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Sir Thomas More Scenes

Scene 2

London. The Sessions House.

(Lord Mayor; Justice Suresby; Justices; Sheriff More; First Sheriff; Smart; Lifter; Recorder; Officers)

The judges have finished their grave business for the day and turn their attention to pettier crimes, specifically the judging of a pickpocket. Suresby takes exception, blaming the plaintiff for being foolish enough to carry ten pounds on him and brag about the fact. He suggests that the plaintiff deserves to be fined as much again to teach him to be more cautious. Sheriff More ask to be left with the prisoner, and the other judges agree. More proposes a bargain with the prisoner: if he manages to pick Suresby’s pocket, More will make sure he is pardoned. The pickpocket agrees, though he is a bit worried. More says that he will send Suresby in on his own, and warns the pickpocket not to steal any of the money for himself. More goes out and Suresby replaces him. As Lifter mumbles inconsequential matters, he manages to steal Suresby’s purse. As the Lord Mayor and other judges return, Suresby continues to claim that people have their purses stolen through their own negligence. The judges condemn the pickpocket to death, and, as is the custom, make a charitable donation towards burying him once he has been hanged. Suresby discovers that his pocket has been picked, and after he protests a little More mocks him for being foolish enough to carry money around in his pocket, until Suresby realizes who is behind his loss. More gives him back his purse. (210 lines)

An arras is drawn, and behind it as in sessions sit the Lord Mayor, Justice Suresby, and other Justices; Sheriff More and the other Sheriff sitting by. Smart is the plaintiff, Lifter the prisoner at the bar. Recorder, Officers.


Having dispatched our weightier businesses,

We may give ear to petty felonies.

Master Sheriff More, what is this fellow?


My lord, he stands indicted for a purse;

He hath been tried, the jury is together.


Who sent him in?


That did I, my lord:

Had he had right, he had been hanged ere this;

The only captain of the cutpurse crew.


What is his name?


As his profession is, Lifter, my lord,

One that can lift a purse right cunningly.


And is that he accuses him?


The same, my lord, whom, by your honors leave,

I must say somewhat too, because I find

In some respects he is well worthy blame.


Good Master Justice Suresby, speak your mind;

We are well pleased to give you audience.


Hear me, Smart; thou art a foolish fellow:

If Lifter be convicted by the law,

As I see not how the jury can acquit him,

I’ll stand too ’t thou art guilty of his death.


My lord, that’s worthy the hearing.


Listen, then, good Master More.


I tell thee plain, it is a shame for thee,

With such a sum to tempt necessity;

No less than ten pounds, sir, will serve your turn,

To carry in your purse about with ye,

To crake and brag in taverns of your money:

I promise ye, a man that goes abroad

With an intent of truth, meeting such a booty,

May be provoked to that he never meant.

What makes so many pilferers and felons,

But such fond baits that foolish people lay

To tempt the needy miserable wretch?

Ten pounds, odd money; this is a pretty sum

To bear about, which were more safe at home.

’Fore God, ’twere well to fine ye as much more

Lord Mayor and More whisper.

To the relief of the poor prisoners,

To teach ye be more careful of your own,

In sooth, I say ye were but rightly served,

If ye had lost as much as twice ten pounds.


Good my lord, sooth a point or two for once,

Only to try conclusions in this case.


Content, good Master More. We’ll rise awhile,

And, till the jury can return their verdict,

Walk in the garden. How say ye, Justices?


We like it well, my lord; we’ll follow ye.

Exeunt Lord Mayor and Justices.


Nay, plaintiff, go you too;—and officers,

Exit Smart.

Stand you aside, and leave the prisoner

To me awhile. Lifter, come hither.


What is your worship’s pleasure?


Sirrah, you know that you are known to me,

And I have often saved ye from this place,

Since first I came in office. Thou seest beside,

That Justice Suresby is thy heavy friend,

By all the blame that he pretends to Smart,

For tempting thee with such a sum of money.

I tell thee what; devise me but a means

To pick or cut his purse, and, on my credit,

And as I am a Christian and a man,

I will procure they pardon for that jest.


Good Master Sheriff, seek not my overthrow:

You know, sir, I have many heavy friends,

And more indictments like to come upon me.

You are too deep for me to deal withal;

You are known to be one of the wisest men

That is in England. I pray ye, Master Sheriff,

Go not about to undermine my life.


Lifter, I am true subject to my king;

Thou much mistak’st me. And, for thou shall not think

I mean by this to hurt thy life at all,

I will maintain the act when thou hast done it.

Thou knowest there are such matters in my hands,

As if I pleased to give them to the jury,

I should not need this way to circumvent thee.

All that I aim at is a merry jest:

Perform it, Lifter, and expect my best.


I thank your worship. God preserve your life!

But Master Justice Suresby is gone in;

I know not how to come near where he is.


Let me alone for that; I’ll be thy setter;

I’ll send him hither to thee presently,

Under the color of thine own request

Of private matters to acquaint him with.


