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Henry VIII | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VIII | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



In a hall at York Palace, everything is ready for Wolsey's dinner party. Guests enter, including Anne Bullen. Sir Henry Guildford greets the ladies on behalf of Cardinal Wolsey. Chamberlain, Lovell, and Sands enter, and Guildford chides them humorously about being late. Chamberlain seats Sands next to Anne, whom he flirtatiously kisses. Wolsey enters and greets everyone, but his entrance is shortly followed by an unexpected drum, trumpet, and cannon salutation. A servant enters and announces that some foreign ambassadors have arrived. Wolsey invites them in, but when they enter it is actually Henry VIII and some of his friends, disguised as shepherds and wearing masks. Dancing commences. Henry chooses Anne to dance with and is captivated by her beauty. Wolsey is not fooled by Henry's disguise, and has Lord Chamberlain ask some of the other masquers if his suspicion that the king is present is correct. Chamberlain reports back in the affirmative, saying Wolsey can reveal the secret, which Wolsey does. Henry unmasks and compliments Wolsey on the party. He asks Chamberlain about the lady he was dancing with, and discovers Anne's identity. The company then exits to another chamber.


This scene marks a turning point for Henry VIII—one that will change the course of his reign and all of English history. In a move reminiscent of Romeo meeting Juliet at a party, Shakespeare has Henry meet Anne Bullen at a dinner party quite by accident. Like Romeo, he is smitten, and the wheels are set in motion. Like Romeo and Juliet, the future lovers are, at first, unaware of each other's identities.

It is important to note that the fateful meeting takes place at Wolsey's party but was not orchestrated by Wolsey. In fact, Wolsey will try to arrange a marriage between a member of the French royal family, and his resistance to the marriage of Anne and Henry will become a big problem for him later on.

The entrance of Anne into the story also develops the theme of women, since she barely speaks in the scene and actually has few lines of any substance in the play. Her role at the party seems ornamental, as does the presence of the ladies in general—Sands is clearly seated next to ladies of the court so he can enjoy their company and a little light flirtation. It is Anne's beauty—absent of dialogue with the king—that catches the king's attention. In contrast Katherine is portrayed as an eloquent speaker and a woman of brains and grace. Yet it is Anne who will bear Elizabeth I, and Elizabeth I who will go on to rule the country. The women in this play, including Elizabeth I, whose presence is felt because the play is about her, not because she is a character in it, are all quite different, and each one gives the audience a different perspective on womanhood.

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