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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
ACT V, SCENE III
The council is in session with the Lord Chancellor presiding over it. Cranmer is summoned inside and informed that he has been changed with spreading heresies in the kingdom. Since these may prove dangerous Gardiner proposes swift and strong action to deal with the situation. Cranmer denies the accusations and requests to be brought face to face with his accusers. His request is denied, followed by a heated argument between Gardiner and Cromwell with the former accusing the latter of being in favor of the new sect espoused by Cranmer. The chancellor brings the meeting to order and it is decided that Cranmer be confined to the Tower.
Cranmer pleads with them to reconsider but it is to no avail. Finally he brings out the King’s ring and asks to be judged by the King himself. The counselors recognize the ring as indeed being the kings and regret bringing Cranmer to trial, for now they fear the King’s displeasure.
The King enters and Gardiner tries to placate the angry monarch but without success. He expresses his displeasure at their harsh treatment of one of their fellow counselors. He then praises Cranmer and commend them all to befriend him. When this is done, the King request Cranmer to baptize his daughter and to be one of her god parents.
The purpose of the council meeting is to try Cranmer for spreading "heresies." The reference is to the Protestant ideas and sentiments that Cranmer upheld. Ostensibly and formally he was a catholic priest but his true loyalty by with the Protestants. He used his position to spread these ideas to the public. This earned him the enmity of many powerful individuals including those in the council.
Gardiner is one off his mot strongest opponents. Gardiner’s antagonism springs from numerous evasions. Gardiner is a loyal Catholic Churchman, he is also one of Cranmer’s old enemies. Moreover, Cranmer’s favored position with the King rankles with Gardiner. There is a mention of "a general taint ... The upper Germany." The allusion is to the heresy of Thomas Minzes, which sprang up in Saxony in 1521 and 1522 and led the peasants to revolt against the Catholic Church. The council members fear a similar disturbance in Britain and hence are determined to stop Cranmer before such a crisis actually materializes.
Gardiner’s manner is impatient and belligerent in direct contrast with quiet appealing of Cranmer’s speech. It is abundantly clear that Gardiner wants to use this opportunity to remove Cranmer completely from the political scene. Cranmer realizes this and his words are loaded with irony when he addresses the former as "my good friend." Cranmer does not lose his calm in the face of the council’s determination to send him to the tower because being in the possession of the King’s ring protects him.
Cromwell tries to shield Cranmer from Gardiner’s harsh manner and this results in an altercation between the two men. Gardiner is determined to neutralize every man supporting the Protestant cause and he seizes this opportunity to voice his suspicion that Cromwell is in league with Cranmer. This shows the extent to which the ongoing religious upheavals have affected the country. The disturbance has permeated to every level of life, including the political one, resulting in animosity and alienation among people.
The scene reaches its climax when Cranmer produce’s the King’s personal ring. When the counselors see it they regret the curse of action they’ve taken and realize that they have gambled and lost.
They fear the King’s displeasure. The King’s appearance leads to the resolution of the situation. Although he is outraged at what has occurred he desires to see his council united. The tension in the scene is further lightened when he brings up the matter of his daughter’s baptism. The King has calmed down and the counselors realize that the situation has been saved.
The tension dissolves completely with the King jokingly ascribing Cranmer’s reluctance to be the newborn princess’ godparent, to thrift rather than modesty. It refers to the custom of giving silver to godchildren. Harmony is restored when Gardiner embraces Cranmer, at the King’s gentle prodding, saying he does so with a "true heart and brother love". The scene brings out the authority the King exercises over the council and also his fierce loyalty to those who serve him well.