The Common Man enters and puts on the costume of a boatman. More is by the river and calls out for a boatman. The boatman answers, and More asks him to take him home. They begin to bargain for the fare, when suddenly, Thomas Cromwell shows up and explains to the boatman that the boat fares are fixed. Cromwell acts surprised to see Sir Thomas More. More greets him and remarks that Cromwell works late. Cromwell says he is on the way to the Cardinal. More congratulates him on being Secretary to the Cardinal. They bow. Cromwell claims he is one of More’s admirers and tells the boatman the fare should be a penny ha’penny to Chelsea where More lives. The boatman comments on Cromwell when he leaves that Cromwell is an up and coming man. Before More can leave, the Spanish Ambassador, Signor Chapuys, enters with his attendant. Chapuys mentions that More has just left the Cardinal and hints he would like to know what More and the Cardinal spoke about, but More does not say anything.
Chapuys then pulls More aside and tells him Charles, the King of Spain, is concerned for his aunt, Queen Catherine. Chapuys keeps trying to pry out of More whether he agrees with Cardinal Wolsey about the Queen. More says nothing, but Chapuys says that he understands More to be a good man. Meanwhile, the boatman has been waiting. More says he will pay him what he always pays him. The boatman complains that the fare is the same to and from Chelsea, but it is harder to row upstream, and whoever makes the regulations does not have to row a boat.
Act One, Scene Three: Commentary
The Spanish Ambassador is keeping an eye on the Queen’s situation because she is the aunt of his master, King Charles of Spain. He knows More’s reputation for being against divorce, and that is why he calls him a good man. He tries to find out whether More gave in to Cardinal Wolsey in terms of supporting the divorce and seems satisfied that More did not, though More has said nothing. Already, it is apparent that More, for all his idealism, is no fool. He does not talk to anyone about what he is doing, because it is dangerous. He knows Chapuys and Cromwell are ambitious lackeys, interested only in their own careers. As the play goes on, More gets more and more drawn in to the situation, trying to stay true to himself while dodging the traps of unscrupulous men.