Sir Thomas More – Act 3, Scene 1

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A table being covered with a green carpet, a state cushion on it, and the purse and mace lying thereon; enter SIR THOMAS MORE.

It is in heaven that I am thus and thus,
And that which we profanely term our fortunes
Is the provision of the power above
Fitted and shaped just to that strength of nature
Which we are born {withal.}  Good God, good God,
That I from such an humble bench of birth
Should step as ‘twere up to my country’s head
And give the law out there—ay, in my father’s life
To take prerogative and title of knees
From elder kinsmen, and him bind by my place
To five the smooth and dexter way to me
That owe it him by nature, sure these things,
Not physicked by respect, might turn out blood
To much corruption.  But, More, the more thou hast,
Either of honour, office, wealth, and calling,
Which might accite thee to embrace and hug them,
The more do thou in serpents’ natures think them,
Fear their gay skins with thought of their sharp state,
And let this by thy maxim:  to be great
Is, when the thread of hazard is once spun,
A bottom great wound up, greatly undone.

Enter his man RANDALL attired like him.

Come on, sir, are you ready?

Yes, my lord, I stand but on a few points.  I shall have done presently.  Before God, I have practiced your lordship’s shift so well that I think I shall grow proud, my lord.

‘Tis fit thou shouldst wax proud, or else thou’lt ne’er
Be near allied to greatness.  Observe me, sirrah:
The learned clerk Erasmus is arrived
Within our English court.  Last night I hear
He feasted with our honoured English poet
The Earl of Surrey, and I learned today 
The famous clerk of Rotterdam will visit
Sir Thomas More.  Therefore, sir, take my seat:
You are lord chancellor.  Dress your behavior
According to my carriage, but beware
You talk not overmuch, for ‘twill betray thee.
Who prates not much seems wise, his wit few scan,
While the tongue blabs tales of the imperfect man.
I’ll see if great Erasmus can distinguish
Merit and outward ceremony.

If I do not deserve a share for playing of your lordship well, let me be yeoman usher to you sumpter, and be banished from wearing of a gold chain for ever.

Well, sir, I’ll hide our motion, act my part
With a firm boldness and thou winst my heart.

Enter the Sheriff with FALKNER, a ruffian, and Officers.

How now?  What’s the matter?

Tug me not, I’m no bear.  ‘Sblood, if all the dogs in Paris Garden hung at my tail, I’d shake ‘em off with this:  that I’ll appear before no king christened but my good lord chancellor.

We’ll christen you, sirrah.  Bring him forward.

How now, what tumults make you?

The azured heavens protect my noble lord chancellor.

What fellow’s this?

A ruffian, my lord, that hath set half the city in an uproar.

My lord—

There was a fray in Paternoster Row, and because they would not be parted, the street was choked up with carts.

My noble lord, Panyer Alley’s throat was open.

Sir, hold your peace.

I’ll prove the street was not choked, but is as well as ever it was since it was a street.

This fellow was a principal broacher of the broil.

‘Sblood, I broached none.  It was broached and half run out before I had a lick at it.

And would be brought before no justice but your honour.

I am haled, my noble lord.

No ear to choose for every trivial noise
But mine, and in so full a time!  Away,
You wrong me master shrieve.  Dispose of him
At your own pleasure.  Send the knave to Newgate.

To Newgate?  ‘Sblood, Sir Thomas More, I appeal, I appeal!  From Newgate to any of the two worshipful Counters.

Fellow, whose man are you that are thus lusty?

My name’s Jack Falkner.  I serve, next under God and my prince, Master Morris, secretary to my Lord of Winchester.

A fellow of your hair is very fit
To be a secretary’s follower.

I hope so, my lord.  The fray was between the Bishop’s men of Ely and Winchester, and I could not in honour but part them.  I thought it stood not with my reputation and degree, to come to my questions and answers before a city justice.  I knew I should to the pot.

Thou hast been there, it seems, too late already.

I know your honour is wise and so forth, and I desire to be only catechised or examined by you, my noble lord chancellor.

Sirrah, sirrah, you are a busy dangerous ruffian.


