Henry VIII | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VIII | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary



Chamberlain enters, reading a letter. He is dismayed to learn some horses he had sent for were taken by one of Wolsey's men. Norfolk and Suffolk enter. They all discuss the king's growing distance from his wife. Chamberlain remarks the king thinks the marriage may be invalid. Suffolk suggests there's another woman. They chalk all the trouble up to Wolsey, who has brought up the idea of a divorce because he wants Henry to marry the French king's sister. They hope the king will find out how corrupt Wolsey actually is.

Chamberlain leaves. Norfolk and Suffolk go to see the king, who is irritated by their presence. When Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius enter, Henry is glad to see them and quickly dismisses Norfolk and Suffolk, who leave. Wolsey explains Cardinal Campeius has come from Rome with a message about the divorce. Henry asks Wolsey to call his new secretary, Gardiner. Gardiner, as it turns out, is loyal to Wolsey. As Gardiner talks to Henry, Campeius and Wolsey discuss Wolsey's poor reputation and share gossip about the secretary previous to Gardiner. Henry decrees the divorce proceedings will occur in Blackfriars, a Dominican friary sometimes used for large meetings. He expresses sadness about the impending divorce but is adamant it must be done.


The general discontent with Wolsey has spread among the nobles as it has among the commoners. While in the previous scene, two gentlemen aired their complaints about Wolsey, in this scene, a similar conversation occurs among three nobles. In general no one likes Wolsey, and they are all amazed and dismayed the king continues to be influenced by a man who is so clearly trying to control the situation. Even Gardiner is loyal to Wolsey, not to the king.

Although Campeius arrives with a message from the pope about the divorce, the content of the message is not revealed. Henry seems to be either uncaring or confident of the opinion of Rome, since he is determined to move forward with the divorce. The divorce isn't just a personal matter, of course. Dissolving ties to Katherine threatens England's peaceful relationship with Spain. Wolsey is evidently hoping to secure some kind of bond with France by marriage between Henry and the king of France's sister, and is willing to offend Spain in the process. Little does he know Henry has a different plan—one that includes Anne Bullen.

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