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Cheaters, saints, and simultaneous narrative: early and postmodern lessons from Thomas More's the history of Richard III.

Thomas More's biographers emphasize the dexterity of his legal mind in the months leading up to his trial, but More's efforts to display, rather than fully explain, the difficulty of his position can be viewed not just as legal maneuvers but as experiments in an illustrative technique--simultaneous narrative. This technique, rhetorical rather than mimetic, is one More had already utilized in his History of Richard III, a work less concerned with Richard's villainy than in the flinching complicity that sanctions his rise to power. Rather than a continuous historical narrative, More's History provides a series of didactic notations alluding to rhetorical and moral positions. More paints a bleak portrait of a perverted social consciousness, but he nevertheless offers both early modern and postmodern audiences the opportunity to re-familiarize themselves with what consciousness is, with the awkward, disordered, often guilty and always interactive process by which it is constructed.


A growing number of colleges and universities have implemented honor codes as a means of reducing cheating among students and of emphasizing the importance of honesty and integrity in an academic community. Though academic professionals and students continue to debate the effectiveness of honor codes, surveys suggest that schools with codes in place record lower levels of cheating than campuses without such codes. (1) Donald McCabe and Linda Trevino laud the honor system as one of the best means of making ethical appeals to students, involving them in an ongoing commitment to creating a culture of integrity on their campuses (2002; see also McCabe and Pavela 2005). But others wonder "whether an honor code is not just a primitive tool but a naive one" (Zernike 2002, 10). Just how meaningful, for the average college student, is the ritual of signing an academic honesty pledge? Susan Debra Blum addresses this and other questions in her recent study of plagiarism and college culture. She suggests that because "the connection between integrity in general and academic integrity is not obvious to most students," they struggle to define what academic integrity actually entails. "In the sense that [an academic honesty pledge) requires ethical behavior," she writes, "it is related to other forms of integrity; but insofar as students understand that it means using only permitted sources in their academic work, it stands alone, like a stone mountain in a Chinese landscape painting: students have nothing to relate it to" (2009, 153). After conducting several student interviews, Blum concludes that in practice honor codes are much less straightforward than they are on paper: "a code of behavior may be a rough guide for a new situation, but in practice we frequently invent more rules as we go along" (2009, 155). McCabe and Trevino are by no means incorrect to assert that honor codes may significantly, and positively, impact student behavior. Yet Blum's research suggests that there exists within the oath-taking procedure of the academic honesty code some difficult-to-articulate obscurity that works against the impact that its proponents wish to attain.

I argue here that it is to the pledge or oath itself as a concept that we must go to look for clarity. In doing so, we must acknowledge first and foremost the possibility that there are rhetorical hurdles embedded in pledge-making or oath-taking, especially when that oath is linked to personal integrity and to the construction of a social conscience. What oaths assume is that it is always possible to take them--their binding nature denotes the firmness of what they are sworn to uphold. We pledge allegiance to one nation; we swear to tell the whole truth. But although presented as straightforward articulations of agreement with established perceptions, oaths can inspire some hardly straightforward, and indeed problematically intricate, rationalizations, if and when those perceptions are questioned. If Bill Clinton is right, and our honesty can depend on what the meaning of 'is' is, then any oath might be dissected for any number of assumptions.

We can further explore such convolutions by considering a specific oath, one of the most famous in British history, the Oath of Succession of 1534. This oath was required of all Henry VIII's councillors as a gesture of loyalty in general and in particular of support for the Act of Succession, which had disinherited Princess Mary Tudor and conferred the crown to the future children of Henry and Anne Boleyn instead. In addition, taking the oath meant repudiating the authority of the Pope and acknowledging the annulment of king Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Famously, Thomas More, Henry's former Lord Chancellor, refused to take the oath, and was arrested and eventually executed for treason. In his letters to family members and in his trial defense, More exposes the complicated (and for him agonizing) rhetorical maneuvering required by the Oath of Succession. From his perspective, to take the oath meant acknowledging conscience to be a choice, but a choice that had not existed until the oath appeared. Conscience, in other words, was something that the oath made possible. This essay will first attempt to explain why such an acknowledgment was so unacceptable to More, for whom conscience could never be generated by a secular contrivance, or more precisely, could never be only generated by such means. And second, it will connect More's personal crisis to broader questions about what is allowed to pass for conscience--and even more broadly, for sanctity--in our current academic institutions. The Catholic More imagines conscience as a universal phenomenon, both already made and always in the process of being made. In these terms, then, conscience is simultaneously both already possible and made possible, over and over again, through pledges, through prayers, through service to higher powers, both secular and spiritual. Oaths are and must be taken every day, as consciences are (re)made every day; their relationship is simultaneous and reciprocal. More's resistance to the Oath of Succession is designed to expose this simultaneity for the benefit of the Oath-enforcers. His words attempt to provide a remedial 'treatment' for the short sightedness of these Oath-enforcers, and I suggest the same treatment may be effective today for academics afflicted with our own constrained conceptions of what counts as integrity.

Consider first a letter written by More in 1534 from the Tower of London, in which he reminds his daughter Margaret "that the matters which move my conscience (without declaration whereof I can nothing touch the points) I have sundry times showed you that I will disclose them to no man" (quoted in Roper 2008, 153-54). It is neither the first nor the last time that More demonstrates his trust in secrecy and silence as a provisional shelter, if not from suspicion, then at least from any certain condemnation. He explains in the same letter,

  For surely if his Highness might inwardly sec my true mind such
  as God knoweth it is, it would, I trust, soon assuage his high
  displeasure. Which while I can in this world never in such wise
  shew but that his Grace may be persuaded to believe the contrary
  of me, I can no further go, but put all in the hands of Him, for
  fear of whose displeasure for the safeguard of my soul stirred by
  mine own conscience (without insectation or reproach laying to any
  other man's) I suffer and endure this trouble. (Quoted in Roper
  2008, 154-5)

"For to the world," More adds in a later letter, "wrong may seem right sometime by false conjecturing, sometimes by false witnesses" (quoted in De Silva 2001, 100). More's right actions, likewise, may seem wrong for the same reasons. Without a consideration of the difficulty of his position (he is in the rather impossible situation of being unable to defend his offence against his king without further offending his king), More's conscience may seem nervously distrustful in its secrecy, veering too far from the indispensable Catholic tenets he defended in writings such as A Dialogue Concerning Heresy, published in 1529. There More emphasizes the importance of joining the common faith "of all Crystes chyrche / whiche can neuer arre in any substancyall poynt [that] god wolde haue VS bounden to byleue," rather than take the risk of pridefully following one's own, individual wits (1981, 153). But to join the common faith while awaiting trial, More must temporarily withdraw access to his own conscience. Peter Ackroyd explains the paradox when he reminds us that "conscience was not for More simply or necessarily an individual matter"; rather, "the derivation of 'conscience' suggests knowledge-with-others, which for More included the communion of the dead as well as the living" (1998, 400, 363). (2) Here we can begin to gain a better understanding of More's particular perception of conscience as "knowledge-with-others"---a bond that, by the grace of God, pre-exists those it bonds, but that, by the added grace of human beings, is maintained by them. To speak his mind freely while imprisoned, More requires the unpolluted authority of a Christian confessional community, something he believes already exists. But knowing at the same time that he will get no hearing from Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Audley, or Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, nor indeed from any of the other interrogators who question him over his fifteen months spent in the Tower, his steadfast defense is to follow his own wits, his own conscience, which remains necessarily closed to all "in this world" who would pry it open. While his interrogators accuse him of stubbornness, Ackroyd suggests that for More this "was the most carefully planned consistency" (1998, 387), since More's continuing sense of conscience (as something shared and communal) suggests that its single, solitary exposure would reveal nothing surprising, nothing not already known) He only keeps secrets, in other words, to expose that he has none. Consequently, the picture More presents to King Henry is rather elaborately layered: he promises that he has nothing to hide even as he continues to hide everything. He promises ultimate satisfaction after what he admits the king will initially find to be decidedly unsatisfactory. He would ask that King Henry see him as the innocent man he will prove to be, even as he appears guilty.

