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Free Study Guide-Henry VIII by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Synopsis Notes
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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES

ACT II, SCENE II

Summary

This scene occurs in the palace. Lord Chamberlain has just received a letter informing him that Cardinal Wolsey has seized the horses that Chamberlain had sent for. The Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk encounter Chamberlain in a palace antechamber and inquire about the King. Chamberlain informs them that the King is worried about the legal status of his marriage. Norfolk says that it is Cardinal Wolsey who has placed the seeds of doubt in the King’s mind. They praise the queen’s virtue and regret the deterioration of her marriage. Chamberlain says that Wolsey’s real aim is to get the King married to the French King’s sister. Norfolk and Suffolk decide to distinct the King from his problems by bringing up state matters. It only serves to anger the King. Wolsey and Campeius enter and are warmly welcomed by the King. The King commands the two dukes to leave and they do so. Campeius is the representative that Rome has sent for participating in the matter of the King’s divorce. The King sends his secretary Gardiner with this news to the Queen. Gardiner although employed by the King is in truth Wolsey’s man. It is decided that the proceedings of the divorce be carried out in the hall of the Black-Friars.

Notes

On the surface, this scene appears to be very simple. Despite its simplicity and straightforward action it provides several sights into what is building up behind the scenes. The foremost of these is regarding Wolsey: he unfairly appropriates Chamberlain’s horses. This fact coupled with the latter’s resigned attitude to this injustice shows that Wolsey is powerful enough to abuse the privileges of his status without any fear. Nevertheless, his condescension towards nobility rankles very strongly with the latter, as is shown by the conversation between the two Dukes and the Chamberlain.


The public scene reveals the high regard the Queen is held in by the common man. This scene shows a similar attitude by the nobility. Their conversation shows that they believe she is being treated unfairly. This is seen clearly in a caustic comment made by the Duke of Suffolk, "No, his conscience has crept too near another lady."

Another purpose this scene serves is to reveal what the King is going through at this moment. He is catholic and the Catholic Church forbids divorce, he knows that he is wronging a woman who has always loved him. So not only does he have to face his troubled conscience but also obtain the church’s support. The ostensible reason given for the termination of the marriage is that, the parliament has found it to be unlawful, so in effect it was never a legal marriage at all. The King is trying to convince himself that by divorcing Katherine he is doing the proper legal thing, as if it is his duty to do so.

At this moment, he wants men who support the propagation of the lie are living. Hence he calls Wolsey "The quiet of my wounded conscience." Wolsey wants this divorces as much as the King, although for a different reason. The King’s abrupt and angry behavior with the two Dukes shows that he wants no reminders of nationality or honesty around him he sends them away.

Meanwhile, the wheels have been turning, Wolsey has organized a committee consisting of learned Christian men to be the judges for the trial, including Campeius, the representative from Rome. The action is building up quickly, leading to a climax - the King’s divorce.

Gardiner the King’s new secretary is a man whose true loyalty lies with Wolsey. So Wolsey exercises his influence on the King in court as well as court ways. He has skillfully removed Doctor Race, a man loyal to the King, from this position. This shows the intricate web of power that has at its center Wolsey. He is not content with plain success, he wants more, and he delves deep and plants the seeds of his influence in hidden places. His mind is truly very subtle and adept at building political power.

The scene ends with the King sending a message to the Queen that Cardinal Campeius has come from Rome to be present at the divorce proceedings. After sending Gardiner to do this he decides on the hall of Black-Friars as the place where the proceedings will occur. He is very eager and unemotional as he makes these arrangements. Hence when he says that he is deeply grieved as he is losing his wife, it sounds hollow and unconvincing. His words "But conscience, conscience! O’tis a tender place; and I must leave her" sound like an unsuccessful attempt to convince himself that he is morally justified.

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