Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
ACT TWO, SCENE NINE
This scene takes place in the Hall of Westminster. The jury is simply fashioned out of hats, except for the foreman, who, like the jailer, is one of the Common Man’s roles. The Common Man would prefer not to play this role. It would be too easy to wind up in the defendant’s chair. But, he is given no choice. Cromwell, Norfolk and Cramner are trying Sir Thomas More. The setting and the presence of a jury make this trial appear to be official and legal. Before the trial starts, Norfolk gives Sir Thomas one more opportunity to change his mind and take the oath of the Act of Succession. Again, More refuses.
Master Secretary Cromwell reads the charges. Sir Thomas has denied the king his rightful title of Supreme Head of the Church in England. More argues that he has never denied the title. Cromwell counters that he refused to take the oath. More says that he has said nothing in this regard. He has been silent on the subject. There is a difference. More says that he is already being punished with the maximum penalty for silence.
Norfolk tells him that the charge is now High Treason, for which the punishment is death. More is not deterred. Even kings die. Cromwell considers that to be a treasonous statement. Norfolk tries once more to save More, this time suggesting that he save himself while there is still time. More does not accept the suggestion.
Cromwell addresses the jury. He tells them that at times silence speaks. He gives an example of someone attacking someone in front of others. The others, if they did nothing to prevent the attack , would share the guilt. He goes on to say that everyone in the kingdom knows what More’s silence means.
More, in his favorite role as teacher, instructs the gathering that the maxim is “silence gives consent.” Silence does not deny. If the maxim is used, then one must construe that consent was given, not denial.
Cromwell asks if that is truly what More hopes people think he means. More replies that what people think his silence means is not necessarily what it really means.
They move to a discussion of conscience. Cromwell says that criminals frequently use the word. More says that each of us should be true to our conscience first.
More wants to know if lies will help the king.
Cromwell calls his witness, Richard Rich. Examination reveals that, on March 12 th , Rich went to the Tower, where More was imprisoned, to remove his books. Rich testifies that More told him that Parliament does not have the right to make King Henry VIII Head of the Church. There were two people nearby, but they were not close enough to hear what More said. More says that Rich would have called the men to witness them if that were truly what he said. Cromwell asks Rich if he desires to change his testimony and Rich does not.
Sir Thomas is asked if he has anything to add. He says that he is on trial, not for what he did, but for what is in his heart. He says that, if men do not listen to their hearts, soon their hearts disappear.
As Rich withdraws, More asks to see the chain he is wearing. It is the chain of Attorney General for Wales. Bush chides him about how little his soul cost.
Cromwell has one more message from the king for More, but More doesn’t want to hear it. It is time for the jury to consider the evidence. Cromwell prods the jury foreman into giving the verdict without bothering to retire for consideration. More is guilty of High Treason. More reminds the court that the accused should be consulted before the sentence is pronounced. So, Norfolk asks him if he desires to speak. He does. It is time for him to speak his mind. This Act of Parliament is against the Law of God. However, it is not for the Act that he is to be killed. It is because he would not accept the marriage.
The Duke of Norfolk, More’s “friend,” reads the sentence as the scene changes. More is to be beheaded.
Sir Thomas More has a complete change of attitude after he finds out that he is to die. He no longer has to protect himself. He speaks his mind.
When Cromwell mentions witnesses not preventing an injustice, it foreshadows what the jury will soon do when they allow themselves to be used to make the beheading of an innocent man appear to be legitimate.