Ackroyd and other biographers and scholars emphasize the dexterity of More's legal mind in the months leading up to his trial, (4) but More's efforts to display, rather than fully explain, the difficulty of his position can be viewed not just as legal maneuvers but as experiments in a particular illustrative technique common to the Medieval and the Renaissance periods--namely, simultaneous narrative. Alastair Fowler defines "simultaneous narrative" as "the combination of different moments in a single picture" (2003, 36), using Lucas Cranach's Diana and Actaeon (1560) as a prime example (see fig. I). The painting represents a narrative construction of the familiar myth. Acteaon, caught in the act of spying on a naked Diana, bathing with her nymphs, is punished when the angry goddess transforms him into a deer; Acteaon is then pursued and torn apart by his own hunting dogs. Cranach's work captures all the significant moments of the narrative simultaneously: Actaeon, partially transformed and already set upon by his hounds, still watches the bathing women, some of whom are captured in their moment of initial surprise at being seen. Diana herself is pictured in the act of splashing and cursing the already cursed Actaeon--the drops of water arc into his malformed, antlered head while his still-human legs kick feebly.

Fowler explains how, in the early Renaissance, "illustrations were to be 'read' as notations alluding to the morally significant stages of a story. ... Not that a continuous sequence would have been inconceivable. But artists and patrons shared an interest in didactic contents, which were likely to entail discontinuous moral stages or aspects" (2003, 20). In the case of More, his precarious position provides a didactic opportunity to illustrate himself as the king's good servant and, simultaneously, God's; and to illustrate conscience as simultaneously secular and sacred. More's story cannot be unraveled quite as cleanly as can the myth of Diana and Actaeon, and yet he sketches carefully the morally significant stages of his narrative: already condemned by his king, he is already saved by his God, yet he maintains his loyalty, always and ultimately, to both, dying the king's good servant, and God's first. 5 These stages are discontinuous: on the day of his death, More thanks the King for imprisoning him, thus granting him the time and space to contemplate his own death and his removal from the world. Yet he has spent much of that time praying that King Henry find better counsel, the kind that would have prevented him from arresting a dutiful servant like More in the first place. More shows himself prepared for death, for martyrdom, for heaven, and equally prepared to serve his king on earth. He rejects nothing, and consequently he insists on being seen as the faithful servant of both powers, despite their increasing divergence in the years leading up to his execution. In the picture he presents of himself, More is able to stretch himself, even split himself, to serve both pope and king, yet his integrity is sustained.' The King's "great matter" need not be so great after all. Through his particular illustrative performance, More offers Henry a careful method of interpretation and a freshly vigilant, if discontinuous, way of seeing.

It is possible to imagine More returning to a medieval but still familiar method of discourse in a last ditch effort to reawaken the King to his own moral integrity. This method, "rhetorical rather than mimetic" (Fowler 2003, 45), devised to illustrate a moral without recourse to any necessarily realistic design, is one More was already well practiced in using, in addition to his consistent defenses of his conscience in the final months of his life, there are other and earlier opportunities whereby his rhetorical strategy may be connected with the illustrative technique of simultaneous narrative. The approach dominates key portions of More's History of Richard III, another arguably didactic discourse concerned more with spiritual lessons than historical accuracy, written at a time when a young King Henry first displayed the wayward impulses that prioritized individual glory over moral leadership. (7)

Early in the text, the author blames Richard's ambition and extreme desire to elevate himself for all his most despicable crimes and deceits, yet it becomes clear that ambition cannot be the scapegoat for the much more convoluted rhetorical intricacies that accompany, perhaps even produce. Richard's rise to power. More's History certainly develops the theme of a personal ambition in awkward and ultimately violent conflict with social responsibility, yet it is a conflict the boundaries of which More blurs throughout the work. Richard's ambition is never described as a continuous, uninterrupted line of attack, and the History itself seems less concerned with Richard's villainy and more concerned with a fallibility already ingrained in society, and in full view. The History may begin as a mirror for magistrates, but it converts into a mirror for all of society. More increasingly commits himself to examining the flinching complicity that first sanctions Richard's journey to the Crown and then expels him from society without admitting any collusion with his guilt. While a continuous narrative is conceivable, the ultimate impression More leaves is of a series of didactic notations alluding to both rhetorical and moral positions, rather than concrete, historically verifiable events.


To begin, More paints a half-complimentary, half-damning portrait of Richard's and his allies' various audiences. Stephen Greenblatt has already argued that, throughout the History of Richard III, "the point is not that anyone is deceived by the charade, but that everyone is forced either to participate in it or to watch it silently" (1980, 13). Commoners and nobles alike are for the most part quite capable of seeing through Richard's rhetorical strategies, and this speaks to the powers of perception and interpretation More is willing to ascribe both to the nobility and to the commons. More tells us that "no mans eares could abide" the flattery-suffused speeches about the Lord Protector given first by Dr. Shaa and Friar Penker (1963. 59). Part of this rejection stems from Shaa's rather awkward delivery--mistiming Richard's entrance with a certain portion of the speech, Shaa simply delivers the same portion again when Richard finally shows up. A later and less obviously awkward speech to the people given by the Duke of Buckingham likewise fails to elicit the resounding support expected. Instead of crying "king Richarde, king Richard," we learn that "all was husht and mute, and not one word aunswered thereunto" (More 1963, 75). Suggesting that "parcase they perceyue you not well," Mayor Cooke steps in:

  Somewhat louder, he rehersed them the same matter againe in other
  order and other wordes, so wel and ornately, & natheles so cuidently
  and plaine, with voice gesture and countenance so cumly and so
  conuenient, that eueryman much
  meruailed that heard him, and thought that they neuer had in
  their Hues heard so euill a tale so well tolde. (More 1963, 75)

Buckingham is finally forced to ask point blank if his audience desires Richard for its king:

  At these wodes the people began to whisper among themselfe secretly,
  What the voyce was neyther loude nor distincke, but as it were the
  sounde of a swarm of bees, tyl at the last in [the nether] ende of
  the hal, a bushement of the dukes seruantes and Nashefeldes and
  other longing to the protectour. ... began sodainlye at mennes
  backes to crye owte as lowde as their throtes would gyue: king
  Rycharde kinge Rycharde, and threwe vp their cappes in token of bye.
  And they that stode before, cast back theyr heddes meruailing thereof,
  but nothing they sayd. And when the duke and the Maier saw thys maner,
  they wysely turned it to theyr purpose. And said it was a goodly cry
  and a ioyfull to here, euery man with one voice no manne sayeng nay.
  (More 1963, 76)

