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Henry VIII

William Shakespeare

Act V, Scenes iii-iv and Epilogue

Act V, Scene ii

Analysis

Summary

A porter and a large group of men enter the scene. The crowd has arrived to see Elizabeth's christening. One man and the porter converse about how to keep the rabble from blocking the entrance to the palace yard. The porter thinks the crowd is made up of the same louts who go to public executions or who cheer loudest at the playhouse. The Lord Chamberlain enters and yells at the porter for letting the crowd block so much space, for soon royal ladies will need to pass. Lord Chamberlain suspects that the crowd is made up of folks from the suburbs, and he tells the porter to take care of them. Finally, the royals arrive, and the porter shouts to the crowd to make way.

Cranmer, Norfolk, Suffolk, and other noblemen enter the scene, with the child Elizabeth. Then, Henry enters. Cranmer baptizes Elizabeth and makes a speech about her future greatness. He says the infant holds great promise for England, and few now can imagine the great things she shall accomplish. She will know truth, she will be loved and feared, and she will be a great ruler. When she dies, she will be reborn like a phoenix in her heir, and all her good attributes will carry on in the next ruler. The king is amazed at the wonders of which Cranmer speaks. Cranmer goes on to announce that Elizabeth will bring happiness to England, and when she dies a virgin, the world will mourn her.

Henry is pleased with Cranmer's words and says that with this child he finally feels he has accomplished something great. He looks forward to seeing what she will do from his future post in heaven.

The character of the Epilogue enters, saying it is likely that the play did not please its audience. Some may have come to doze for a few acts but were woken by the trumpets. Others came to hear the court made fun of but were disappointed. The only praise the Epilogue anticipates must come from good women, who will have been pleased with the portrayal of one in Katharine. And, if the ladies clap, then their men must surely follow.

Commentary

Once again the common people enthusiastically try to attend a major event of the court. They crowd around the church, hoping to see the baptism of Elizabeth. For the first time we see characters who speak in prose instead of verse, which probably causes the Lord Chamberlain to accuse them of being from the suburbs, a region much mocked by the urbane city dwellers. The Globe Theater was located in the suburbs, so Lord Chamberlain is actually speaking lines making fun of the audience.

When Elizabeth is baptized, Cranmer makes a speech about her future greatness. He says that all Elizabeth's good traits will be carried on in her heir, James I, the king of England at the time when Henry VIII was written. Thus, Shakespeare is complimenting the present king through complimenting Elizabeth, his predecessor, presumably putting himself in good standing with the ruler.

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Not My Favorite (In fact the opposite)

by ReadingShakespeareby450th, July 13, 2013

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:

http://ow.ly/mVKQx

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