(First Sheriff; Second Sheriff; Officers; First Warder of the Tower; Second Warder of the Tower; Third Warder of the Tower; Lieutenant; Guard; Sir Thomas More; Earl of Surrey; Earl of Shrewsbury; Hangman)
The Sheriffs of London have come to collect More from the Lieutenant of the Tower, to lead him to his death. As they wait, they give orders for the crowd to be cleared away. More comments on the lovely weather, while the Lieutenant is in tears. More console him, and he is delivered over to the Sheriffs. He reminds them he was once a Sheriff of London himself. More even recognizes one of them from his student days. He mounts the scaffold, still managing to make bad puns as he goes. Surrey and Shrewsbury arrive to take their leave of him, and to convince him to give a goodbye speech admitting his faults. As he gives his coat to the hangman, More continues to joke. The hangman begs forgiveness, and More tells him that he shouldn’t giving him his purse and asking only that he be quick. Though it is clear that there is no escape from the cordon of guards, More comments that he shall nevertheless escape through the airs when his soul leaves for heaven. Asking in which direction to go, he leaves to have his head lopped off. (90 lines)
Enter the Sheriffs of London and their Officers at one door, the Warders with their halbards at another.
Officers, what time of day is’t?
Almost eight o’clock.
We must make haste then, least we stay too long.
Good morrow, Master Sheriffs of London; Master Lieutenant
Wills ye repair to the limits of the Tower,
There to receive your prisoner.
Go back, and tell his worship we are ready.
Go bid the officers make clear the way,
There may be passage for the prisoner.
Enter Lieutenant and his Guard, with More.
Yet, God be thanked, here’s a fair day toward,
To take our journey in. Master Lieutenant,
It were fair walking on the Tower leads.
And so it might have liked my sovereign lord,
I would to God you might have walked there still!
Sir, we are walking to a better place.
Oh, sir, your kind and loving tears
Are like sweet odors to embalm your friend!
Thank your good lady; since I was your guest,
She has made me a very wanton, in good sooth.
Oh, I had hoped we should not yet have parted!
But I must leave ye for a little while;
Within an hour or two you may look for me;
But there will be so many come to see me,
That I shall be so proud, I will not speak;
And, sure, my memory is grown so ill,
I fear I shall forget my head behind me.
God and his blessed angels be about ye!—
Here, Master Sheriffs, receive your prisoner.
Good morrow, Master Sheriffs of London, to ye both:
I thank ye that ye will vouchsafe to meet me;
I see by this you have not quite forgot
That I was in times past, as you are now,
A sheriff of London.
Sir, then you know our duty doth require it.
I know it well, sir, else I would have been glad
You might have saved a labor at this time.
Ah, Master Sheriff, you and I have been of old acquaintance! You were a patient auditor of mine, when I read the divinity lecture at St. Lawrence’s.
Sir Thomas More, I have heard you oft,
As many other did, to our great comfort.
Pray God, you may so now, with all my heart!
And, as I call to mind,
When I studied the law in Lincoln’s Inn,
I was of council with ye in a cause.
I was about to say so, good Sir Thomas...
Oh, is this the place?
I promise ye, it is a goodly scaffold:
In sooth, I am come about a headless errand,
For I have not much to say, now I am here.
Well, let’s ascend, i’God’s name:
In troth, methinks, your stair is somewhat weak;
I prithee, honest friend, lend me thy hand
To help me up; as for my coming down,
Let me alone, I’ll look to that myself.
As he is going up the stairs, enters the Earls of Surrey and Shrewsbury.
My Lords of Surrey and Shrewsbury, give me your hands. Yet before we...ye see, though it pleaseth the king to raise me thus high, yet I am not proud, for the higher I mount, the better I can see my friends about me. I am now on a far voyage, and this strange wooden horse must bear me thither; yet I perceive by your looks you like my bargain so ill, that there’s not one of ye all dare enter with me. Truly, here’s a most sweet gallery;
I like the air of it better than my garden at Chelsea. By your patience, good people, that have pressed thus into my bedchamber, if you’ll not trouble me, I’ll take a sound sleep here.
My lord, ’twere good you’ld publish to the world
Your great offense unto his majesty.
My lord, I’ll bequeath this legacy to the hangman,
Gives him his gown.
and do it instantly. I confess, his majesty hath been ever good to me; and my offense to his highness makes me of a state pleader a stage player (though I am old, and have a bad voice), to act this last scene of my tragedy. I’ll send him (for my trespass) a reverend head, somewhat bald; for it is not requisite any head should stand covered to so high majesty. If that content him not, because I think my body will then do me small pleasure, let him but bury it, and take it.
My lord, my lord, hold conference with your soul;
You see, my lord, the time of life is short.
I see it, my good lord; I dispatched that business the last night. I come hither only to be let blood; my doctor here tells me it is good for the headache.
I beseech thee, my lord, forgive me!
Forgive thee, honest fellow! Why?
For your death, my lord.
O, my death? I had rather it were in thy power to forgive me, for thou hast the sharpest action against me; the law, my honest friend, lies in thy hands now. Here’s thy fee;
and, my good fellow, let my suit be dispatched presently; for ’tis all one pain, to die a lingering death, and to live in the continual mill of a lawsuit. But I can tell thee, my neck is so short, that, if thou shouldst behead an hundred noblemen like myself, thou wouldst ne’er get credit by it; therefore (look ye, sir), do it handsomely, or, of my word, thou shalt never deal with me hereafter.
I’ll take an order for that, my lord.
One thing more; take heed thou cutst not off my beard. Oh, I forgot; execution passed upon that last night, and the body of it lies buried in the Tower. Stay; is’t not possible to make a scape from all this strong guard? It is.
There is a thing within me, that will raise
And elevate my better part bove sight
Of these same weaker eyes; and, Master Sheriffs,
For all this troop of steel that tends my death,
I shall break from you, and fly up to heaven.
Let’s seek the means for this.
My lord, I pray ye, put off your doublet.
Speak not so coldly to me; I am hoarse already;
I would be loathe, good fellow, to take more.
Point me the block; I ne’er was here before.
To the east side, my lord.
Then to the east
We go to sigh; that o’er, to sleep in rest.
Here More forsakes all mirth; good reason why;
The fool of flesh must with her frail life die.
No eye salute my trunk with a sad tear:
Our birth to heaven should be thus, void of fear.
Exit with Hangman, etc.
A very learned worthy gentleman
Seals error with his blood. Come, we’ll to court.
Let’s sadly hence to perfect unknown fates,
Whilst he tends prograce to the state of states.