Perspicacious as they are in stubbornly rejecting Richard's theatrical self-aggrandizement, the public here rebel against this theater with merely inarticulate whispers. a defiance slightly menacing in its synchronicity but ultimately unthreatening. Critics like Greenblatt might argue that the crowd's insight only makes them hostages to Richard's crime spree; they react to his allies' words as if they were loaded weapons aimed at their heads. Alive to Richard's deceit, they are still constrained and contained by the threat of his authority. But I would argue that the containment here is not so much an effect of persecution as it is an already-agreed-upon defense. As Richard's propaganda team attempt to sell their preconceived narrative, the audience synchronizes their non-cooperation to a low hum. The bee analogy suggests a 'hive mind,' thinking and working and humming apart from the bad theater taking place onstage. If the colloquy of bees fails here actually to swarm, the explanation may not be full paralysis but a temporary and softly buzzing suspension--even, perhaps, an anticipation that awaits its cue from an entirely different stage. The current consensus, after all, is that these are "Kynges games, as it were stage playes, and for the more part plaied vpon scafoldes. In which pore men be but the lokers on. And thei that wise be, wil medle no farther. For they that sometyme step vp and playe with them, when they cannot play their partes, they disorder the play & do themself no good" (More 1963, 81). But Richard's public already have their own separate parts somewhat in mind, formed and forming in response to Richard's entirely legible motives. These are not, in fact, only kings' games played upon just one stage; to believe so, More already knew twenty years before his death, was perilous. The didactic contents of this particular scene--Buckingham's speech to the people--include the propagandistic rhetoric and its reception, and an equivalent, though not necessarily identical, moral significance may be attached to both narrative scenes. More's audience is given the opportunity to spotlight the moral failings of both the manipulative Buckingham and the listeners he attempts to manipulate. It is "the potential fallibility of human reasoning" that is on trial here (Day 2008, para. 5), not just the fallibility of Richard, who appears as the Actaeon in More's portrait, simultaneously positioned in sight of his forbidden desire, discovered in the act of seeing it, and about to be swarmed as a result. We give our attention to the full backdrop surrounding Richard's treachery, as would More's audience. Richard's most villainous moments are always combined with equally noteworthy incidents involving his ensemble cast--in this case, a swarming public who fail to swarm. (8)

This failure still needs explanation, for why would More insert such a strange and stubborn suspense in his narrative: active minds inside resolutely passive bodies with mumbling tongues? Whence does this moral failing derive? That Richard, transparent as he is, is still an imposing and threatening authority provides one explanation for the passivity of the commons, constrained out of fear into mutinous silence. But another possibility is that Richard's very transparency, his Actaeon-identity, confuses his viewers as much as it enlightens them. Here we are close to Jean Baudrillard's theories about modern news coverage. According to Baudrillard, contemporary news coverage takes us hostage, but "a latent incredulity and derision prevent us from being totally in [its] grip. ... It isn't critical consciousness that causes us to distance ourselves from it in this way, but the reflex of no longer wanting to play the game" (2005, 84). Similarly, the incredulity and derision of More's textual audience is distinct from any critical consciousness. Confronted with all the morally significant stages of Richard's story at once, viewers balk at their own place in the portrait not out of fear, but out of a necessarily deficient comprehension--not knowing bow to play the game, and not wanting to either. For if Richard is Actaeon and the English people are the beasts who must turn on him as his deforming intent is revealed, where is the god whose curse must catalyze both transformations? The coherence of the morally significant stages requires the presence of a moral touchstone--but More leaves out such a touchstone.

The reader's moral focus continues to shift back and forth in order to accommodate both the justifiable (and predictable) denunciation of Richard and the less consistent moral appraisal of his supporting cast, those clear-eyed witnesses to the Protector's tyranny who inexplicably continue to tolerate him. The public More creates in the History of Richard III are connected by their discerning senses; they are uniformly capable of sniffing out a bad argument, of spotting a fake. Yet as their sensitivity is emphasized, their moral acumen is actually weakened, until one can attach to them no better than an amoral bestiality, instinct without law, and without conscience.

It is none other than Edward IV who first openly exposes these contradictions in society in his last speech to his friends and family. Urging peace between his kinsmen, Edward prays: "Oure Lorde forbydde, that you loue together the worse, for the selfe cause that you ought to loue the better. And yet that happeneth. And no where fynde wee so dead lye debate, as amonge them, whyche by nature and lawe moste oughte to agree together" (More 1963, 12). Edward assumes here a similitude between "nature and lawe" that is just not borne out by the phenomenon he has just uncovered; the people for whom it is most crucial that they get along are the very people who hate and distrust each other the most. More's historical personages continue to equate the god-given or instinctive with the human-made or provisional, and they lock themselves in a difficult and inescapable bind, moving further from God the more they lay claim to God's intimacy. More would sympathize and even identify with this impulse. He never relinquished the possibility that one could serve in both the world of men and the world of God, "whose governments were necessarily separate and distinct but, ideally, complementary and mutually supportive" (Wegemer & Smith 2004, xxviii). But the difficulty of that proposition is emphasized here and throughout the History. Nature and Law have become more than estranged, and the result is a general muddling of ethical behavior and a reduction of a public body's capacity to act meaningfully on its own consensus--in other words, its own conscience.

An example of this muddled and muddling effort can be found in the middle of the History, when Richard and the Duke of Buckingham each speak to the council at length regarding the Queen's attempt to safeguard her younger son in the sanctuary of the church. Their efforts both to exclude the Queen from any respectable company and to mystify the very concept of sanctuary are worth examining for what they reveal about the widening gap between Nature and Law, the sacred and the secular. Both men begin by artfully discrediting the queen's motives. Richard asserts that her "haynous deede ... procedinge of great malyce towarde the Kynges counsayllers," was "by her done to none other entente, but to brynge all the Lordes in obloquie and murmure of the people" (More 1963, 25). According to Richard, she is all at once "obstynate, and so preciselye sette vppon her owne wyl, that neyther his wise and faithful aduertysemente canne moue her, nor any mannes reason content her." Obstinate and willful, it may also be "malyce, frowardenesse, or foly" that drives her (27). The Duke of Buckingham, even more shiftily, argues that it is "womannishe feare, naye womannishe frowardnesse" that is responsible for the Queen's decision, "for I dare take it vppon my soule, she well knoweth she needeth no such thyng to feare, either for her sonne or for her selfe" (28). Shortly. however, Buckingham allows for the possibility that the Queen does fear, and that "the more she feareth to delyuer hym, the more oughte wee feare to leaue him in her handes" (29). The Duke goes even further in his disparagement of the Queen, putting her in the company of the "rabble of theues, murtherers, and maliciuos heyghnous Traitours" that notoriously use the statute of sanctuary to escape the punishments they deserve (30). Froward and fearful, obstinate and hysterical, scheming one moment and panicking the next, the Queen's motives and ultimately the Queen herself are made monstrously perplexing.

Here More once again inserts the illustrative technique of simultaneous narrative into the text, this time into the hands of Richard and Buckingham. Specifically, the two men use entrelacement, providing several discontinuous identities for the Queen inside what they also attempt to present as a single narrative, thereby deceptively exposing and displaying her every possible motive. She is not first panicked, and then she is obstinate, and then fearful, and then forward; in other words, she is all this and more, and all at once. Entrelacement itself is not inherently deceptive, of course. Fowler reminds us that "centuries of entrelacement had habituated readers" to broken narrative sequences. However, "among the new ideas of classical humanism, formal unity enjoyed a high standing" (2003, 53). More pits the older technique against the new campaign for an "unbroken narrative that would carry in itself the entire moral and emotional content" (Fowler 2003, 29). Richard and Buckingham's failure to settle on a single or continuous interpretation of the Queen's motives works in their favor, for in asking the council to imagine the Queen as a willful conniver and as a woman out of her mind with fear and as a thief hoarding stolen property, they essentially ask too much. And the result of such a muddled imaginative effort is a wholesale rejection of the person perplexing enough to require it. By complicating her identity and multiplying her motivations, refusing a simple or single unified explanation for her decision, Richard and Buckingham ensure that the Queen is excised from the collective body that, at this point in the History, still safely enshrines themselves. It is not any special or exceptional authority of Richard and Buckingham that works most heinously against the Queen here. Rather, the multiple and discontinuous pictures of the Queen take on their own garbled and surplus authorities. Instead of teasing them out, examining each one distinctly, or, better yet, combining them meaningfully, it becomes much easier to point and say 'guilty', despite the inability to answer the question "guilty of what?" The Queen is dis-unified, and in the end it hardly matters whether any of the various motives attached to her are or were ever true; she is little better than a criminal, for only the guilty take advantage of sanctuary, and there is hardly need to fixate on any one particular guilt.

It is not only the Queen, then, that is treacherously amplified in the Duke of Buckingham's discourse. He and Richard both are initially eager to preserve the practice of sanctuary and express horror at the idea of violating the safe space sanctuary provides. Buckingham lists the scenarios in which sanctuary is necessary, but he quickly moves on to the much longer list of scenarios in which it is abused. "Then looke me nowe how few saintuarye menne there bee, whome any fauourable necessitie compelled to gooe thither," Buckingham reasons. "And then see on the tother syde what a sorte there be commonly therein, of them whome wylfull vnthriftynesse hathe broughte to nought ... as thoughe Godde and Saincte Peter were the Patrons of vngracious lyuinge" (More 1963, 30-31). Buckingham resolves that the only way to rescue sanctuary from the taint of criminality is to ensure that only the innocent be allowed to use it, but even these people, he soon concludes, do not really need it. The crux of his argument is that

  a Sainctuarye serueth alway to defende the bodie of that manne that
  standeth in daunger abrode, not of greate hurte onelye, but also of
  lawful hurte. For agaynste vnlawfull harmes, ncuer Pope nor Kynge
  entended to priueledge anye one place. For that priueledge hath euery
  place. Knoweth anye manne anye place wherein it is lawe-full one
  manne to dooe another wrong? That no manne vnlawfully take hurt, that
  libertie, the Kynge, the lawe, and verye nature forbiddeth in euery
  place, and maketh to that regarde for euerye manne euerye place a
  Saintuarye. (More 1963, 31-32)

Buckingham assumes total transparency in separating lawful from unlawful hurts; bolstered by a judicial system so precise and clear, he can confidently assert that every place in his well-run England is a sanctuary--pope, king, law, and very nature forbid otherwise. Like Edward, Buckingham makes equally sacred the word of God and the word of man, forgetting that "laws, like medicines, can be applied only by individuals," and that "the justice that results will be proportionate to the prudence, courage, and temperance of those who apply them" (Wegemer and Smith 2004, 254). Somehow Buckingham manages to deliver his conclusions sounding more or less reasonable, rather than blasphemous. For he has seized on the still unintelligible relationship between "nature and lawe" (More 1963, 12) such that his listeners may dissect his arguments only at the risk of openly avowing what they already know: that God-given nature and human-made law do not overlap the way Edward implied in his final speech, that law has instead gotten ahead of itself, (re)making nature as much as, even more than, nature (re)makes law.

Buckingham exemplifies this process throughout his speech, remaking official sanctuaries, like the one that currently shelters the Queen, into desacralized spaces, already corrupted because too likely corruptible, and at the same time substituting his new version of sanctuary, made sacred by little more than his word. "And he that taketh one oute of saintuary to dooe hym good," the Duke argues, "I saye plainely that he breaketh no saintuary"--sanctuary, remade by Buckingham, breaks itself. Although his listeners agree with the Duke, they also suggest "in the auoydyng of all maner of rumour, that the Lorde Cardinall shoulde fyrst assaye to geat him [the Prince] with her [the Queen's] good will" (More 1963, 33). It is a subtle acknowledgment of the slippery ground on which the Duke has placed them; they might agree in committee that his argument--that every place is a true sanctuary, except the Queen's sanctuary, which is false--is somehow sound, but that hardly makes it indestructible. The Queen herself dismantles it aptly in her conversation with the Cardinal: "In what place could I reckon him [the Prince] sure," she asks, "if he be not sure in this the sentuarye. ... But my sonne can deserue no sentuary, and therefore he cannot haue it. Forsooth he hath founden a goodly glose, by whiche that place that may defend a thefe, may not saue an innocent" (37-38).9 Elizabeth draws what appears to be needed attention to Buckinham's "goodly glose": Buckingham and Richard unmake a sure statute all too conveniently, to satisfy their own will and, according to the Queen, their malice. Elizabeth resists the gloss initially, and defers to laws she deems unbreakable: by "the law of nature will the mother kepe her childe. Gods law pryuelegeth the sanctuary, & the sanctuary my sonne" (39). The Queen's sturdy faith sets up a worthy obstacle to Buckingham's shaky rhetoric, but her vigor is, unfortunately, short-lived. Immediately after Elizabeth announces the divine privilege of sanctuary and the security of her son inside it, we are told that "she verely thought she coulde not kepe him there" (40); and so "she dempte it beste to deliuer him," hoping "it should yet make them the more warely to loke to him, & the more sircumspectly to se to his surety, if she with her owne handes betoke him to them of trust" (41). Losing her faith in God's privilege, Elizabeth hands over her trust, along with her son, to men of whom the best she can say is that while they "might bee deceiuid" by Richard, "so was she well assured they would not be corrupted" (41). The Queen replaces sure and confident faith with the frailest hope. Why do this, especially since she has already determined that Buckingham's attack on sanctuary is nothing more than a "goodly glose?" She spotlights the transparent weaknesses of his argument, weaknesses already alluded to by the councillors eager to avoid rumor, and yet it works on her, another indication that transparency may foster consensus but no effective defiance.

Does the Queen abandon her faith here, or is it she who has been abandoned? In this exploration of simultaneous narrative--compressing time so as to allow for multiple, concurrent classifications of both the Queen and sanctuary--divinity is once more the missing element. More's historical characters have lost the faith in their own connection to the divine. As a result, the constancy of faith is replaced by the reluctant legitimizing of a discontinuous and illegible authority. Richard is the History's golden idol, honored through a collective disgust that proves to be scarily accommodating, as much as any true reverence. Consider Richard's bizarre attempt to blame his birth deformity on Queen Elizabeth and Jane Shore:

  Ye shal al se in what wise that sorceres and that other witch of her
  counsel shoris wife with their affynite, haue by their sorcery &
  witchcraft wasted my body. And therwith he plucked vp hys doublet
  sleue to his elbow vpon hist left arme, where he shewed a werish
  withered arme and small, as it was neuer other. And thereupon euery
  mannes mind sore migaue them, well perceiuing that this matter was
  but a quarel. For wel thei wist, that the quene was to wise to go
  aboute any such folye. And also if she would, yet wold she of all
  folke leste make Shoris wife of counsaile, whom of al women she most
  hated, as that concubine whom the king her husband had most loued.
  And also no man was ther present, but wel knew that his harme was
  euer such since his birth. (More 1963, 48)

Once again it is Richard's turn to experiment with simultaneous narrative. Deformed from birth, he presents his withered arm as the tragic result of a recent witches' curse. We must imagine him, Actaeon-like again, simultaneously deformed and deforming. The confused time-scheme of Richard's deformations presents a picture of perverted timelessness; it audaciously demands that witnesses entertain the possibility of the Protector's immortality, for according to his claims, his body operates not by the rules of any mortal logic. By this most outrageous speech, Richard assumes more than any earthly authority; he assumes a mystical, supernatural identity that he can make and remake at will. He is practically his Word made flesh. (10) In More's writings on conscience and on faith, he reiterates the Christian necessity of believing in what cannot always be clearly seen or proved; (11) Richard's perverse parody asks for faith despite what can be seen and disproved, easily. He leads the construction of a new social conscience, a perverted translation of knowledge-with-others--More's worst nightmare.

