Act I, Scenes iii-iv
Lord Chamberlain and Lord Sands discuss the oddity of the nobles' behavior since they returned from the trip to France. New continental fashions taken up by these returning men from the French seem ridiculous, and the two lords make fun of their dandyish clothes and manners. Lovell enters, relating proposed reformations urging the returned nobles to give up French-influenced styles. The three agree that such reformations are the right idea.
Lovell says he is on his way to a great dinner celebration at Wolsey's house, to which the Lords Chamberlain and Sands are also invited. They agree that Wolsey is generous, and they set out on their way to his home.
Guildford says a dedication at the beginning of the events at Wolsey's house, welcoming the guests. Lord Chamberlain, Lovell, and Sands arrive, and Sands is seated at a table next to Anne Bullen. Sands flirts with Anne, and Wolsey enters the party.
Hearing cannon fire, Wolsey discovers that new guests have arrived. Lord Chamberlain discovers that the strangers are shepherds apparently arrived from France, who had heard talk of Wolsey's party and were so impressed with the tales that they had to attend. Wolsey invites them in. The shepherds are in fact King Henry VIII and some of his men in disguise. The shepherds dance with the ladies, Henry with Anne. He is very taken by her beauty.
Wolsey tells the shepherds that if one of them has a higher position than himself, then he will surrender his place. Wolsey strolls among the shepherds and sees through the king's disguise, unmasking him. Henry then asks Lord Chamberlain about Anne. Telling her it is bad manners to dance with her without kissing her, he kisses her. Then, he goes to a private banquet room with his men, promising Anne that he won't forget her.
Lord Chamberlain and Sands mock and scorn French fashions (people of Shakespeare's day did make fun of continental styles, which they thought were effeminate and bizarre). A certain critique of the nobles of Shakespeare's day is implicit in this exchange.
Henry meets Anne Bullen, his next wife and mother of the future Queen Elizabeth, at Wolsey's party. Anne is quite talkative with Sands but exchanges nearly no words with Henry. Many parts of Anne's role appear offstage; she decides to marry Henry, actually marries him, is crowned, and gives birth to Elizabeth all offstage. Unlike Katharine, who speaks many impassioned lines, Anne's role in this play is minimal, with little to give her a sense of personality and hardly any lines to speak.
In many ways, the goal of this play is for Queen Elizabeth to be born. Wolsey stands in the way of that goal because he schemes for Henry's next wife to be the French king's sister; only by accident does he allow Henry and Anne to meet. Wolsey's downfall comes from his perceived treason; but in the grander arc of this play, he must fall because he does not encourage ties between Henry and Anne, which will lead to the birth of Elizabeth and ultimately the rule of the king contemporary in Shakespeare's time, James I.
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