How long have you worn this hair?

I have worn this hair ever since I was born.

You know that’s not my question.  But how long hath this shag fleece hung dangling on thy neck?

How long, my lord?  Why, sometimes thus long, sometimes lower as the fates and humours please.

So quick, sir, with me, ha?  I see, good fellow,
Thou lovest plain dealing.  Sirrah, tell me now,
When were you last at barbers?  How long time
Have you upon your head worn this shag hair?

My lord, Jack Falkner tells no Aesop’s fables.
Troth, I was not at barber’s this three years.
I have not been cut nor will not be cut upon a foolish vow which as the destinies shall direct I am sworn to keep.

When come that vow out?

Why, when the humours are purged; not these three years.

Vows are recorded in the court of heaven,
For they are holy acts.  Young man, I charge thee
And do advise thee, start not from that vow,
And for I will be sure thou shalt not shrive,
Besides, because it is an odious sight
To see a man thus hairy, thou shalt lie
In Newgate till thy vow and thy three years
Be full expired.  Away with him.

                                                   My lord—

Cut off this fleece, and lie there but a month.

I’ll not lose a hair to be lord chancellor of Europe.

To Newgate then.  Sirrah, great sins are bred
In all that body where there’s a foul head.
Away with him.                                                      [Exeunt all except RANDALL.

Enter SURREY, ERASMUS and Attendants.

Now, great Erasmus, you approach the presence
Of a most worthy learned gentleman.
This little isle holds not a truer friend
Unto the arts, nor doth his greatness add
A feigned flourish to his worthy parts.
He’s great in study, that’s the statist’s grace
That gains more reverence then the outward place.

Report, my lord, hath crossed the narrow seas
And to the several parts of Christendom
Hath borne the fame of your lord chancellor.
I long to see him whom with loving thoughts
I in my study oft have visited.
Is that Sir Thomas More?

                                        It is, Erasmus.
Now shall you view the honourablest scholar,
The most religious politician,
The worthiest counselor that tends our state.
That study is the general watch of England;
In it the prince’s safety and the peace
That shines upon our commonwealth are forged
By loyal industry.

                             I doubt him not
To be as neat the life of excellence
As you proclaim him, when his meanest servants
Are of some weight.  You saw, my lord, his porter
Give entertainment to us at the gate
In Latin good phrase.  What’s the matter then,
When such good parts shine in his meanest men?

His lordship hath some weighty business,
For see, as yet he takes no notice of us.

I think ‘twere best I did my duty to him
In a short Latin speech:
Qui in celeberrima patria natus est et gloriousa plus habet negotti ut in lucem veniat quam qui—

I pray thee, good Erasmus, be covered.  I have forsworn speaking in Latin, {else} as I am true councillor I’d tickle you with a speech.  Nay, sit, Erasmus, sit good my lord of Surrey.  I’ll make my lady come to you anon, if she will, and give you entertainment.

Is this Sir Thomas More?

                                        O good Erasmus,
You must conceive his vein; he’s ever furnished
With these conceits.

Yes, faith, my learned poet doth not lie for that matter.  I am neither more nor less than merry Sir Thomas always.  Wilt sup with me?  By God, I love a parlous wise fellow that smells of a politician better than a long progress.


We are deceived, this is not his lordship.

I pray you, Erasmus, how long will the Holland cheese in your country keep without maggots?

Fool, painted barbarism, retire thyself
Into thy first creation.                                                      [Exit RANDALL.
                                    Thus you see,
My loving learned friends, how far respect
Waits often on the ceremonious train
Of base illiterate wealth, whilst men of schools,
Shrouded in poverty, are counted fools.
Pardon thou reverend German I have mixed
So slight a jest to the fair entertainment
Of thy most worthy self.  For know, Erasmus,
Mirth wrinkles up my face and I still crave
When that forsakes me I may bug my grave.

You honour’s merry humour is best physic
Unto your able body.  For we learn
Where melancholy chokes the passages
Of blood and breath, the erected spirit still
Lengthens our days with sportful exercise.
Study should be the saddest time of life,
The rest a sport exempt from thought of strife.

