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Free Study Guide-Henry VIII by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Synopsis Notes
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Wolsey

The delineation of Wolsey is strong, comprehensive, subtle and profound. All the way from his magnificent arrogance at the start to his penetrating and persuasive wisdom on the quitting scene, the space is rich with deep and telling lines of character. The corrupting influence of place and power have stimulated the worsen elements of his nature into dominance. They are pride, ambition, duplicity, insolence, vindictiveness, a passion for intriguing and circumventing arts, a willful and elaborate stifling of conscience and pity, confidence in is potency of speech that make him reckless of truth and contemptuous of simplicity and purity. When the reversal of fortune overtakes him, its first effect is to render him more truthful. In the great scene of Act III, Scene II, where Norfolk, Suffolk and Surrey hunt him down with changes and reproaches, his conscience is stung into resurgence. He begins to see, in their malice and their exultation at his fall, a reflection of his own moral features. Remorseful, he begins to search and hate in himself the things that show so hateful and so mean in his enemies.

His repentance is genuine and not a mere exercise in self- cozenage, or a fit of self-commiseration. He takes is vigor and understanding into the process. And so is carried through a real renovation of the heart and rejuvenating of the soul: his former sensibility of principle, is early faith in truth and right, revive. With the solid sense of having triumphed over his faults and put down his baser self, his self-respect returns. He now feels himself stronger with the world against him than he had been with the world at his beck.

The best proof of his earnestness is that he turns away his selfishness, and becomes generous, preferring another’s welfare and happiness to his own. He bids Cromwell fly from him and bestow his services where the benefits thereof will fall to the doer. A selfish man would have repined the loss and aid and comfort of a cherished and trusted servant. Finally, in his parting counsel to Cromwell, there is a heartfelt calmness and energy of truth.

Katherine

She maintains the same simple, ouster and solid sweetness of mind and manners through all the changes of fortune. She rises by her humiliation and is made perfect by suffering. It gives her full sway our deeper sympathies necessary for a just appreciation of the beauty of her character.


She is mild, meek and discreet; and the harmonious blending of these qualities with her high pride give her a very peculiar charm. She is plain in mind and person; has neither great nor brilliant parts; and of this she is fully aware, or she knows herself thoroughly. But she is, nevertheless, truly great. This she doesn’t know from the symmetry and composure wherein all the elements of her being stand and move together. So she presents a remarkable instance of greatness in the whole, with the absence of it in the parts.

Her judgment and discrimination is clear and exact. From the first broaching of the divorce, she knows the thing is a foregone conclusion with the King. She is also in full possession of the secret why it is so. She feels her utter helplessness, living in a land of strangers, with a capricious tyrant against her. She knows no man will dare to befriend her cause with honest heartiness. And no trial to be had can be anything but a mockery of justice. She prepares to meet the crises with a modest, gentle and dignified wisdom.

She holds onto her position as a Queen one iota more than its worth. Because it is, to her, the necessary symbol of her delicacy as a woman. She has difficulty parting with it because it has grown to be a part of her life and her very being.

She knows her solid worth and her virtue is so sorely tried that it enhances to her sense the insult and wrong that are put upon her. It takes the form of canker eating into her soul, destroying her health and finally sapping her life completely. With considerable forbearance and rescue she struggles against the worst parts of her husband’s character. And tries by conscientious art to make the best out of his strong but hard and selfish nature.

Katherine, in her seclusion and sorrow, presents a noble picture. She leads a life of homely simplicity. Always beautiful on the throne, in her humiliation she is more beautiful still. She carries no bitterness just faith hope and charity. She is a touching example of womanly virtue and gentleness. Candid and plain herself, she honors plainness and candor in others. Her calling the messenger "a saucy fellow", who breaks in so abruptly upon her, shows just enough of human weakness to make her appear not quite an angel yet; and in her death scene are found the divines notes of a "soul by resignation sanctified".

Henry

The worst parts of is character are kept mainly in the background. They are veiled so adroitly and so transparently as to suggest them to all who are willing to see them. His moral corruption is not directly exposed or affirmed but is visible subtly in facts. His hard-hearted and despotic capriciousness is brought to points of easy inference and clearly seen when Suffolk say, in Act II, Scene II, "His conscience has crept too near another lady."