The only sane response to such a brutal illumination, in the History, is the attempt to un-see, to hum along in a self-imposed obscurity, while the kings play their games. Such is certainly one of the lessons of the animal fable that abruptly concludes the History. Bishop Morton, pressed by the Duke of Buckingham to reveal his thoughts on King Richard, responds with a story about a lion who

  had proclaimed that on pain of deth there should none horned beast
  abide in that wood, [whereupon] one that had in his forehed a bonch
  of flesh, fled awaye a great pace. The fox that saw him run so faste,
  asked him whither he made al that hast. And he aunswered, in faith I
  neither wote nor reck, so I wer once hence because of this
  proclamacion made of horned beastes. What fole quod the fox thou
  maist abide wel inough, the lyon ment not by thee, for it is none
  horn that is in thine head. No mary quod he that wote I wel ynough.
  But what & he cal it an horn, wher am I then? (More 1963, 93)

Richard's perversions have reduced his subjects to such desperate logic. Ruined by their confrontation with the gross distortions, the horror, of their new political and spiritual model, nothing is left but the raw, animal instinct for self-preservation, achieved in the fable by flight, in the rest of the History by a humming aversion. Richard has revealed himself: he is known now, by all, in the sense that More would say Christians know God. But such knowledge is bestial, debasing, as the final fable emphasizes. (12) Here, truly, is instinct without law, conscience without bond, though the History has prepared us for this final reductive moment--in the hive mind of the commons, in the Queen's capitulation, even in Lord Stand-ley's prophetic dream on the night before his arrest and execution. (13) Knowledge of the truth has been steadily replaced by an instinct for it. Knowledge no longer exists as the result of accumulation or as evidence of a sacred bond; as instinct, it exists only in bare and lonely moments. Finally nature and law overlap, but the result is not a harmony but a deformity, one that bears only a monstrous, morally expunged relation to God and human beings. Richard is the new Church; he is both Actaeon and Diana, deforming himself; he is the sanctuary that shelters the similarly malformed. But his shelter is simultaneously exposure, for the only sanctuary the History offers is wilderness, and its sanctuary men are beasts.


If we assume for the History a primarily didactic function as a mirror for the nobility and the rest of society alike, then the lesson clearly includes a warning against the perversion that may so easily enter into consciousness. (14) Yet More does not provide coherent instructions for either recognizing or conquering that perversion. What he presents are simultaneous portraits of various historical figures engaged in tragically insistent enactments of their own dehumanization and desacralization. More prevents any easy interpretation; he makes it particularly difficult to use the History as one more piece of evidence in the condemnation of Richard III as a deformed and aberrant personality, excised from the sanctuary of a community that remains safely intact despite the evil machinations of this evil king. More cannot allow us to blame Richard alone, for it is only with the complicity of his various audiences that Richard is able to proceed with his (not at all) secret grab for power. By the repeated utilization of simultaneous narrative, More broadens his perspective to accommodate much more than Richard's malicious ambition, which in the context of the entire History is hardly as destructive as the careless obliteration of sanctuary, torn apart as viciously as is Actaeon by his dogs. Sanctuary is the last defense against Richard's plotting (it is all that stands between him and Elizabeth's youngest son), but sanctuary is also the last link to the divinity that is, by the end of the History, wholly disabled. More's History draws the destruction of the very concept of safe, stable spaces where one can live, not as any confusingly motivated or monstrous individual, but as a "Saynctuary manne" (More 1963,31). Indeed, there are no men in More's History, none who are not already deformed/deforming into something else. These tragic transformations have happened, and everyone is at fault, for in protecting the semblance of a safe, separate, incorruptibly unified social identity, More's historical figures acquiesce in the maneuverings of Richard, and in their own hostage-taking, as if they could wait out the misfortune of Richard, as if they could come away from his rule unscathed. (15) It is this perversion of social identity that More's work condemns, a perversion that arises in part from what Jean Baudrillard explains as a confusion between evil and misfortune. While misfortune presumes what Baudrillard views as a humiliating innocence, the intelligence of evil

  rests on the rejection of the presumption of innocence ... We are all
  presumptive wrongdoers. ... For the act we commit, it is right we
  should be dealt with--and indeed punished--accordingly. We are never
  innocent of that act in the sense of having nothing to do with it or
  being victims of it. But this does not mean we are answerable for it
  either, as that would suppose we were answerable for ourselves, that
  we were invested with total power over ourselves, which is a
  subjective illusion . ... are forever complicit in what we do, even if
  we are not answerable to anyone. So we are both irresponsible and
  without excuses. (Baudrillard, 2005, 152-54)

More's History is an exercise in irresponsibility without excuse, a lesson in the necessary rejection of the presumption of innocence. It is a nightmare world, where God has been replaced by a monster/man, but this nightmare has been dreamed by everyone inside it. Richard is no random misfortune: he cannot be explained away as an aberration that simply arrived, like a plague or a storm, and More makes it abundantly clear that the horrors of his reign are the "result of the successes and failures of human will and wit and not the inexorable workings of fate" (Fleisher 1973, 163). But in targeting human will, there are still no intelligible answers for the problem of Richard III: why he arrived, why he was allowed to stay, what we can learn from his short reign of terror. This is More's irresolvable problem: people are not answerable for what they do, because people have no answers. Answers are "the business of destiny or of the divinity" (Baudrillard 2005, 153), but when people act anyway, as they must, they invent the missing answers.16 More's figures take responsibility irresponsibly, encroaching inexcusably onto unfamiliar domains, searching for answers to which they have no access. There is no discovery inside such domains, only inventions: animal fables, stories of curses and witchcraft, dreams of escape, kings' games played on scaffolds--all manner of methods of illustration for these Great Matters, but no answers. Without resolving this problem of lack, More does call for exactly what Baudrillard calls for in The Intelligence of Evil when he urges us to "be worthy of our 'perversity,' of our evil genius, let us measure up to our tragic involvement in what happens to us" (2005, 153). More's figures fail to measure up when they fail to recognize the parts they play in the presumptuous inventiveness that, despite universal incredulity and derision, still succeeds in substituting Richard's presence for the presence of the divine. We can appreciate their failure as a warning against the wrong kind of presumption--of innocence rather than accountability.

Richard Manus, sinterpretation of the History implies that such a warning would hardly have been incomprehensible to More's contemporaries. Marius discusses "the well-known melancholia of the age," inspired by "the uncertainty of things and the way appearances gave the lie to reality" (1999, 120). More's Richard III, though transparently tyrannous, is still an obscure and uncertain figure. More's History "questions, by its blunt demanding factuality[,] the supposition that human events cohere and that the wise may discover merely by observing a divine purpose and rationality in the world. God has his purposes ..., but no one can tell merely by looking what those purposes are" (122). Marius' summary gets close to the heart of More's antagonism towards not only the Oath of Succession, but also towards Luther and the entire Protestant reform movement. Traditional interpretations of Protestantism emphasize "the massive devolution of religious authority from institutions to persons" (Rosendale 2001, 1154) and Luther's concomitant effort to separate the carnal and the spiritual realms, which "have been so confused by humankind, Luther says, that bishops rule over cities while lords rule over the human souls" (Mitchell 1992, 691). More rejects this advocacy of the complete separation between realms, though he certainly agrees that a tension exists between worldly and spiritual work. Inevitably nature mixes with law; but the mixture itself can be sweet, as it is in More's vision of conscience-with-others, or toxic, as it is in the History. The solution is not to escape the tension through separation, but to accept, and thus live up to, its inevitability. Such acceptance must be collective, not individual, and here is where More appears most incompatible with Luther. Joshua Mitchell summarizes Luther's position that "only through a 'marriage between a single Christian and Christ where no others are involved does the basis for community come to view." He goes on to assert the necessity of "seeing how the pattern of the singular relationship, the marriage, turns back onto the world, so to speak, and offers a pattern for the right relationship between human beings" (1992, 693). But for More this version of the construction of conscience is plainly backwards, even naive, for knowledge of God is "something institutionally possessed, [not) individually pursued" (Rosendale 2001, 1157). More's approach to worship is aesthetic rather than intellectual:

  Founded upon the gulf between God and humanity which finds its
  primary expression in the ineffability of the aesthetic; its natural
  medium is in the elevated strains of high liturgy, and its corollary
  effect is the elevation of the mediating institution which renders
  the gulf crossable. The traditional Roman Catholic Mass, in which the
  divine is screened not only by the aesthetic but by the limited
  participation of the congregation ... and above all by the mystical
  opacity of hieratic Latin, epitomizes this position. ...
  Paradoxically, this linguistic wall was the self-authenticating
  guarantee of access (albeit indirect) to the divine: the inability of
  the average medieval worshiper to fully understand what was being
  said in church was presumably an important part of his or her
  assurance that something important and otherworldly was in fact
  happening. (Rosendale 2001, 1152-55)

There is a humility in More's understanding of conscience, which derives from just this belief that contact with God must arrive through obscurity. This is essentially the intelligence of evil, when evil is understood, as Baudrillard understands it, as an acknowledgment of inevitable mystification, as "the energy that comes from the non-unification of things--good being defined as the unification of things in a totalized world" (2003, 33).

Twenty years later, in his refusal to take the Oath of Succession, More once again calls attention to the intelligence of evil, once again delivers a warning about assuming innocence in a non-unified (but necessarily un-separable) sacred/secular world, and once again employs simultaneous narrative as his method of choice for displaying his own measuring up to his tragic involvement in the events of the 1530s. To Margaret he writes, "I had always from the beginning truly used myself to looking first upon God and next upon the King, according to the lesson his Highness taught me at my first coming to his noble service" (quoted in Wegemer and Smith 2004, 348-49). To Secretary Cromwell he argues "that the faithful subject is more bound to his conscience and his soul than to anything else in the world," adding, "provided his conscience, like mine, does not raise a scandal or sedition, and I assure you that I have never discovered what is in my conscience to any person living" (quoted in Wegemer and Smith 2004, 353). More looks upon God first, but not instead of, the King; and while he privileges his spiritual connection to his conscience, he takes care to consider the effects of his conscience on the material world. More's defense is an effort to explain the essential difference between choosing a simultaneous or integrated identity as the King's good servant and God's and choosing a double or split identity as the public servant of the King and the private servant of the Catholic Church. In a letter from Margaret to Alice Alington, which More may have written himself, he explains that

  if in this matter it were possible for me to do the thing that might
  content the King's Grace without God thereby being offended, there is
  no man who has taken this oath already who has done so more gladly
  than I would. ... But since, my
  conscience remaining unchanged, I can in no way do it ... I have no
  way out of the bind that God has me in. (quoted in Wegemer and Smith
  2004, 320)

For More, the idea of taking the oath while crossing his fingers is impossible, reprehensible, because, quite simply, it is dishonest. More may admit to two integrable identities, but he is not a 'cheater.' Here we see the familiar moral stringency of More existing alongside a more realistic, worldly acknowledgment of combination and compromise. He refuses to capitulate to heresy, but his denial is not marked by outright defiance, for in his refusal to serve the King, he continues to serve the King. What separates More from his characters in the History is his recognition that he is doing both, mixing incredulity with reverence, exposing his conscience as made up of sacred and secular components, obscurely mixed. And he begs that others, especially King Henry, recognize this as well.


More's integral identities, his simultaneous loyalties, are the result of his very particular honor code. But I would like to suggest that his understanding of oath-taking as a matter of conscience may provide insight into the ambiguous relationship between academic integrity and integrity in general, which I describe at the beginning of this essay. Also relevant are Baudrillard's theories of the intelligence of evil, for as Tricia Gallant points out, there is a "tendency to view student academic misconduct as another form of students behaving badly [along with, for example, binge drinking]" (2008, 76). Plagiarism is often reduced to misfortune, in that it requires an initial presumption of innocence; we are not all presumptive wrongdoers--it is only the current generation of students, their innocence and their morals ruined by the convenient seduction of the Internet. (17) Certainly stealing an essay from an online paper-mill is one thing; but many activities that 'count' as plagiarism, according to the various university handbooks, are much less cut-and-dried, and it is not always easy to recognize when an oath has been violated. More's perspective on identity may provide us with a more useful perspective on plagiarism. His argument, boiled down to its basics, is that a person cannot--or, perhaps more precisely, should not--believe in something but not believe in it. She cannot substitute her own answer to an issue, but still make separate room for a separate, inaccessible answer. She cannot take an oath without taking it. But the interviews in Blum's study of plagiarism suggest nothing less than that students are taking oaths without taking them; Blum's students "echoed the official line about universities being built on trust and about the importance of originality, but few seemed to go beyond the superficial justification offered by faculty" (2009, 154). The problem may very well be that students who sign academic dishonesty contracts are asked to take an oath in deference to a standard they are told is determinedly 'black and white': they comply, but they know better. "Plagiarism assumes the concreteness of texts," Alice Roy explains: it assumes "the reality of authorship, of both words and ideas, and a well-defined role of the reader as receiver of the message. No disappearing subject here, no creative transaction between reader and writer, or reader and text, no negotiation of meaning, no indeterminacy of text" (1999, 56). But similar to More's familiarity with the inscrutability of the divine epitomized in the likewise inscrutable Catholic mass, no generation is more familiar with the indeterminacy of text than the current 'e-generation! It is thus not inconceivable to imagine that they bring to the oaths of the strictest university honor codes their incredulity and derision, even while allowing themselves to be taken hostage by them. So we might imagine them pretending, along with some of their instructors, that plagiarism is always a clear moral or ethical issue, despite evidence of just "how radically rhetorical the atmosphere of professional self-consciousness has become" (Lanham 1993, 63), and despite indications that digital culture has created "new media being[s]" with new "digital identit[ies]," who have become, in fact, "as mixed and appropriated as the compositions [they] write" (Rice 2007, 69). (18)

