Questions on Shakespeare’s Histories
Shakespeare, William. Henry VIII. (Norton Histories, 2nd ed. 847-929).
1. In Act 1, Scene 1, what is the main conflict between Cardinal Wolsey and Buckingham? With what faults does Buckingham reproach the cardinal? What errors does he charge him with, especially with regard to foreign policy? What is Buckingham’s response to his arrest at the end of this scene?
2. In Act 1, Scene 2, characterize the relationship between King Henry and Cardinal Wolsey. What is Henry’s difficulty with the Cardinal, and how does Wolsey try to bring him around? What is Henry’s final judgment regarding the matter of the heavy taxation that Wolsey has laid upon the people?
3. In Act 1, Scene 2, what is queen Katherine’s function and relative strength? How does her influence with King Henry compare to the influence Cardinal Wolsey enjoys? What assessment can we offer of King Henry’s decision-making process and judgment in this scene?
4. In Act 1, Scene 3, what perspective do the Lord Chamberlain and Lovell and Sands offer on the cardinal’s recent conduct? What criticisms do they make of the way the English regard the French and their fashions?
5. In Scene 4, the setting is at the Cardinal’s quarters, York Place. What is going on? Describe the courtly masque that takes place and explain what its unfolding may reveal about the relationship between King Henry and Cardinal Wolsey. In addition, what momentous meeting also takes place towards the end of this courtly ceremony?
6. In Act 2, Scene 1, how do the first and second gentleman characterize current opinion about Buckingham? How does Buckingham bear up and meet his fate: what account does he give of himself, his past and his thoughts? In addition, how do the first and second gentlemen explain the matter between Queen Katherine and King Henry: what’s the source of their marital problems?
7. In Act 2, Scene 2, the Lord Chamberlain, Norfolk and Suffolk have much to criticize about Cardinal Wolsey. What complaints do they make? How much do they seem to understand of what is going on in Henry’s court at this point? What indeed are King Henry and Cardinal Wolsey up to regarding Katherine?
8. In Act 2, Scene 3, what is the subject of Anne Boleyn’s conversation with the old lady, her companion? What picture of Anne’s character emerges during this scene? Is she virtuous, ambitious, both? Explain your rationale based on textual cues.
9. In Act 2, Scene 4, Queen Katherine defends herself against Henry’s divorce proceedings. What is her main argument against this husband of many years who is intent upon abandoning her? How skillful a rhetorician is she, in her own right and in comparison with Cardinal Wolsey? What role does King Henry play during these proceedings? What does he really seem to think of his wife, and how does he explain his rationale for divorcing her?
10. In Act 2, Scene 4, what role does King Henry play during the divorce proceedings in which the queen and Cardinal Wolsey have so much to say? What does Henry apparently think of his wife, and how does he explain his rationale for divorcing her?
11. In Act 3, Scene 1, Griffith and Cardinal Wolsey come to confer with Queen Katherine. What is their aim, and how does she receive them? What counter-arguments do they make against her protests? Why do you think she more or less gives in to them towards the end of the scene?
12. In Act 3, Scene 2, what is the immediate cause of Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall? Describe his attitude just before he begins to get bad news, and then the evolution of his attitude towards the rapidly developing personal catastrophe that overtakes him: where does he start, so to speak, and where does he end in terms of his power position and spiritual state?
13. In Act 3, Scene 2, describe King Henry’s rhetorical method of interrogating and exposing Cardinal Wolsey: how does the king approach this conversation, and why does he draw things out in this manner? Why doesn’t he just accuse the cardinal directly and at the outset?
14. In Act 3, Scene 2, does the way Cardinal Wolsey is treated by Lords Surrey, Suffolk and Norfolk generate any sympathy for him? Why or why not?
15. In Act 3, Scene 2, once Cardinal Wolsey is certain of his downfall, how does he describe what it means for him? How does he explain its significance to Cromwell and what advice does he give that man? What moral lesson does Shakespeare apparently want us to take from the fall of a great man in a play that has borne witness already to the falls of Buckingham and Queen Katherine?
16. In Act 4, Scene 1, how does Shakespeare represent Anne Boleyn’s coronation as Queen of England? Does the investiture go well? Try to find out something online about her coronation — does what you find match the Shakespearean account, or does it differ substantially? Explain.
17. In Act 4, Scene 2, we find that Queen Katherine is on her deathbed. In what spirit does she receive the news of the former Cardinal Wolsey’s passing? How does she face her own death: what last requests does she make of Henry and others? What are her final thoughts about the husband who left her behind for Anne Boleyn?
18. In Act 5, Scene 1, the discussion revolves around Archbishop Cranmer, who assumed that title in 1533, with the support of Queen Anne Boleyn’s faction. Where do Gardiner and Lovell stand with regard to the queen and the archbishop? What is King Henry’s plan to see Archbishop Cranmer through his time of difficulties?
19. In Act 5, Scene 2, Archbishop Cranmer finds himself waiting like a common man just to be let in to the gathering where he will be accused by a council of great lords . Explore the importance of decorum and ceremony, of “staging” events in this scene: how does it illustrate King Henry’s skill as an actor in what we might call “the theater of power”? Finally, what is the outcome of this meeting?
20. In Act 5, Scene 3, the future Queen Elizabeth I is about to be christened. How do the porter and the lord chamberlain describe the commonfolk who are jostling for position in the palace yard to see the great event? What is the dramatic function of this representation of events just before the christening?
21. In Act 5, Scene 4, what are the essentials of Archbishop Cranmer’s prophecy concerning the royal infant Elizabeth, daughter of Queen Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII? In your response, consider what Cranmer implies about Elizabeth’s significance both for England’s theological welfare and its political disposition.
22. General question, but especially relevant to Act 5, Scene 4. It has sometimes been said by critics that the history play Henry VIII, or, All Is True follows the pattern of Shakespeare’s late romance plays such as The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. What evidence supports that claim, especially with regard to the final act’s way of rounding off events?
Edition. Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Shakespeare. 2nd edition. Four-Volume Genre Paperback Set. Norton, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-93152-5.
Copyright © 2012 Alfred J. Drake