Chelsea. A room in More’s house.
(Sir Thomas More; Lady More; Daughters; Master Roper; Gentlemen; Servants; Earl of Shrewsbury; Earl of Surrey; Attendants; Catesby; Downes)
More comforts his family, expounding on the virtues of humbleness. Lady More, however, complains at being forbidden to go to court. More bids her be quiet and refuses to listen to her. Roper reminds him that all the family rises or falls with him. More insists that they are much better off now, especially as they are no longer in a position to be corrupted. Surrey and Shrewsbury arrive, clearly unhappy, to request once again that More sign the articles. They inform him that Rochester is in the Tower and that if More does not sign, he too will suffer a harsher imprisonment. Lady More and the daughters go into hysterics. More agrees to pleas the King, and everyone is overjoyed, but More explains that he means to agree to go to the Tower, rather than agreeing to sign. He is officially arrested for high treason. More says farewell to his family, his servants and his house, and leaves for prison, ready for his own death. (189 lines)
Enter Sir Thomas More, his Lady, Daughters, Master Roper, Gentlemen, and Servants, as in his house at Chelsea.
Good morrow, good son Roper.
Sit, good madame,
Upon an humble seat; the time so craves;
Rest your good heart on earth, the roof of graves:
You see the floor of greatness is uneven;
The cricket and high throne alike near heaven.
Now, daughters, you that like to branches spread,
And give best shadow to a private house,
Be comforted, my girls; your hopes stand fair:
Virtue breeds gentry, she makes the best heir.
Good morrow to your honor.
Nay, good night rather;
Your honor’s crest-fain with your happy father.
Oh, what formality, what square observance,
Lives in a little room! Here public care
Gags not the eyes of slumber; here fierce riot
Ruffles not proudly in a coat of trust,
Whilst, like a pawn at chess, he keeps in rank
With kings and mighty fellows; yet indeed
Those men that stand on tiptoe smile to see
Him pawn his fortunes.
Nor does the wanton tongue here screw itself
Into the ear, that like a vise drinks up
The iron instrument.
We are here at peace.
Then peace, good wife.
For, keeping still in compass, a strange point
In times new navigation we have sailed
Beyond our course.
We are exiled the court.
Still thou harpest on that:
’Tis sin for to deserve that banishment;
But he that ne’er knew court, courts sweet content.
Oh, but, dear husband—
I will not hear thee, wife;
The winding labyrinth of thy strange discourse
Will ne’er have end. Sit still; and, my good wife,
Entreat thy tongue be still; or, credit me,
Thou shalt not understand a word we speak;
We’ll talk in Latin.
Humida vallis raros patitur fulminis ictus,
More rest enjoys the subject meanly bred
Than he that bears the kingdom in his head.
Great men are still musicians, else the world lies;
They learn low strains after the notes that rise.
Good sir, be still yourself, and but remember
How in this general court of short-lived pleasure,
The world, creation is the ample food
That is digested in the maw of time:
If man himself be subject to such ruin,
How shall his garment, then, or the loose points
That tie respect unto his awful place,
Avoid destruction? Most honored father-in-law,
The blood you have bequeathed these several hearts
To nourish your posterity, stands firm;
And, as with joy you led us first to rise,
So with like hearts we’ll lock preferment’s eyes.
Close them not, then, with tears. For that ostent
Gives a wet signal of your discontent.
If you will share my fortunes, comfort then;
An hundred smiles for one sigh. What! We are men:
Resign wet passion to these weaker eyes,
Which proves their sex, but grants it ne’er more wise.
Let’s now survey our state. Here sits my wife,
And dear esteemed issue; yonder stand
My loving servants. Now the difference
Twixt those and these. Now you shall hear my speak
Like More in melancholy. I conceive that nature
Hath sundry metals, out of which she frames
Us mortals, each in valuation
Outprizing other. Of the finest stuff
The finest features come. The rest of earth,
Receive base fortune even before their birth;
Hence slaves have their creation; and I think
Nature provides content for the base mind;
Under the whip, the burden, and the toil,
Their low-wrought bodies drudge in patience;
As for the prince in all his sweet-gorged maw,
And his rank flesh, that sinfully renews
The noon’s excess in the night’s dangerous surfeits.
