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The story of Thomas More, who stood up to King Henry VIII when the King rejected the Roman Catholic Church to obtain a divorce and remarriage.
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law! Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that! Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Sir Thomas More: Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world... but for Wales?
Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You'd be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one. Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it? Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.
Cromwell: Now, Sir Thomas, you stand on your silence. Sir Thomas More: I do. Cromwell: But, gentlemen of the jury, there are many kinds of silence. Consider first the silence of a man who is dead. Let us suppose we go into the room where he is laid out, and we listen: what do we hear? Silence. What does it betoken, this silence? Nothing; this is silence pure and simple. But let us take another case. Suppose I were to take a dagger from my sleeve and make to kill the prisoner with it; and my lordships there, instead of crying out for me to stop, maintained their silence. That would betoken! It would betoken a willingness that I should do it, and under the law, they will be guilty with me. So silence can, according to the circumstances, speak! Let us consider now the circumstances of the prisoner's silence. The oath was put to loyal subjects up and down the country, and they all declared His Grace's title to be just and good. But when it came to the prisoner, he refused! He calls this silence. Yet is there a man in this court - is there a man in this country! - who does not know Sir Thomas More's opinion of this title? Crowd in court gallery: No! Cromwell: Yet how can this be? Because this silence betokened, nay, this silence was, not silence at all, but most eloquent denial! Sir Thomas More: Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is "Qui tacet consentire": the maxim of the law is "Silence gives consent". If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied. Cromwell: Is that in fact what the world construes from it? Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it? Sir Thomas More: The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.
Sir Thomas More: I do none harm, I say none harm, I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, in good faith I long not to live.
The Duke of Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I'm not a scholar, I don't know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can't you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship! Sir Thomas More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?
Margaret More: Father, that man's bad. Sir Thomas More: There's no law against that. William Roper: There is: God's law. Sir Thomas More: Then God can arrest him.
Sir Thomas More: I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.
[last lines] Sir Thomas More: [talking to the witnesses for his execution] I am commanded by the King to be brief, and since I am the King's obedient subject, brief I will be. I die his Majesty's good servant but God's first. [to the executioner] Sir Thomas More: I forgive you right readily. [he gives him a coin] Sir Thomas More: Be not afraid of your office; you send me to God. Archbishop Cranmer: You're very sure of that, Sir Thomas? Sir Thomas More: He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to him. [he kneels and puts his head on the chopping block] Narrator: Thomas More's head was stuck on Traitors' Gate for a month, then his daughter, Margaret, removed it and kept it till her death. Cromwell was beheaded for high treason five years after More. The archbishop was burned at the stake. The Duke of Norfolk should have been executed for high treason, but the king died of syphilis the night before. Richard Rich became chancellor of England and died in his bed.
Sir Thomas More: Listen, Meg, God made the angels to show Him splendor, as He made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man He made to serve Him wittily, in the tangle of his mind. If He suffers us to come to such a case that there is no escaping, then we may stand to our tackle as best we can, and, yes, Meg, then we can clamor like champions, if we have the spittle for it. But it's God's part, not our own, to bring ourselves to such a pass. Our natural business lies in escaping. If I can take the oath, I will.
Sir Thomas More: I trust I make myself obscure.
Sir Thomas More: [in his prison cell] ... If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us saintly. But since we see that abhorrence, anger, pride, and stupidity commonly profit far beyond charity, modesty, justice, and thought, perhaps we must stand fast a little - even at the risk of being heroes... Margaret More: [crying] But in reason! Haven't you done as much as God can reasonably want? Sir Thomas More: ...Well, finally... it isn't a matter of reason. Finally, it's a matter of love.
Sir Thomas More: You threaten like a dockside bully. Cromwell: How should I threaten? Sir Thomas More: Like a minister of state. With justice. Cromwell: Oh, justice is what you're threatened with. Sir Thomas More: Then I am not threatened.
Sir Thomas More: When a man takes an oath, he's holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn't hope to find himself again.
Sir Thomas More: [to Will Roper] Now, listen, Will. Two years ago you were a passionate churchman. Now you're a passionate Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head's finished turning, your face is to the front again.
[Sir Thomas and the King are discussing the King's wish for a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, his brother's widow] King Henry VIII: Oh, Thomas, Thomas, Thomas! Does a man need a Pope to tell him where he's sinned? It was a sin. God's punished me. I have no son. Son after son she's borne me - all dead at birth or dead within the month. Never saw the hand of God so clear in anything. It's my bounden duty to put away the Queen and all the popes back to Peter shall not come between me and my duty! How is it that you cannot see? Everyone else does. Sir Thomas More: Then why does your Grace need my poor support? King Henry VIII: Because you're honest... and what is more to the purpose, you're KNOWN to be honest. There are those like Norfolk who follow me because I wear the crown; and those like Master Cromwell who follow me because they are jackals with sharp teeth and I'm their tiger; there's a mass that follows me because it follows anything that moves. And then there's you... Sir Thomas More: I am sick to think how much I must displease your Grace. King Henry VIII: No, Thomas, I respect your sincerity. But respect... man, that's water in the desert.
The Duke of Norfolk: Your life lies in your own hands, Thomas, as it always has. Sir Thomas More: Is that so, My Lord? Then I'll keep a good grip on it.
