as long as William is a heretic. But, he does admit admiration for Roper’s strong principles.
Margaret tries to get More to talk about his meeting with Cardinal Wolsey. More tries to change the subject back to William. He tells Margaret that William, like his father, likes to go the opposite way, instead of with the majority. More thinks that a serious attack on the Church would help bring William back to Catholicism.
Alice, who has awakened from her night’s sleep, enters, thinking that William took her horse. Sir Thomas assures her that the situation is not as it appears. Then, Alice’s wrath turns toward Margaret for entertaining William so late. More says that Margaret should not be beaten, as Alice suggests because she is educated.
Alice sends Margaret for hot water. Sir Thomas tries to sooth Alice, but, like Margaret did, she wants to know about More’s visit with Cardinal Wolsey. Sir Thomas tries to change the subject by telling Alice about William’s request for Margaret’s hand in marriage. But, after exclaiming about William’s impudence, Alice manages to get More to tell her that the Cardinal wanted him to read a Latin dispatch. Margaret returns with a cup for More. Alice tells Sir Francis that the Duke of Norfolk is promoting him for the position of Chancellor. More is displeased. He doesn’t want to hear talk about replacing Wolsey. He also does not want the cup that Margaret has brought to him. Alice insists that he drink it because “Great men get colds in the head just the same as commoners.” More does not want to hear such dangerous talk. More becomes very serious, saying, “If Wolsey fell, the splash would swamp a few small boats like ours.”
In the time of the play there was a big argument among many people regarding the teachings of Martin Luther. Some people thought that he was right and some thought that the Catholic Church was right. As in other discussions, each side emphasized their strong arguments and refused to accept the other side’s arguments. That is how Sir Thomas and William argued. They were not interested in overcoming their differences, just in proving that they themselves were right. Margaret had good reason to worry when the two protagonists were her father and her suitor, hopefully her future husband. At the time of this scene, Margaret was definitely not sure that her relationship with William would have its happy ending.
Roper was a biographer of Sir Thomas, penning the first biography of him that was written. He wrote it nearly twenty years after Sir Thomas’ death. It has been used as a reference by other biographers.
Alice is Margaret’s stepmother. Alice was five years old when her mother died. More remarried almost immediately after his first wife’s death. Margaret was More’s oldest child. She was well educated and Alice was not. These facts may play subtly into their relationship.
The water motif again appears in this scene. When More describes Roper and his father, he says “Let him think he is going with the current and he’ll turn round and start swimming in the opposite direction..” Later, More says, “If Wolsey fell, the splash would swamp a few small boats like ours.”
Sir Thomas’ unwillingness to discuss his meeting with Margaret and then Alice foreshadows his later refusal to discuss his opinions about the Act of Supremacy.
Alice foreshadows Wolsey’s death when she comments on how colds affect people.