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Henry VIII | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VIII | Quotes


My surveyor is false. The o'ergreat cardinal/Hath showed him gold. My life is spanned already./I am the shadow of poor Buckingham,/Whose figure even this instant this cloud puts on/By dark'ning my clear sun.

Buckingham, Act 1, Scene 1

Shortly after Buckingham is arrested, he already seems like a "shadow" of his former self. Just a few lines earlier, he was denouncing Cardinal Wolsey as a traitor for his involvement in the failure of a treaty between the French and English. Now he is accepting defeat without much fight. He gives in to his fate so quickly, it appears his death is willed by God, or he is actually guilty.


Go with me, like good angels, to my end./And as the long divorce of steel falls on me,/Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice,/And lift my soul to heaven.

Buckingham, Act 2, Scene 1

Both Buckingham and, later, Katherine are targeted by Cardinal Wolsey's scheming, and both seem more religious than the clergyman. Here, Buckingham prays sincerely before his death. Later, Katherine and other characters will question Wolsey's holiness.


Sir Thomas Lovell, I as free forgive you/as I would be forgiven. I forgive all./There cannot be those numberless offences/'Gainst me, that I cannot take peace with. No black envy/Shall make my grave.

Buckingham, Act 2, Scene 1

When Lovell asks for forgiveness before Vaux takes Buckingham away, Buckingham freely gives it. Lovell's plea for forgiveness may indicate his understanding that Buckingham is innocent of the charges, in which case Buckingham's gracious attitude is saintlike. Buckingham's forgiving attitude is also part of an important pattern in the play: as each fallen character approaches death, they make peace with their lives either by seeking or granting forgiveness.


How holily he works in all his business,/And with what zeal! For, now he has cracked the league/Between us and the Emperor, the Queen's great-nephew,/He dives into the King's soul and there scatters/Dangers, doubts, wringing of the conscience,/Fears and despairs—and all these for his marriage.

Norfolk, Act 2, Scene 2

It seems everyone but the king knows how corrupt Wolsey is. Norfolk sarcastically calls Wolsey holy and criticizes the corrupt and damaging influence of the cardinal on Henry VIII, when a clergyman's influence should bring people closer to God.


You, that have so fair parts of woman on you,/Have too a woman's heart, which ever yet/Affected eminence, wealth, sovereignty;/Which, to say sooth, are blessings; and which gifts,/Saving your mincing, the capacity/Of your soft cheveril conscience would receive/If you might please to stretch it.

Old lady, Act 2, Scene 3

The old lady speaks in frank terms to Anne Bullen, saying women really want wealth and power, and Anne should "stretch" her conscience to accept these things if they come to her by way of the king.


Sir, I desire you do me right and justice,/And to bestow your pity on me ... In what have I offended you? What cause/Hath my behavior given to your displeasure/That thus you should proceed to put me off/And take your good grace from me? Heaven witness/I have been to you a true and humble wife.

Katherine, Act 2, Scene 4

In a moving defense of her character and her marriage, Katherine pleads her case herself before the court. She asks for pity and justice, in seeming disbelief that she will now be repaid for her years of faithfulness by being cast aside. She calls upon heaven as her witness. However, despite her pleas and her faultless behavior, she receives neither justice nor pity from the king.


The more shame for you! Holy men I thought you,/Upon my soul, two reverend cardinal virtues;/But cardinal sins and hollow hearts I fear you/Mend 'em, for shame, my lords. Is this your comfort?

Katherine, Act 3, Scene 1

Katherine expresses her doubts about the morality and spirituality of Cardinal Campeius and Cardinal Wolsey. Her pointed pun—cardinal sins instead of cardinal virtues—shows her way with words and her tendency to speak the blatant truth without fear.


At length her Grace rose, and with modest paces/Came to the altar, where she kneeled and saintlike/Cast her fair eyes to heaven and prayed devoutly,/Then rose again and bowed her to the people.

Third gentleman, Act 4, Scene 1

The third gentleman waxes on about Anne's beauty and virtues, calling her saintlike. Making sure Anne is seen as exceptional in beauty, character, and piety is important to painting Elizabeth I, Anne's daughter, in an almost Christlike manner. This characterization would have pleased the reigning king at the time of the play's writing, James I, who was from the same family as Elizabeth I, and her successor.


So may he rest. His faults lie gently on him!/Yet thus far, Griffith, give me leave to speak him,/And yet with charity. He was a man/Of an unbounded stomach, ever ranking/Himself with princes; one that, by suggestion/Tied all the kingdom.

Katherine, Act 4, Scene 2

The three fallen characters—Buckingham, Wolsey, and Katherine—all engage the topic of forgiveness in some way before they die. Katherine seems to have the most difficulty with it, however. Here, she seems inclined to be forgiving of Cardinal Wolsey, moved by Griffith's description of Wolsey's final days. Yet she can't help but mention once again his greed and arrogance.


This royal infant—heaven still move about her!—/Though in her cradle, yet now promises/Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings,/Which time shall bring to ripeness ... And all that shall succeed ... When heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness,/Who from the sacred ashes of her honor/Shall starlike rise as great in fame as she was/And so stand fixed. Peace, plenty, love, truth, terror,/That were the servants to this chosen infant.

Cranmer, Act 5, Scene 4

As Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, christens the infant Elizabeth I, he prophesies she will be a great ruler, and her successor will also "starlike rise as great in fame as she was." This unbounded flattery of both Elizabeth I and her heir, James I, is woven throughout the play.

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