Sir Thomas More – Act 1, Scene 2

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An arras is drawn, and behind it, as in Sessions, sir 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.

Having dispatched our weightier businesses,
We may give way 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 life a purse right cunningly.

And is that he accuses him?

The same, my lord, whom, by your honour’s leave,
I must say something 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 to’t thou art guilty of his death.

My lord, that’s worthy the hearing.

Listen then, good Master More.

I tell the plain, it is a shame for thee
With such a sum to tempt necessity.
No less then ten pounds, sir, will serve your turn,
To carry in your purse about with ye,
To crack and brag in taverns of your money.
I promise thee, 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, that is a pretty sum
To bear about, which were more safe at home,  [LORD MAYOR and MORE whisper.
‘Fore God, ‘twere well to fine ye as much more
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, soothe a {pound 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 you, 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,
<cut  to text begins here
For all the blame that he pretends to Smart
For tempting thee with such a sum of money.
cut ends here>
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 thy pardon for that jest.

Good Master shrieve, 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 must mistak’st me and for thou shalt 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 matter 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 colour 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.                                   [Exit MORE.

I will, good master sheriff, I assure ye.
I see the purpose of this gentleman
If but to check the folly of the justice
For blaming others in a desperate case
Wherein himself may fall so soon as any.
To save my life it is a good adventure.
Silence there ho!  Now doth the justice enter.


Now, sirrah, now what is your will with me?
Wilt thou discharge thy conscience like an honest man?
What sayst to me, sirrah?  Be brief, be brief.

As brief, sir, as I can.
[Aside.] If ye stand fair, I shall be brief anon.

Speak out and mumble not.  What sayst 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 then 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, divers very cunning fellows,
That while you stand and look them in the face
Will have your purse.

Thou art an honest knave.
Tell me what are they?  Where might they be caught?
Ay, those are they I look for.

You talk of me, sir.
Alas, I am puny.  There’s one indeed
Goes by my name, he puts down all for purses
{Faith, I could show you, sir, the very trick,
But that I fear you’ld hold me too familiar.

Be} as familiar as thou wilt, my knave,
‘Tis this I long to know.

[Aside.] And you shall have your longing ere you go.
[Aloud.] This fellow, sir, perhaps will meet ye thus,
Or thus, or thus in a kind compliment                                                      [Action.
Pretend acquaintance, somewhat doubtfully,
And these embraces serve—

[Shrugging gladly.]                Ay, marry, Lifter,
Wherefore serve they?


Only to feel
Whether you go full under sail or no,
Or that you lading be aboard your bark.

In plain English, Lifter, if my purse
Be stored or no?

Ye have it, sir.

Excellent, excellent.

Then, sir, you cannot but for manners’ sake
Walk on with him, for he will walk your way,
Alleging either you have must 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 &c.

But now we must forbear, my lords return.

A murrain on’t.  Lifter, we’ll more anon.
Ay, sayst thou, there are shrewd knaves indeed!                 [He sits down.
But let them gull me, widgeon 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.

[Aside to LIFTER.] Lifter, is it done?

[Aside to MORE.] Done, master shrieve, and there it is.

[Aside to LIFTER.] Then build upon my word, I’ll save thy life.

Lifter, stand to the bar.  The jury have returned thee guilty, thou must die.  According to the custom, look to it, master shrieve.

Then, gentlemen, as you are wont to do,
Because as yet we have no burial place,
What charity your meanings to bestow
Toward burial of the prisoners now condemned,
Let it be given, there is first for me.

And there’s 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 shrieve, 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 provoked 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 you 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.                       [Exeunt.


Proceed to the next scene


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