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Henry VIII | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VIII | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary



In Queen Katherine's apartments, one of her women sings a song to distract her from her sadness. Wolsey and Campeius arrive for a visit, which makes Katherine suspicious. They try to make the conversation more private, but Katherine is adamant she has done nothing requiring secrecy. Wolsey apologizes for whatever he has done to make her so angry with him, and both he and Campeius maintain they only want to offer counsel. Katherine remains suspicious.

The cardinals ask her to let the king deal with her situation, to avoid the disgrace a trial will bring. Katherine renounces them aggressively and calls them un-Christian. The argument rages on between Wolsey and Katherine. Katherine continues to defend herself, mourn her situation, and maintain there is no one to help her. Wolsey tries to reassure her, but he and Campeius both warn her to not lose the king's favor. Katherine ends the scene by making a sarcastic apology to them, blaming her lack of wit as a woman for her behavior, and says they should do as they please.


She may be on her way down on Fortune's wheel, but Katherine isn't done dishing out reproaches for the power-hungry cardinals. She apologizes and blames her lack of wit on being a woman, but her apology is sarcastic. They are evidently unsatisfied by her level of noncompliance with the king's wishes. They want her to concede the king is correct in divorcing her and to stop making a fuss. Under the guise of helping her out of the goodness of their hearts, they pressure her to simply go along with the divorce and trust the king will take care of her. Katherine is unconvinced by their assurances, and instead lashes out at their lack of compassion and morals. Her anger is the righteous anger of an honest person treated unfairly, and she hammers home the judgment that these two "Christian" leaders are terribly un-Christian. In contrast, she believes she has acted with the utmost virtue. And indeed it is hard to find fault with Katherine, unless one considers her stubborn refusal to give in a fault. Certainly she seems to throw caution to the wind.

While Katherine is not actually accused of a crime and is not tried or condemned as Buckingham was, her ruin is nearly as complete. The necessity of moving ever toward the birth of Elizabeth I requires Katherine make way for Anne. It is this necessity that brings about the suffering of a virtuous queen.

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