Cardinal Wolsey: You're a constant regret to me, Thomas. If you could just see facts flat-on, without that horrible moral squint... With a little common sense you could have made a statesman.
Richard Rich: I would be faithful. Sir Thomas More: Richard, you couldn't answer for yourself even so far as tonight.
The Duke of Norfolk: Why do you insult me with this lawyer's chatter? Sir Thomas More: Because I am afraid. The Duke of Norfolk: Man, you're ill. This isn't Spain, you know. This is England.
The Duke of Norfolk: The nobility of England... Sir Thomas More: The nobility of England, My Lord, would have snored through the Sermon on the Mount, but you'll labor like scholars over a bulldog's pedigree.
King Henry VIII: Thomas. I chose the right man for chancellor! Sir Thomas More: I should in fairness add that my taste in music is reputedly deplorable. King Henry VIII: Your taste in music is excellent. It exactly coincides with my own!
Cromwell: I know a man who wants to change his woman.
Cromwell: Are you coming my way, Rich?
Alice More: Poor, silly man - do you think they leave you here to think?
Cardinal Wolsey: [as More turns to leave] More! You should have been a cleric! Sir Thomas More: Like yourself, Your Grace?
[devoutly Catholic Thomas More has come upon his daughter Margaret keeping company, unchaperoned, with Will Roper, a young Protestant] Margaret More: Will wants to marry me, Father. Sir Thomas More: [hands on hips] Well, he can't.
Cardinal Wolsey: That... thing out there; at least she's fertile. Sir Thomas More: She's not his wife. Cardinal Wolsey: No, Catherine's his wife and she's barren as a brick; are you going to pray for a miracle? Sir Thomas More: There are precedents.
Sir Thomas More: Have I your word that what we say here is between us two? The Duke of Norfolk: Very well. Sir Thomas More: And if the King should command you to repeat what I may say? The Duke of Norfolk: I should keep my word to you. Sir Thomas More: Then what has become of your oath of obedience to the King? The Duke of Norfolk: You lay traps for me! Sir Thomas More: No, I show you the times.
Sir Thomas More: [to the Chief Justice] Death comes for us all, My Lord... even for kings.
Cromwell: The King wants Sir Thomas to bless his marriage. If Sir Thomas appeared at the wedding, now, it might save us all a lot of trouble. The Duke of Norfolk: Aaahh, he won't attend the wedding. Cromwell: If I were you, I'd try and persuade him. I really would try... if I were you. The Duke of Norfolk: Cromwell, are you threatening me? Cromwell: My dear Norfolk... this isn't Spain. This is England.
[after King Henry VIII leaves] Alice More: What's this? You crossed him? Sir Thomas More: Somewhat. Alice More: Why? Sir Thomas More: I couldn't find the other way. Alice More: You're too nice altogether, Thomas. Sir Thomas More: Woman, mind your house! Alice More: I am minding my house!
Cromwell: I have evidence that Sir Thomas, while he was a judge, accepted bribes. The Duke of Norfolk: What? Goddammit, he was the only judge since Cato who didn't accept bribes! When was there last a Chancellor whose possessions after three years in office totaled one hundred pounds and a gold chain?
Cardinal Wolsey: You'd like that, wouldn't you? To govern the country with prayers? Sir Thomas More: Yes, I should. Cardinal Wolsey: I'd like to be there when you try.
Sir Thomas More: [More has been condemned to death, and now for the first time breaks his years-long adamant silence on Henry VIII's divorce of Queen Catherine to marry Ann Boleyn] Since the Court has determined to condemn me, God knoweth how, I will now discharge my mind concerning the indictment and the King's title. The indictment is grounded in an act of Parliament which is directly repugnant to the law of God, and his Holy Church, the Supreme Government of which no temporal person may by any law presume to take upon him. This was granted by the mouth of our Savior, Christ himself, to Saint Peter and the Bishops of Rome whilst He lived and was personally present here on earth. It is, therefore, insufficient in law to charge any Christian to obey it. And more to this, the immunity of the Church is promised both in Magna Carta and in the king's own coronation oath [Cromwell calls More 'malicious'] Sir Thomas More: ... Not so. I am the king's true subject, and I pray for him and all the realm. I do none harm. I say none harm. I think none harm. And if this be not enough to keep a man alive, then in good faith, I long not to live. Nevertheless, it is not for the Supremacy that you have sought my blood, but because I would not bend to the marriage!
Sir Thomas More: They'll think that somewhere along your pedigree a bitch got over the wall!
King Henry VIII: [shouting angrily] I have no queen! Catherine's not my wife! No priest can make her so! They that say she is my wife are not only liars, but traitors! Yes, traitors that I will not brook now! Treachery... treachery... treachery I will not brook! It maddens me! It is a deadly canker in the body politic, and I will have it out!
[first lines] [first spoken lines are over 6 minutes into the film] Man: ...there's the country every second bastard born is fathered by a priest. Matthew: [clears throat to get More's attention] Man: Why, in Utopia, that couldn't be. Man: But why? Man: Well, there the priests are very holy. Man: Therefore, very few. Sir Thomas More: Is it anything interesting, Matthew? Matthew: Bless you, sir, I don't know. Sir Thomas More: Bless you too, Matthew.
Sir Thomas More: [to Norfolk] But what matters to me is not whether it's true or not, but that I believe it to be true, or rather not that I /believe/ it, but that /I/ believe it
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