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Henry VIII | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VIII | Act 5, Scene 4 | Summary



At the palace an elaborate procession with the newborn princess Elizabeth takes place. Also in the procession are Cranmer, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Garter, who praises the princess, and calls on Heaven to bless her with a long, happy, and prosperous life. Henry VIII and his guard enter, and Cranmer kneels to him. Henry asks what the princess's name is, and Cranmer tells him it is Elizabeth. Henry blesses the baby, and Cranmer asks to speak, saying he is inspired by heaven. Cranmer predicts the princess will bring a thousand blessings on England, and she will be doubly virtuous and full of grace. He predicts prosperity and peace for England during her life, and even when she dies, another great and blessed ruler will rise. Henry is full of wonder. Cranmer goes on to say she will have a long life, die a virgin, and the entire world will mourn her passing. Henry praises Cranmer and gives thanks for the child.


This final scene of Act 5 focuses on the baby Elizabeth, who has been the ultimate goal of the entire play. The praise of the future Elizabeth I is delivered in the grandest terms possible, even evoking biblical images from Micah 4.4—"But they shall sit every man under his vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid"—within the prophetic description of her reign: "In her days every man shall eat in safety/Under his own vine what he plants and sing/The merry songs of peace to all his neighbors."

In praising Elizabeth I, an unnamed heir is also praised, someone who will: "Her ashes new create another heir/As great in admiration as herself,/So shall she leave her blessedness to one ... Shall starlike rise as great in fame as she was." This passage is a reference to James I, the king at the time of the play's writing and a patron of Shakespeare's company. This scene would have flattered his ego and served as reassurance that kings are above the spinning and tumbling upheavals of the wheel of fortune since royalty is aligned with the hand of Providence.

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