Cromwell enters and draws back a curtain, revealing Richard Rich sitting at a table. Rich will be making a record of their conversation. More compliments him on his fancy gown. Cromwell says that More has no more sincere admirer than himself, then tells Rich he doesn’t have to write that part down. More asks to hear the charges. Cromwell says there are no charges, only questions. More tells Rich to write down, there are no charges. Cromwell is amazed that More is the only one opposing the current of the times. More says he is amazed too. Cromwell tells him the King is not pleased. Cromwell tempts More, saying that if he could agree with the Bishops and Parliament, there is no honor the King would deny him.
Cromwell tries to trip up More with some minor incidents that put him in a bad light. The first charge or question has to do with the Maid of Kent, who was executed for her religious prophesy against the King. More had written her a letter telling her to stay out of the affairs of state. Cromwell then accuses More of having written the King’s book, A Defence of the Seven Sacraments, which sites the Pope as the supreme authority of the Church. More denies he wrote the book. He answered the King’s questions on the law. He says the King will not perjure himself by accusing him of that. Cromwell is angry at More’s confidence. Cromwell once again asks More about the King’s marriage to his second wife, Anne Boleyn. More replies he was not to be asked that again and dismisses Cromwell’s threatening tactics as “an empty cupboard” (118). He is not intimidated. Cromwell is not used to being treated in such a superior manner, and plays his last card. He baits More by saying, that in order for a man to be frightened, there must be something in the cupboard. More agrees. Cromwell picks up a paper and reads it. It contains a denouncement from the King, accusing More of treason. More is convinced and says “at last” (118). More is allowed to leave for the present.
Act Two, Scene Six: Commentary
In this scene we witness More going from his confident stand as a careful, law-abiding citizen to sudden fear. Cromwell builds up the moment, obviously skilled at psychological torture, as we have seen with his treatment of Rich and Norfolk. More compliments Rich’s clothing, a sign that he is rising in rank, but for More it is his badge of shame at losing his soul.
Cromwell first presents empty charges that More is able to refute. More believes there is nothing with which they can frighten him. When Cromwell reads out the King’s accusation, More knows the game has changed, and he has become afraid. Henry has put his foot down, and as the supreme law of England, if he says More is a traitor, then he is. More knows the King well, as he points out to Cromwell. He knows Henry is fed up with him. Though he has done nothing wrong, and is not saying his opinion of the divorce, Henry’s displeasure and labeling him as a traitor is a prelude to worse things to come. At each point, More has to decide whether or not to continue this path.