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Henry VIII

William Shakespeare

Act II, Scene iv

Act II, Scene iii

Act III, Scene i

Summary

Many official types enter a hall at Blackfriars, including bishops, dukes, scribes, then Cardinal Wolsey, Cardinal Campeius, and the king and queen. Wolsey calls for silence while the report from Rome is read, but Henry says it has already been read; there is no need to read it again. Queen Katharine kneels at Henry's feet and speaks:

She asks him to have pity on her, now that she is a stranger in a foreign kingdom. She asks how she has offended Henry, what she has done to make him want to cast her off. She says she has been a true and loyal wife, always obeying him in every matter for 20 years, and had many children with him. She says she is willing to have God punish her if she has ever done anything against Henry, but she has not. She reminds him that Henry's father and her father, the king of Spain, were wise men, who conferred and agreed that their marriage was lawful. She begs the king to allow her time to receive counsel from Spain before submitting to a trial.

Wolsey declares that many learned men are on hand, yet they cannot sway the king from his course, so there is no point in delaying proceedings. Campeius agrees that they should proceed. The queen then addresses Wolsey and says she believes he is her enemy, but she will not allow him to be her judge. She believes that he has caused this divorce, and she repeats that she will not let him judge her.

Wolsey says that she sounds unlike herself, and she does him wrong. He claims to have nothing against her and that the case against her has been discussed by many others besides himself. He denies having stirred up trouble in the marriage, and he notes that he is speaking before the king, who he hopes will defend him against Katharine's assault.

Katharine says that she is unable to defend herself against Wolsey's cunning. She accuses him of being arrogant and proud and of having gone above the power of his office to influence the king. She repeats that she will not be judged by him, and she tries to depart. Campeius and the king call her back, but she insists that she will not make an appearance during the rest of the proceeding and leaves.

Henry lets her go, saying that no man has had a better wife than her. He speaks further of her noble and obedient nature. Wolsey asks the king to declare whether he has influenced him unduly with regards to Katharine, and the king consents to clear Wolsey's name, excusing him from Katharine's accusations.

The king then relates how he came to doubt his marriage to Katharine. He tells how an ambassador from France came to negotiate for the hand of the king's daughter and asked if she were legitimate, which set the king thinking. He thought he must not be doing right in the eyes of heaven, since every child born to Katharine was either born dead or died soon thereafter or was a girl. Believing this was a sign that Katharine was unfit to be queen, he started the divorce process, despite his feelings for her. The king says he first spoke to some of his nobles about his plans, later asking the opinion of all his men. Therefore, it was not out of dislike for the queen that he chose to divorce her but out of a universal belief that the marriage had been unlawful.

Campeius says they must adjourn until another day when the queen is present to complete the divorce. Henry notes to himself that he does not like the tricks of these cardinals, and he has no respect for Rome. He looks forward to the return of Cranmer, his trustworthy religious advisor.

Commentary

Like Buckingham's day in court, the queen must be tried before she can be cast off. But the "trial" seems a mere formality, since Henry is not concerned with the words from Rome so much as his own decision that he must be done with Katharine. Katharine begs him to have pity on her, but he does not reply to her. Rather, the cardinals respond. So, Katharine speaks of her clear-headed suspicions about Wolsey, presented first in the hearing of Buckingham's Surveyor--suspicions that the king still does not have. Wolsey claims that he did not influence the king against Katharine, and the king assents--but only after Katharine has left the scene. He seems unable to speak directly to his cast-off queen, though he speaks of her good nature as soon as she leaves the room.

The king explains at length how he came to decide he must divorce Katharine. He claims that he began to wonder if it was lawful for him to have married his brother's widow, and the fact that she never gave birth to live male children made a case for the unlawfulness of their union. While it is true that Henry would have wanted a male heir, Henry's explanation sounds like a weak excuse. If Wolsey planted the idea of divorce in the king's mind, he did it to forge new alliances through a marriage between Henry and the sister of the king of France. But Henry seems to have another woman in mind. The divorce from Katharine conveniently is explained as a response to a flare-up of Henry's conscience about the lawfulness of the marriage and a desire for male heirs, but perhaps the real goal is merely another liaison with a different woman--i.e., Anne Bullen.

Wolsey has continued to wield strong influence over the king through both the fall of Buckingham and that of Katharine, but he will not last much longer. It is remarkable that the king has so far not become aware of prevailing opinions against Wolsey, but now is the end of Wolsey's run of power; Wolsey is the next to fall.

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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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