The Common Man enters with a book and wearing spectacles. He explains the play’s action started in 1530 (Act One), and it is now two years later, 1532. He reads from a history book about the establishment of the Church of England, that wonderful institution of moderation, which was established by an act of Parliament rather than bloodshed. Not many people opposed King Henry’s new Church, the Common Man explains, because he could throw people into prison without trial and torture was a common practice.
Act Two, Scene One: CommentaryIn order to get a divorce, Henry VIII severed the Church of England from Rome and made himself the supreme head of the church as well as the state. Although this was motivated by his personal situation, creating a national church was in line with the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther when he began reform of the Roman Church and then became the founder of a separate church. The sixteenth century saw the establishment of other Protestant factions. Although the Renaissance promoted a common educational language throughout Europe in the humanism espoused by Sir Thomas More and all other educated men at the time that allowed them to exchange ideas across cultures, there was also a strong national drive among European countries. Henry demanded sovereignty over his own government and church. There was some insurrection in the north of England, stirred up by the Spanish ambassador, Chapuys, but it was quickly put down, and Henry’s new law stood. This puts Thomas More and any staunch Catholics who consider themselves as still loyal to the Pope as the supreme head of the Christian Church, in a difficult position. More has been juggling as far as he can to satisfy both the King and his conscience. He is a reasonable man who just wants to be able to live in peace. Circumstances keep pushing him into a corner. Will he be able to live with Henry’s new church?