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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 IV, SCENE II

Summary

Katherine, the princess’ dowager, is now in residence at Kimbolton and she is ailing. At her inquiry, Griffith, her gentleman usher, relates to her the manner in which Wolsey died. On hearing Katherine’s bitter words about Wolsey, Griffith tries to make her the dead man’s human qualities and virtues. The musicians play for her, and tired she falls asleep. In her sleep she sees a vision, in which the spirits of peace promise her eternal happiness. When she wake up she looks so worn and tired that her servants fear she is dying. Capacious, a representative of the Spanish Emperor, visits Katherine on behalf of his master, Katherine’s nephew. He conveys to her the emperor’s sympathy for her condition. Before Capacious leaves, Katherine hands him a letter to be delivered to Henry, the King. The letter requests him to provide for their daughter, her serving men and women. The scene closes with her giving her woman patience, the final instructions about her funeral.


Notes

Since this scene comes directly after Anne’s coronation it provides a vivid contrast between the situation of the two women. The blow of the divorce is too great for Katherine to bear and her health is rapidly disintegrating. She is aware that she is fast approaching her end and hence Wolsey’s death takes on a new meaning for her. Without a doubt he was partly responsible for the state she is in now. But in spite of that on hearing the pathetic way he met his end causes her to exclaim "Alas, Poor man!"

Her hate toward Wolsey remains unabated until Griffith succeeds in showing her Wolsey’s human nature. This helps her to resolve her bitter feelings toward the dead man. She does not fear her approaching end. In fact, she looks upon death as "celestial harmony" and shows placid acceptance of her fate. Death promises her ultimate reward and justice that she deserves but did not get in the living world. This is the meaning of the vision she sees in her sleep.

The message of sympathy and comfort that capacious carries from the Spanish emperor only serves to highlight the fact that when she did need it, help did not come to her from her Spanish relatives. And she wishes her nephew well.

The last request she makes of King Henry VIII, her ex-husband, concerns the welfare of their child and her serving men and women. Even as life is ebbing away from her, her concern is focused on ensuring the welfare of people around her. Her words reveal the loyalty and devotion she received from her servants, who remained with her throughout her difficult times. She has lived her life honoring her roles of a wife and a queen and requests to be buried in accordance with the honor she has earned. The scene ends on these poignant words.

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