Erasmus preacheth gospel against physic.
My noble poet—

                           O my lord, you tax me
In that word poet of much idleness.
It is a study that makes poor our fate.
Poets were ever thought unfit for state.

O give not up fair poesy, sweet lord,
To such contempt.  That I may speak my heart,
It is the sweetest heraldry of art
That sets a difference ‘tween the tough sharp holly
And tender bay tree.

                                  Yet, my lord,
It is become the very lag number
To all mechanic sciences.

                                         Why, I’ll show the reason.
This is no age for poets:  they should sing
To the loud cannon heroica facta:
Quifaciunt reges heroica carmina laudant;
And as great subjects of their pen decay,
Even so unphysicked they do melt away.


Come, will your lordship in?  My dear Erasmus—
I’ll hear you Master Morris presently—
My lord, I make you master of my house;
We’ll banquet her with fresh and staid delights,
The muses’ music here shall cheer our sprites;
The cates must be but mean where scholars sit,
For th’are made all with courses of neat wit.

[Exeunt SURREY, ERASMUS, and Attendants.

How now, Master Morris?

I am a suitor to your lordship in behalf of a servant of mine.

The fellow with long hair? good Master Morris,
Come to me three years hence, and then I’ll hear you.

I understand your honour:  but the foolish knave has submitted himself to the mercy of a barber, and is without, ready to make a new vow before your lordship, hereafter to leave civil.

Nay, then, let’s talk with him; pray, call him in.

Enter FALKNER and Officers.

Bless your honour! a new man, my lord

Why, sure, this is not he.

And your lordship will, the barber shall give you a sample of my head:  I am he in faith, my lord; I am ipse.

Why, now thy face is like an honest man’s:
Thou hast played well at this new cut, and won.

No, my lord; lost all that ever God sent me.

God sent thee into the world as thou art now,
With a short hair.  How quickly are three years
Run out of Newgate!

I think so, my lord; for there was but a hair’s length between my going thither and so long time.

Because I see some grace in thee, go free.
Discharge him, fellows.  Farewell, Master Morris.
Thy head is for thy shoulders now more fit;
Thou hast less hair upon it, but more wit.                                       [Exit.

Did not I tell thee always of these locks?

And the locks were on again, all the goldsmiths in Cheapside should not pick them open.  ‘Sheart, if my hair stand not on end when I look for my face in a glass, I am a polecat.  Here’s a lousy jest! but, if I notch not that rogue Tom barber, that makes me look thus like a Brownist, hang me!  I’ll be worse to the nitticall knave than ten tooth drawings.  Here’s a head, with a pox!

What ails thou? art thou mad now?

Mad now! nails, if loss of hair cannot mad a man, what can?  I am deposed, mycrown is taken from me.  More had been better a scoured Moreditch than a notched me thus:  does he begin sheepshearing with Jack Falkner?

Nay, and you feed this vein, sir, fare you well.

Why, farewell, frost.  I’ll go hang myself out for the Poll Head.  Make a Saracen of Jack?

Thou desperate knave! for that I see the devil
Wholly gets hold of thee—

The devil’s a damned rascal!

I charge thee, wait on me no more; no more
Call me thy master.

Why, then, a word, Master Morris.

I’ll hear no words, sir; fare you well.

‘Sblood, farewell.

Why dost thou follow me?

Because I’m an ass.  Do you set your shavers upon me, and then cast me off? must I condole? have the Fates played the fools? am I their cut? now the poor sconce is taken, must Jack march with bag and baggage?                                                             [Weeps.

You coxcomb!

Nay, you ha’ poached me; you ha’ given me a hair; it’s here, hear.

Away, you kind ass! come, sir, dry your eyes:
Keep you old place, and mend these fooleries.

I care not to be turned off, and ’twere a ladder, so it be in my humour, or the Fates beckon to me.  Nay, pray, sir, if the Destinies spin me a fine thread, Falkner flies another pitch; and to avoid the headache hereafter, before I’ll be a hairmonger, I’ll be a whoremonger.                                                                                     [Exeunt.

Proceed to the next scene


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