One gentleman meets another in the city street, where they wait to see Anne, now queen, pass on the way to her coronation. The last time they met in the street was for the sad event of Buckingham's trial, so they are glad for a return to the more usual pomp of the royalty. They discuss a list of those who are to be promoted today, including Suffolk and Norfolk, and they note that Katharine has been renamed "Princess Dowager" after the divorce.
The coronation passes with Suffolk, Norfolk, Anne, Surrey, and other important state officials. The gentlemen comment on who holds which decoration of state and how impressed they are with Anne. A third gentleman arrives, having just seen the coronation ceremony. He relates it to the other two.
He tells how everyone filed into the Abbey and that the people were so impressed with the beauty of Anne. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, performed the ceremony making her queen, the choir performed, and the procession passed out of the church to the court for celebrations. The third gentlemen notes that Gardiner was there and is not fond of Cranmer. But the gentlemen agree that nothing can come of this rivalry, as Cranmer has one friend who will not abandon him--namely Cromwell, who is in favor with the king and just got a promotion. The gentlemen depart.
In Katharine's apartments, she asks her attendants to tell her about the death of Cardinal Wolsey. Apparently, after his arrest Wolsey grew ill and died a broken man. Katharine says she will speak of him with charity but goes on to mention how his enormous ambition shackled the kingdom; he used bribes for ecclesiastical favors, he said lies and was duplicitous in words and actions, and he was generally a bad example for the clergy.
But her attendant Griffith speaks well of Wolsey, noting that he was a good scholar, kind and generous to his friends, and a patron of education. Upon his demise he discovered humility and found himself and died fearing God. Katharine listens to Griffith's speech and says she hopes Griffith will eulogize her when she dies, since he speaks so well. Griffith's words have made her want to honor the man who she hated most. She wishes Wolsey peace in death.
Katharine goes to sleep with her attendants by her. She sees a vision of six people in white robes with garlands around their heads. They dance around Katharine, offering her a garland, and then dance away. Katharine wakes and calls to her attendants, asking if they have seen anything. She tells about the vision, saying it promised her eternal happiness. The attendants note to each other that they think she has not yet long to live if she is seeing such visions.
A messenger enters, announcing the arrival of Capucius, an ambassador from Katharine's father, Charles V of Spain. Capucius says he has been sent by Henry to ask after her health, but Katharine says he is too late, since she is already dying. She gives Capucius a letter for the king, in which she asks Henry to care for their daughter and to provide for her servants, who have all been faithful during Katharine's life. Katharine asks Capucius to tell the king of her in all humility, saying that she will soon die and not be a trouble to him. Calling to her servants, she prepares for bed.
As in the street scenes after Buckingham's trial, we see that the citizens of Henry's reign are very interested in the events of the court and anxious to be on hand to witness pivotal events. Seeing the coronation is very exciting for them. They seem very impressed with Anne and pity Katharine; they seem to hold judgment of the king's actions.
Katharine, meanwhile, hears of Wolsey's death and foresees her own. She is able to forgive Wolsey's bad treatment of her because of the good words Griffith speaks on his behalf, explaining how Wolsey came to be a humble man in the end. Later Katharine stresses her own humility to the king, through Capucius. Humility and forgiveness come to all those cast off by the king in the end; even Katharine, who held her wrath for Wolsey the longest, can forgive him. Yet neither she nor Wolsey is able to live long after being exiled from the court.
These two scenes have unusually long stage directions during the procession and Katharine's vision. Many critics believe Shakespeare co-wrote Henry VIII with John Fletcher, the man who followed Shakespeare as chief playwright at the Globe, though proof is inconclusive. At the very least, these long stage directions are uncharacteristic of Shakespeare's usual style and may have been added by someone else, whether or not it was Fletcher.
In reading all of Shakespeare by his 450th birthday, I just finished Henry VIII. It was my least favorite of the Bard's plays, seeming to be more a platform to praise Elizabeth I than entertain audiences. In case you're interested in my take, I've blogged about it at: