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Free Study Guide-Henry VIII by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Synopsis Notes
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The play does not have dramatic center. There is no ascent, no culmination and no subsidence. It is not arranged in the usual order of "exposition-climax-outcome" mode. The opening of the play does not reveal a conflict that reaches a climax mid way and is finally resolved. Instead of this, one piece of action is followed by anot2her with several climaxes that occur individually in the lives of various major characters individually.

The first act introduces and completes the fall of Buckingham’s. The climax for this character occurs with his trial and the outcome is his execution. The tragedy of Buckingham is succeeded by the tragedy of Wolsey. The culmination of the latter is seen with the downfall and subsequent death of Wolsey. The King’s favoring Anne in Scene IV starts a chain of events that reaches a climax with his divorce from Katherine. The outcome is he tragic death of Katherine and the King’s marriage to Anne. The latter leads to a high point with the birth of Princess Elizabeth and the play closes with triumph and rejoicing.


The unity of the play, such as it is, does not arise from the relation of its parts to each other. It is only discoverable on analysis and is due to the fact that events presented illustrate the spirit of the time, and the course of history. The dominant fact of Henry VIII’s reign are the ruin of feudalism, the growth of a great monarchy, the fall of Catholicism and the establishment of reformed faith. These facts, discoverable in chronicle history make England the play’s protagonist. Hence, in spite of the tragedies of individuals overwhelmed by the law of national evolution, the play closes with a chart of triumph. This is a coherent conception, but it does not land itself very well to the purposes of the drama. Thereby giving Henry VIII its rather irregular structure.

This results in a play where the current of both dramatic and historic interest is repeatedly broken and disordered by misplaced and premature semi-catastrophes, which do not help each other at all; instead of flowing on with continuous and increasing volume to one proper catastrophe.

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