Like sanctuary in the reigns of Henry VII and Henry VIII, 'academic honesty' has been desacralized, its "originality sanctuaries" dismantled, no longer available (if they ever were) to shelter those model students who are morally secure enough to distinguish their own 'original' ideas from someone else's. Indeed, as Gallant argues, "the complexity of academic integrity arises because there is no 'unified front' regarding conceptions of knowledge, information, and academic work" (2008, 66-67), and thus no unified front regarding integrity itself. With more and more students gaining access to information-sharing technology, "conflicting notions of information (personal versus communal property) and knowledge (independently versus collaboratively constructed) hint that academic integrity is less an individual character trait than it is a social phenomenon located at the nexus of teaching and learning" (Gallant 2008, 68-69). Here again is knowledge-with-others, a phenomenon that cannot sit comfortably with the obligation students face to produce their own work ... or else. As Rebecca Moore Howard suggests, "all writers appropriate language from other sources and reshape it as their own, but inexperienced writers don't do that very well" (quoted in Hansen 2003, 777); focusing on "capture-and-punishment" might deter individual instances of plagiarism, but it doesn't accomplish much in the way of teaching, and may in fact "encourage a reductive, automated vision of the educational experience" (quoted in Hansen 2003, 789). (19) Gallant agrees that "this blanket response ... neglects the complexity of the issue precipitated by the ways in which technological inventions may be redefining concepts of information, authorship, and knowledge; challenging the expertise of educational institutions; and reshaping the nature of academic work" (2008, 66). if honor codes ignore these complications, they are guilty, at best, of oversimplifying the complexity of students' experience with digital culture and postmodernism; and at worst, of begging the question, assuming that the honor of the code already exists as an entirely unambiguous, unchanging concept rather than a social phenomenon. Unlike the Oath of Succession, which aimed to create conscience out of nothing, honor codes assume a consciousness about integrity already exists, and students must simply sign on. Thomas More, I would like to suggest, would say that both methods fail to recognize the true, double-sided nature of integrity. What More displays in his writings, his letters, and his famous last words is an integrity based on conscience-with-others, constantly regenerated, reformed, and remodeled, but out of material that, at least in part, derives from the highest and purest ideal. Indeed, integrity is both ideal and material. It is still, timeless even, and yet--to borrow Galileo's alleged aside--it moves.

In considering a new approach to the problem of plagiarism, it may indeed be helpful to consider the writing of Thomas More and the speculations of post-modernists like Baudrillard alongside the theories of established professionals in the field of composition. More's use of simultaneous narrative hints at a rhetorical strategy detailed by Jeff Rice, for example, who suggests using "discrepancies in meaning to motivate further exploration" in writing: "what do I do when I encounter opposing meanings of the same term? How can these meanings be combined in order to generate a new idea? ... In other words, I am choosing a lack of control (discrepancy) over control (method comparison)" (2007, 42). Several of the rhetorical practices Rice outlines (such as chorography and appropriation) seem reminiscent of simultaneous narrative's rhetorical volatility. Similarly, Richard Lanham suggests paying more attention to the "volatile nature" of electronic texts in the composition classroom (1993, 75). Studying and imitating interactive texts could inspire "a turning of purpose to play and game, a continual effort not ... to purify our motives, but to keep them in a roiling, rich mixture of play, game, and purpose. Al! of this yields a body of work active not passive, a canon not frozen in perfection but volatile with contending human motive" (1993, 51). Beyond the classroom, More's perspective on knowledge-with-others very much brings to mind Richard Lanham's theories on bomo rhetoricus (rhetorical man), particularly his assertion that "private selves are created by public ones" (220). Lanham comments on the "American delusion" that "the computer classroom, or network, will abolish the central self and create a genuine collective enterprise ... that the oscillation of the self can be shut down, that the private self can exist without a public doppelganger" (1993, 220). He suggests that "if we seek to protect the central self, its rich interiority ... we shouldn't do it by singling it out, but by focusing on the rich, tense interaction between central and social self which creates that interiority in the first place" (1993, 220).

More exemplifies the richness of this interaction in his musings on conscience as knowledge-with-others; the tension comes through in his perplexing portrayal of ineffectual consensus, which appears over and over in the History of Richard III. (20) Renaissance subjects, like postmodern students, were new media beings, exposed through inventions like the printing press to dual representations of uniformity and diversity: the typical and the unique were interdependent, explains Elizabeth Eisenstein: "they represent[ed) two sides of the same coin," for while some authors devoted themselves to "laying bare all the quirks and peculiarities that define the individual 'me, myself,' as against the type, other genres of literature were defining ideal types--setting forth the requirements of service to king or country and delineating the role played by priest, merchant, and peasant; by nobleman and lady, husbandman and wife, well-bred boy and girl" (1979, 84). Thomas More was in the unique position to see just how such overlapping illustrations might complicate his fellow citizens' definitions of subjecthood, social consciousness (knowledge-with-others), social responsibility, and 'self-expression. King Henry, himself educated inside a humanist framework, was likewise confronted with the dual representations Eisenstein describes, and it is fair to say he struggled with his own subjectivity--as humanist sovereign, constructed out of the careful tenets of the humanist educational process, (21) or as individual, untouchable warrior, and head of state, owing allegiance to no one.

Henry ultimately appears to suspend this struggle in favor of one extreme--full identification as a singularity--in his pursuit and punishment of Thomas More. But in his defense of himself, More opportunely defends something close to Lanham's idea of rhetorical man, (22) one created through the constant oscillation of a central (sacred, ideal) and a social (secular, material) self, an oscillation that, when viewed with the same attention used to view simultaneous narratives, may reveal the morally significant but tangled stages of an identity in construction. More offers himself as the model on which to practice this viewing method, as he had earlier offered Richard III and his History's ensemble cast. His unwillingness to divulge his own conscience becomes an invitation for his interrogators to re-familiarize themselves with what consciousness is, with the awkward, disordered, often guilty, and always interactive process by which it is constructed.

It would seem that interrogators of student plagiarists could also benefit from re-familiarizing themselves, and their students, with the same process. Lanham warns that once education "has become simply instrumental, the clear, brief, and sincere transmission of neutral fact from one neutral entity to another, it loses its numinosity and then its power. ... If you pursue only clarity, you guarantee obscurity. And people lose their vital interest in language" (1993, 83). Bakhtin makes a similar point about learning and language when he reminds us that "discourse lives, as it were, beyond itself, in a living impulse toward the object; if we detach ourselves completely from this impulse all we have left is the naked corpse of the word, from which we can learn nothing at all about the social situation or the fate of a given word in life" (1981, 292). In a world where more and more people have access to information-sharing technology, to literacy tools and to entire bodies of knowledge. it seems absurd that people would lose their interest in language and its impact in life; as absurd as the informed but ineffectual consensus of the masses in More's History, who are exposed to discourse after revelatory discourse, but who have lost the link between information and interest, transparency and action, instinct and critical consciousness. More sends the message that the availability of the means for connection (for his audience, through printing, schooling, oath-taking, religious zeal, etc.) by no means guarantees the ability to communicate, at the same time as he keeps alive "the possibility that multiple invisible interactions were introduced by a silent communications system" as well as "the possibility of social 'action at a distance' (Eisenstein 1979, 150). (23) E-communication suggests similar if not identical possibilities, but More can help us recognize that this action must be catalyzed by an appropriate attitude toward social identity and responsibility along with the necessary readiness to confront the real life obscurity of any discourse. The concepts of sacred/secular selves, simultaneous identities, and integrity as a social more than an individual phenomenon certainly complicate any definition of 'academic honesty,' but they could also reinvigorate the Composition classroom, as More's final speeches about conscience and his History of Richard III are reinvigorated by more pronounced attention to his experiments with simultaneous narrative. If More's efforts are disorienting, they are also valuable in delivering a more accurate illustration of the collectivity involved in any `self-expression and the accountability affixed to any inventive intelligence. (24) This is an important lesson for students and teachers today, as the debate continues about what kinds of expressions are valuable and/ or useful, what kinds of selves--public or private, split or simultaneous, irresponsible or without excuse--are in play, inside the classroom and out.


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(1.) See Zernike (2002) and also Dodd (2010).

(2.) Stephen Smith and Gerard Wegemer further explain the "role of conscience" as More saw it--"to make practical judgments in light of principles and laws recognized as true and just. Conscience does not make those principles or laws; it only applies them in particular cases. ... Even the best conscience ... can be mistaken ... since human freedom always makes it possible to reject the indications of conscience" (2004, xxiii).

