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Henry VIII

William Shakespeare

Act III, Scene i

Act II, Scene iv

Act III, Scene ii

Summary

The queen is in her apartment when the arrival of Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius is announced. The cardinals request that they speak in a private room, but the queen's conscience is clear, so she is content to converse in a public room. Wolsey says he has not come to accuse her but to learn her thoughts on the dissolution of her marriage and to offer advice. Katharine does not believe that they are on an honorable errand, but she nevertheless voices thanks for their efforts. Katharine declares that she is a woman alone, without friends or hope. Wolsey insists that she does have friends in England, but she disagrees. Campeius advises Katharine to put her hope in the king and to believe that he will yet protect her when they are divorced. Katharine accuses them of being corrupt, and she reminds them that there is still a higher force to judge them, God.

Katharine tells the cardinals that she thought they were holy men, and she is shocked to see their apparent pleasure in making her life wretched. She cannot believe they would advise her to put her future in the hands of one who has already rejected her. The cardinals tell her she is mistaken. But the queen speaks of how obedient and honorable a wife she had been, yet rewarded only with dishonorable divorce. Thus, she says, even being a constant woman and a good wife cannot save a marriage. Katharine says only death will take the title of queen from her. She wishes she had never come to England, a world of flattery and untruth.

Wolsey breaks in to insist that their ends are honorable, that they want to cure her sorrow, and she misunderstands them in thinking evil of them. As peacemakers, they suggest that she not aggravate the break with the king, but try to stay in his good favor. Campeius assures her that the king loves her, and he promises they will try to help her. But Katharine tells them to do whatever they want, declaring sarcastically that if she has misunderstood their intentions, it is because she is a woman, lacking understanding.

Commentary

Katharine, unlike Buckingham, will not go quietly into the future maliciously created for her by the cardinals' scheming. Faced with the cardinals in her chamber, the queen accuses them of mistreating her for sport and of falsely claiming they can aid her. She voices her anger at her lost position, and she forcibly declares that she will not give up her title while she lives. While Buckingham forgave those who turned on him, the queen does not. Yet she withholds critique of her husband, who was so clearly swayed by the cardinals' influence. She reserves all her wrath for those who have done her wrong--namely, Wolsey.

Yet never do the cardinals waver and admit any part in bringing her down. Do they believe that what they have done is the right thing? What can be the real intention of the cardinals in visiting the queen? Do they genuinely want to help her because they truly believe that the divorce was an advisable move, if upsetting for Katharine? That conclusion seems plausible in that they hold up under her attack, insisting that they do want to help her, that the king will continue to aid her, and that he still loves her. Are they speaking the truth? Perhaps, but Katharine certainly is, too; she can't rely on the support of the king after their divorce, nor can she rely on anyone else's support. She is truly adrift in a land where she formerly reigned.

Katharine is neither doomed to death like Buckingham, nor has she been charged with any treason. She may live, but as a woman in Elizabethan England, being unmarried in a foreign country without any protectors may have been tantamount to an unpleasant imprisonment. Her name may be clear of wrongdoing, but having been divorced will stigmatize her thereafter.

Katharine has been tried and punished not for any errors or faults but for having been the wrong person for the job. Henry's dissatisfaction that Katharine never gave birth to male heirs, plus his attraction to Anne and Wolsey's urgings toward divorce all together bring about her fall. Of course, Wolsey wants Henry to marry French royalty and forge political ties, but Henry's choice of Anne eventually brings about the birth of the future Queen Elizabeth. Katharine's real fault was not being the future mother of Elizabeth; thus, she had to go.

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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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