What means or misery from our birth doth flow
Nature entitles to us; that we owe:
But we, being subject to the rack of hate,
Falling from happy life to bondage state,
Having seen better days, now know the lack
Of glory that once reared each high-fed back.
But you, that in your age did ne’er view better,
Challenged not fortune for your thriftless debter.
Sir, we have seen far better days than these.
I was the patron of those days, and know
Those were but painted days, only for show.
Then grieve not you to fall with him that gave them:
Generosis servis gloriosum mori.
Dear Gough, thou art my learned secretary;
You, Master Catesby, steward of my house;
The rest like you have had fair time to grow
In sun-shine of my fortunes. But I must tell ye,
Corruption is fled hence with each man’s office;
Bribes, that make open traffic twixt the soul
And netherland of hell, deliver up
Their guilty homage to the second lords.
Then, living thus untainted, you are well:
Truth is no pilot for the land of hell.
Enter a Servant.
My lord, there are new lighted at the gate
The Earls of Surrey and of Shrewsbury,
And they expect you in the inner court.
Entreat their lordships come into the hall.
Oh, God, what news with them?
Why, how now, wife!
They are but come to visit their old friend.
Oh, God, I fear, I fear!
What shouldst thou fear, fond woman?
Justum, si fractus illabatur orbis, inpavidum ferient ruinae.
Here let me live estranged from great men’s looks;
They are like golden flies on leaden hooks.
Enter the Earls, Downes with his mace, and Attendants.
Good morrow, good Sir Thomas.
Good day, good madame.
Welcome, my good lords.
What ails your lordships look so melancholy?
Oh, I know; you live in court, and the court diet
Is only friend to physic.
Oh, Sir Thomas,
Our words are now the King’s, and our sad looks
The interest of your love! We are sent to you
From our mild sovereign, once more to demand
If you’ll subscribe unto those articles
He sent ye th’ other day. Be well advised;
For, on mine honor, lord, grave Doctor Fisher,
Bishop of Rochester, at the self same instant
Attached with you, is sent unto the Tower
For the like obstinacy. His majesty
Hath only sent you prisoner to your house;
But, if you now refuse for to subscribe,
A stricter course will follow.
Oh, dear husband!
Kneeling and weeping.
See, my lords,
This partner and these subjects to my flesh
Prove rebels to my conscience! But, my good lords,
If I refuse, must I unto the Tower?
You must, my lord; here is an officer
Ready for to arrest you of high treason.
Oh, God, oh, God!
Be patient, good madam.
Aye, Downs, is’t thou? I once did save thy life,
When else by cruel riotous assault
Thou hadst been torn in pieces. Thou art reserved
To be my summoner to yond spiritual court.
Give me thy hand; good fellow, smooth thy face:
The diet that thou drinkst is spic’d with mace,
And I could ne’er abide it; ’twill not disgest,
’Twill lie too heavily, man, on my weak breast.
Be brief, my lord, for we are limited
Unto an hour.
Unto an hour! ’Tis well:
The bell soon shall toll my knell.
Dear loving husband, if you respect not me,
Yet think upon your daughters.
Wife, stand up; I have bethought me,
And I’ll now satisfy the king’s good pleasure.
Pointing to himself.
Oh, happy alteration!
Come, then, subscribe, my lord.
I am right glad
Of this your fair conversion.
Oh, pardon me!
I will subscribe to go unto the Tower
With all submissive willingness, and thereto add
My bones to strengthen the foundation
Of Julius Caesar’s palace. Now, my lord,
I’ll satisfy the king, even with my blood;
Now will I wrong your patience. Friend, do thine office.
Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, I arrest you in the King’s name of high treason.
To a great prison, to discharge the strife
Commenc’d ’twixt conscience and my frailer life,
More now must march. Chelsea, adieu, adieu!
Strange farewell! Thou shalt ne’er more see More true,
For I shall ne’er see thee more. Servants, farewell.
Wife, mar not thine indifferent face; be wise:
More’s widow’s husband, he must make thee rise.
Daughters—what’s here, what’s here?
Mine eye had almost parted with a tear.
Dear son, possess my virtue, that I ne’er gave.
Grave More thus lightly walks to a quick grave.
Curae leves loquuntur, ingentes stupent.
You that way in; mind you my course in prayer:
By water I to prison, to heaven through air.