(3.) Known before the polluting effects of Luther's heresy found roots in More's home country, that is. Such is More's "radical reform." Martin Fleisher explains More's dual concentration on transformation and recovery--indeed, the transformation of society as More envisioned it would require the recovery of its sense of itself as a Christian community. More's emphasis is on revitalization and recuperation more than any absolute or unfamiliar alteration. So Fleisher contends when he suggests that "More's ideas of rebirth and community possess a mundane and social dimension which is essential to them. ... Reform, then, is a spiritual phenomenon that has the utmost bearing on practical life" (1973, 3).

(4.) See Wilson (2001); Guy (1980). Marius (1999) also emphasizes More's clever ambition, but pays more and closer attention to the complex and distracting contradictions of More's personality.

(5.) "I die the King's good servant, and God's first"--More's last words, as quoted in the August 4, 1535, edition of the Paris Newsletter (quoted in Wegemer and Smith 2004,357). He is often misquoted as dying "the King's good servant, but God's first." Wegemer and Smith suggest that the and "underscores More's conviction that integrity is possible in political and personal life" (2004, xv). Wegemer and Smith also point out that More was the first writer to use the word "integrity."

(6.) More's polyphonic, integrable identity here is reminiscent of another illustrative technique--entrelacement--in which a single figure, usually noble or religious, appears multiple times in a single painting. See Fowler (2003, 53).

(7.) It is likely More began the History in 151.3. Henry VIII went to war with France in the same year.

(8.) Gillian Day similarly argues that "the first half of the [History) makes us increasingly aware that Richard and Buckingham rise on the hypocrisy of otherwise rational and honourable individuals, of establishment representatives and, finally, of the people themselves. It is hypocrisy which manifests itself either in the conscious acceptance of fallacious reasoning or in the willing suspension of disbelief. And it is this hypocrisy which we come to focus on as much as we do Richard's" (2008, para. 13). This focus is intentional, part of More's interest in creating a mirror for society. "The inclusion of a knowing citizen audience," Day points out, "creates a sense of instability about the public perception of, and involvement in, history's events" (2008, par. 18). We can perhaps surmise an anxiety on More's part about his own knowing society, too complacent, perhaps, about their own knowledge and what it could lead them to do or, just as worrisomely, fail to do.

(9.) More later asserts his own opinion of such "goodly gloses" in his Treatise on the Passion, published in 1534, where he warns against the idea that "euery manne mayc boldely frame him self a conscience, with a glose of his owne making, after his owne fantasye putte vnto goddess worde" (1976, 112).

(10.) Here we see an example of the "linguistic fluidity" that Anne Lake Prescott argues More exploited in his own writings but "feared in despots such as Henry VIII" and Richard III (2003, 229).

(11.) In A Dialogue Concerning Heresies, for example, More writes, "And so let hym reuerently knowlege his ignoraunce / lene and cleue to the faith of the chyrche as to an vndoutyd trouthe / leuynge that texte to be better perceyuyd whan it shall please our lorde with hys light to reuele and disclose it" (1981, 127-28).

(12.) More would later warn Thomas Cromwell, "in counsel given to his Grace, ever tell him what he ought to do, but never tell him what he is able to do. ... For if the lion knew his own strength, hard were it for any man to rule him" (quoted in Wegemer and Smith 2004, 43). In a Latin poem "To a Courtier," More compares "hav[ing] the king's car" with "having fun with tamed lions--often it is harmless, but just as often there is fear of harm. Often he roars in rage for no known reason, and suddenly the fun becomes fatal" (quoted in Wegemer and Smith 2004, 231), "What is a good king?" More asks in another poem. "He is a watchdog, guardian of the flock, who by barking keeps the wolves from the sheep. What is the bad king? He is the wolf" (quoted in Wegemer and Smith 2004, 236).

(13.) "He had so fereful a dreme, in which him thoughte that a bore with his tuskes so raced them both bi the heddes, that the blood ranne aboute both their shoulders. And forasmuch as the protector gaue the bore for his cognisaunce, this dreme made so fereful an impression in his hart, that he was throughly determined no lenger to tary, but had his horse redy, if the lord Hastinges wold go with him to ride so far yet the same night, that thei shold be out of danger ere dai" (More 1963, 50).

(14.) Marius agrees that More "wrote to teach a moral lesson--here, the nature of tyranny, the wicked conduct and self-seeking that kings should avoid if they are to be good" (1999, 99).

(15.) More targets everyone, which may explain why he neither completed nor published his History. Scholars have entertained various other explanations. Marius says that "too many important people were still around who had been compromised by their relations with Richard" (1999, 118). Wilson suggests More became "increasingly vulnerable as he ascended the ladder of royal favour," and a more pronounced circumspection inspired him to abandon his work on the manuscript (2001, 159). Wilson discusses the "sensitive issue" of Henry VIII's coronation ode, which More had written in 1509, and which contained unambiguous criticism of Henry VII (2001, 160). The ode was published, along with others of More's earlier poems, in 1518, and drew some unwanted attention to the rising councillor. Wilson provides convincing evidence that political pressure was responsible for the abrupt ending of the History, but it is also possible that More arrived at his ending organically--if the History is a portrait of the process of dehumanization, a beast fable seems an entirely appropriate conclusion.

(16.) Here we are close to an insightful assertion by Prescott: "More denied that God's truth changes with time, but he did insist that it unfolds over time" (2003, 239). More's figures perhaps rush the process.

(17.) Some critics argue that, thanks to the Internet, instances of plagiarism have drastically increased because students "refuse to admit that copying from the Web is wrong" (Hansen 2003, 778). Citing a number of recent studies, Susan Debra Blum cites the percentage of students who admit to cheating as greater than 75%, though she also suggests that the topic of plagiarism has been "sensationalized in popular media" (2009, I).

(18.) Long before the digital revolution, however, it is important to note that Bakhtin was already arguing that "thought itself ... is born and shaped in the process of interaction and struggle with others' thought, and this cannot but be reflected in the forms that verbally express our thought as well" (1986, 92).

(19.) See Howard (1999) for her theories on heroic and positive plagiarism.

(20.) More perhaps inherited much of this tension from his background in humanism, a philosophy that certainly made room for debate about interaction between central and social selves. As Mary Crane explains, "English humanists imagine[d] a subject formed not by a narrative history of personal experience but by an assimilated store of texts that seek to forestall and replace such experience" (1993, 162-63).

(21.) Humanists like More and Erasmus hoped that Henry VIII "would inaugurate a golden age" (Fleisher 1973, 63). Such hopes were quickly dashed.

(22.) It should perhaps be noted that Lanham himself aligns More with Plato, Peter Ramus, and others who "despised" rhetoric as "a series of ad hoc fixes" divorced from human reason (1993, 57). The bulk of The History of Richard III appears to refute this claim.

(23.) Eisenstein does not fully define this phrase or explain what this action might look like. Her main point is that even "a singularly impersonal medium" such as print nevertheless "did create a new kind of ... reading public ... composed of silent and solitary individuals who were often unknown to each other" but who nevertheless proved capable of interaction (1979, 148-49).

(24.) Prescott seems to agree when she suggests that More's work "anticipates many postmodern concerns and he shared with many of us at the start of a new century the sense that if we are to find our way in this world, and make it more humane, we will need collaboration more than self-esteem or pride of authorship; a multiplicity of voices more than closed ears; paradox more than single-minded smugness; attention to the margins, not just to the centers of wealth or power; and wariness of the words by which we can slither into lies and self-delusion" (2003, 239).

CHRISTINE HOFFMANN is a Brittain Postdoctoral Fellow at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She has published articles in Papers on Language and Literature and The CEA Forum.
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Author:Hoffmann, Christine
Publication:College Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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