If ye do so, sir, then let me alone;

Forty to one but then his purse is gone.


Well said. But see that thou diminish not

One penny of the money, but give it me;

It is the cunning act that credits thee.


I will, good Master Sheriff, I assure ye.

Exit More.

I see the purpose of this gentleman

Is but to check the folly of the Justice,

For blaming others in a desperate case,

Wherein himself may fall as soon as any.

To save my life, it is a good adventure:

Silence there, ho! Now doth the Justice enter.

Enter Justice Suresby.


Now, sirrah, now, what is your will with me?

Wilt thou discharge thy conscience like an honest man?

What sayest to me, sirrah? Be brief, be brief.


As brief, sir, as I can.


If ye stand fair, I will be brief anon.


Speak out, and mumble not. What sayest thou, sirrah?


Sir, I am charged, as God shall be my comfort,

With more than’s true.


Sir, sir, ye are indeed, with more than’s true,

For you are flatly charged with felony;

You’re charged with more than truth, and that is theft;

More than a true man should be charged withal;

Thou art a varlet, that’s no more than true.

Trifle not with me; do not, do not, sirrah;

Confess but what thou knowest, I ask no more.


There be, sir, there be, if’t shall please your worship—


‘There be,’ varlet! What be there? Tell me what there be.

Come off or on. ‘There be!’ What be there, knave?


There be, sir, diverse very cunning fellows,

That, while you stand and look them in the face,

Will have your purse.


Th’art an honest knave:

Tell me what are they? Where they may be caught?

Aye, those are they I look for.


You talk of me, sir;

Alas, I am a puny! There’s one indeed

Goes by my name, he puts down all for purses;

He’ll steal your worship’s purse under your nose.


Ha, ha! Art thou so sure, varlet?

Well, well,

Be as familiar as thou wilt, my knave;

Tis this I long to know.


And you shall have your longing ere ye go.

This fellow, sir, perhaps will meet ye thus,

Or thus, or thus, and in kind compliment

Pretend acquaintance, somewhat doubtfully;

And these embraces serve—


Aye, marry, Lifter, wherefore serve they?

Shrugging gladly.


Only to feel

Whether you go full under sail or no,

Or that your lading be aboard your bark.


In plainer English, Lifter, if my purse

Be stored or no?


Ye have it, sir.


Excellent, excellent.


Then, sir, you cannot but for manner’s sake

Walk on with him; for he will walk your way,

Alleging either you have much forgot him,

Or he mistakes you.


But in this time has he my purse or no?


Not yet, sir, fie!—


No, nor I have not yours.

Enter Lord Mayor, and c.

But now we must forbear; my lords return.


A murrain on’t!—Lifter, we’ll more anon:

Aye, thou sayest true, there are shrewd knaves indeed:

He sits down.

But let them gull me, widgen me, rook me, fop me!

I’faith, i’faith, they are too short for me.

Knaves and fools meet when purses go:

Wise men look to their purses well enough.



Lifter, is it done?



Done, Master Sheriff; and there it is.



Then build upon my word. I’ll save thy life.


Lifter, stand to the bar:

The jury have returned the guilty; thou must die,

According to the custom. Look to it, Master Shreeve.


Then, gentlemen, as you are wont to do,

Because as yet we have no burial place,

What charity your meaning’s to bestow

Toward burial of the prisoners now condemned,

Let it be given. There is first for me.


And there for me.


And me.


Body of me,

My purse is gone!


Gone, sir! What, here! How can that be?


Against all reason, sitting on the bench.


Lifter, I talked with you; you have not lifted me? Ha?


Suspect ye me, sir? Oh, what a world is this!


But hear ye, master Suresby; are ye sure

Ye had a purse about ye?


Sure, Master Sheriff! As sure as you are there,

And in it seven pounds, odd money, on my faith.


Seven pounds, odd money! What, were you so mad,

Being a wise man and a magistrate,

To trust your purse with such a liberal sum?

Seven pounds, odd money! ’Fore God, it is a shame,

With such a sum to tempt necessity:

I promise ye, a man that goes abroad

With an intent of truth, meeting such a booty,

May be wrought to that he never thought.

What makes so many pilferers and felons,

But these fond baits that foolish people lay

To tempt the needy miserable wretch?

Should he be taken now that has your purse,

I’d stand to’t, you are guilty of his death;

For, questionless, he would be cast by law.

Twere a good deed to fine ye as much more,

To the relief of the poor prisoners,

To teach ye lock your money up at home.


Well, Master More, you are a merry man;

I find ye, sir, I find ye well enough.


Nay, ye shall see, sir, trusting thus your money,

And Lifter here in trial for like case,

But that the poor man is a prisoner,

It would be now suspected that he had it.

Thus may ye see what mischief often comes

By the fond carriage of such needless sums.


Believe me, Master Suresby, this is strange,

You, being a man so settled in assurance,

Will fall in that which you condemned in other.


Well, Master Suresby, there’s your purse again,

And all your money. Fear nothing of More;

Wisdom still keeps the mean and locks the door.



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