In the whole matter, of the divorce Henry acts from motives he does not openly acknowledge. He wishes it to be known. He shows much cunning and ability in pressing these considerations into view. But it is plain that he rather tries to persuade himself that hey are true than really believes them so to be. His self-deceit makes it difficult to judge whether he is willfully deceiving others or unconsciously deceiving himself. He willfully embraces deceit because it offers a free course for his carnal-mindedness and raging self-will.

He divorce motive brings into focus Henry’s not so flattering aspects of personality. But there is much more to him as a ruler and as a person. An astute judge of character, he lets able statesmen like Wolsey handle the mundane matters of state affairs. Yet, he interferes where his interference is required. In Act I, Scene II, when he is fully informed of the new taxation and the punishment, he cancels the tax and quite gracefully grants pardon to these who revolted against it. He shows himself to be a ruler who truly cares about what becomes of his people.

He is a man capable of much depth of affection for people he befriends. Wolsey’s betrayal hurts him to the quick, because a man he loves betrays him. As he says, "I have keep you next my heart," it is this betrayal love that rankles him the most. His loyalty and warm affection for Cranmer are unmistakable. He is very protective towards the unworldly clergyman and is unstinting when it comes to offering him help. On the whole, Henry comes across as a strong character inspiring love for his virtues and disdain for his vices.

Buckingham

He first appears in the full-blown pride of rank and talents. He is wise in counsel, rich in culture and accomplishment, of captivating department, learned and eloquent in discourse. A too self-flattering sense of is strength and importance has made him insolent and presumptuous; and his self-control has failed form the very elevation that rendered it most needful to him. In case of Henry’s dying without issue, he was the next male heir to the throne in the Beaufort branch of the Lancastrian House.

So he plays with aspiring thoughts, and practices the art of popularity, and calls in the aid of fortunetellers to feed his ambitious schemes. Thus he puts forth those leaves of hope which, as they express the worst parts of him, naturally provoke the worst parts of others. So he invites danger while blinding him to its approach. All things within and around are made ripe for his upsetting and ruin, and while he is exultingly spreading shares for the cardinal, he is himself caught and crushed with the strong toils of that master hand.

Buckingham is a worthy man, as is attested by all who know him, from the King to the people in the street. He is a good friend and a man with a sound mind, as the Duke of Norfolk states in Act I, Scene I. In spite of this, his open antagonism against Wolsey proves to be his undoing. He goes to the gallows, not like a shamed traitor, but like a proud martyr. He is calm, forgiving and resigned to his fate. His key attitude proclaims him guiltless and touches the hearts of all the people around him. He is noble in the truest sense of the word.

Anne

Although the length of her role in the play is rather modest, she is nonetheless quite important from the dramatic point of view. The whole issue of the King’s divorce revolves around her. It is her presence that initiates a chain of events that have far reaching consequences for the people involved as well as for the entire nation of England.

She is regarded more for the gem that is to proceed from her than for what she is herself. Her character is a good deal screened by the purpose of her in the action, but nevertheless it feels significantly through. There is little in her of a positive nature one way or another. She appears notwithstanding a rather amiable person. She is possessed with a girlish fancy and hankering for the varieties and glitters of state, but having no sense of its duties and dignities.

She has a kindly heart, but is so void of commonly principle and delicacy as to be from the first evidently elated by the royal benevolence that would put an honorable person to shame. She has a real and true pity for the good Queen although she doesn’t understand the true nature of Katherine’s sorrow.

There is much in her nature that is simple, open and easy to understand she is seen as a young noblewoman ready to partake of the entertainment that is offered her in Wolsey’s supper party the scene that introduces her. She apparently makes no effort to attract the King; but once he has fixed his interest on her she does not discourage him either.

Act II, Scene III presents a clearer picture of her as she converses with her friend, on old lady. True, she is sorry for the Queen, but it is more for the latter’s loss of "pomp" that she sees as the tragedy. She doesn’t even begin to understand Katherine’s sense of betrayal at being excluded from the life of a man she loves. Anne sees only the outer glittering of the title of the "Queen" and not the heart of the woman who wears the crown. Nevertheless, she is young and star struck by the glamour of royalty. Along with her undisputed regard for the Queen, she does much to redeem her in the eyes of those who would judge her.

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