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ACT ONE, SCENE SEVEN
Norfolk, Alice and Margaret cannot find Sir Thomas More. The king is due to arrive shortly. They ask Matthew where More is. Matthew says that if More is not found before the king arrives, it is not his fault. Sir Thomas comes in the door wearing a cassock. (A cassock is a long, close-fitting garment worn by clerics.) The others berate Sir Thomas for not being ready for the king’s imminent arrival. More says that it does not matter because the king’s visit is supposed to be a surprise. More’s cassock is raised in the back causing his legs to show and causing more comments. After he is straightened up, Margaret tries to get him to put on his chain of office, but he refuses.
The king arrives with a blast of his pilot’s whistle. He is pleased that he managed to get muddy, like a commoner. More introduces Henry to Margaret. Henry has heard of her. She is a scholar. Margaret tells Henry that she learned Latin from her father and Greek from her father’s friend, John Colet. They converse in Latin. Her Latin is better than the king’s. He is not pleased and changes the subject. Does she dance? He dances well. He puts his “dancer’s leg” in front of her eyes. He calls Norfolk’s leg a “wrestler’s leg,” and says that he can outwrestle him. He asks Margaret if she would like to see. She would not.
Henry tells Alice that his trip has given him an appetite. Alice continues to hid the fact that they were expecting the king and says that they will happily share their simple supper with him.
Henry tells Margaret that he, too, is a scholar. Margaret knows this. Everyone knows of the book that he wrote. Henry tells her quietly that her father was much help to him in writing the book. More says that he only helped a little bit.
The king holds out a whistle to Margaret and tells her to blow. She does so and they hear music coming from the musicians that Henry brought with him.
Henry sounds envious of More because he has a garden. Henry’s thoughts turn to their friendship. Henry feels blessed to have a friend for his chancellor. He tells More that Wolsey picked him to be his successor. More compliments Wolsey. The king questions the compliment. Wolsey failed him. Henry’s thoughts jump momentarily to the joy of sailing. But, quickly he turns to the matter of the divorce. Has More thought any more on the subject. Yes, he has given much thought to the matter, but he has not changed his mind. Then, he has not thought enough about it.
More reminds the king that he promised not to push him on the subject of the divorce when he became chancellor. The king says that he is breaking his word and then says that he is joking. They both quote the bible in attempts to back up their positions. Henry says that everyone is on his side. Then, why is More’s approval needed? It was needed because his word is respected by the king and everyone else.
The king switches to thoughts of the music that they hear in the background. What does More think of it? When he learns that More knows that he created it, he does not expect to hear More’s true opinion of it. But, More says that it is delightful. Henry approves of his taste in music and says that he picked the right man for chancellor. Sir Thomas asks if he will stay after dinner and make music with the family. Yes, he will.
Again the subject is changed. This time it is changed back to the divorce. Henry will allow no opposition. The pope and the king of Spain are hypocrites. Any English subjects who oppose him are guilty of treason. Sir Thomas is not to write anything against him. Catherine is not his queen. To say that she is constitutes treason.
It is eight o’clock. The king must go because of the tide. (Eight o’clock is also the time that Anne Boleyn likes to be with the king.) He compliments Alice as he tells her that he must leave without eating.
After he leaves, Alice questions Sir Thomas about what he said to the king. Why can’t he just do as the king desires? It would be so much easier. More says that there is just a small area where he must rule himself, the area of his conscience. He assures her that he is not a martyr.
Will Roper rushes in, followed by Margaret, who is trying to gain some control over him. More asks if he is part of the king’s party. He isn’t. He has been offered a seat in Parliament. More thinks that his opinions will help him to succeed in Parliament. But, Will tell More, his opinions have changed since they last discussed them. As he begins to give his changed opinions, More warns him that he is now Chancellor and should not hear such things.
Matthew announces the arrival of Richard Rich. More introduces Rich and Roper. Roper remembers something about Rich. Rich senses that and wonders what it is. More wonders if he has something to hide. Rich tells him that Cromwell is asking questions. Matthew begins to depart. Rich tells More that Matthew is one of Cromwell’s sources. More is not surprised. After all, Matthew is his steward. Rich says that Chapuys is also asking questions. More is again not surprised. That is part of Chapuys’ job, asking questions. Rich wants a job. More refuses him one. Rich could not even be straight with him on this visit. Will, Meg and Alice want More to arrest Rich. More says that he has done nothing illegal, even if he may have done something bad. Rich should be free until he breaks the law. Roper would break laws to punish the bad. More would use laws to protect himself and his daughter. More leaves and Alice says that he did not mention protecting her. She adds that he has not spoken to her since the subject of the divorce took over their lives. More returns and apologizes to Will. He wants to turn the family’s attention to the supper that is still waiting. More continues trying to sooth the family’s concerns. But, Alice cannot drop the subject and wants to know why Cromwell is asking others about him. It is simply because he is prominent. Other prominent people have questions asked about them, too.
Finally, King Henry VIII himself makes an appearance. His arrival at Sir Thomas More’s home is supposed to be a surprise and both sides pretend that it actually is.
There are many references to water in this chapter, starting with Henry’s trip on the river Thames. At the end of the chapter, using anchors is mentioned, a final reference to water.
King Henry shows us how frequently he can change his mood and the subject of the conversation. Like with the flip of a switch, he can go from a good mood, talking about music, to a troubled, demanding mood, wanting his own way. He wants to be More’s friend, but he must have his own way, he must prevail.
Henry is an example of the saying about wanting to have your cake and eat it, too. He wants to do whatever he wants, whether it is right or wrong, and always feel that what he does is right. As king, Henry can basically do whatever he wants to do, but that is not good enough for him. Whatever he does must also be considered right. That is why the opinion of More, a moral man, is important to Henry.
The king being right is important for public opinion and public acceptance. But, it is also important to the king for his own personal opinion of himself. He not only wants everyone to think that what he wants to do is acceptable. He wants to actually believe it himself.