In consequence of refusing the Oath of Succession on 13 April 1534, Thomas More was incarcerated in the Tower of London for the final fourteen months of his life (above, 121–3). Yet imprisonment did not prevent him from writing, with a fluency approaching that of his anti-Lutheran polemics of the immediately preceding years. He composed, in addition to a series of letters and other brief writings, the main ‘Tower Works’: A Treatise on the Passion (begun before his imprisonment but perhaps completed during it), A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation and, finally, the unfinished De Tristitia Christi. In differing ways, these last compositions reveal More’s transmuting of personal experience into enduring monuments of faith.
The Dialogue of Comfort was More’s third major work in dialogue form, after Utopia (1516) and A Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529). In those previous works he represents himself as a speaker in the dialogue. By contrast, the Dialogue of Comfort, divided into three ‘books’, presents two voices in a fictional dramatic setting distanced in both place and time from the author. A disconsolate young Hungarian, Vincent, has turned to his sick uncle, Antony, for counsel in the face of imminent Turkish persecution of Christians, following the calamitous Hungarian defeat at Mohács on 28 August 1526 by the forces of the Ottoman Empire under its sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. Vincent complains, ‘me thynketh the gretest comfort that a man can haue, ys when he may see that he shall sone be gone’ (CW 12:3). It is against such despair and the temptations of fear that the Dialogue is ostensibly addressed, and in so doing artfully interweaves fact with fiction, and the present with the recent past.
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