Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Complete template (Sonnet numbers)
Henry VIII is the first of Shakespeare’s ‘History’ plays from the Folio of 1623
to be considered in these commentaries. The play, however, differs from the
other history plays in one marked respect. While the others were written
in the 1590s, Henry VIII dates from around 1612.
Shakespeare’s decision to write a history play over a decade after the
1590s and a few years after the great tragedies suggests that the meaning of
the play is not related to the date of composition or to the category under
which it appears in the Folio. Julius Caesar (1599) and Anthony and Cleopatra
(1606), for instance, are based on historic events but are classed as tragedies.
Shakespeare’s decision to write a history play more than a decade after
the earlier ones adds support to the contention of these commentaries that
all his plays are based on the Sonnet philosophy. The philosophy of a play
like Henry VIII, even though it uses material from Holinshed’s Chronicles of
England, cannot be derived from a study of historic sources. Rather
Shakespeare’s purpose was to show how historic events and stylistic differences
could be reconciled using the natural logic of the Sonnets.
Shakespeare uses historic incidents in his plays to show that traditional
Judeo/Christian prejudices can be reconciled from the vantage of the
Sonnet philosophy, and to show how the course of historic events conforms
to the Sonnet logic. Because his intent was to use the accounts of
such events to critique the sectarian conflicts generated by the Church and
the Crown and resolve them according to natural logic, the historic
reportage is always secondary to the demonstration of the consistency of
the Sonnet philosophy.
This commentary will show that Henry VIII is unequivocally based on
the Sonnet philosophy. As it was written about three years after the Sonnets
were published it should not surprise that only by applying the Sonnet logic
does the meaning of the play emerge. Only then can the traditional
denigration of parts of Henry VIII be rectified.
As the commentary unfolds, it will become apparent why Shakespeare
begins the play with the Duke of Buckingham and Cardinal Wolsey rather
than King Henry (a procedure questioned by some commentators), why
Katherine of Aragon and Anne Bullen are the only two of his six wives to
appear, and why the eulogy to the baby Elizabeth is the closing event. Even
the Epilogue, dismissed by commentators as the work of an inferior hand
such as John Fletcher, summarises the play according to the Sonnet logic and
Because the Sonnet logic is based in Nature, Henry VIII begins and finds
its resolution in Nature. And, in accordance with Sonnet logic, the play asserts
the priority of the female over the male and the priority of increase over
cultural desires. On the social/political level the play addresses the evil that
results from excesses of idealism. Shakespeare’s concern with the unbridled
idealism/egotism that drives Cardinal Wolsey’s interference in affairs of state
and Henry’s naïve acquiescence in Wolsey’s schemes foreshadows the
complete separation of Church and State that occurred in revolutionary
Europe and America.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare employs arch irony when his
characters make continual assertions of allegiance to the male King and to
the male God of the Church. And the illogicality of the attempts of the
male King and Clergy to ensure male succession is underscored at the end
when Cranmer, with unwitting tongue in cheek, foretells the golden reign
of Henry’s unwanted female heir Elizabeth.
As no commentator in 400 years has understood the Sonnet philosophy
and as the Sonnet philosophy is the philosophy behind all the plays, then
references to previous attempts to understand Henry VIII are largely futile.
Because commentators have been unwilling to admit the inadequacy of the
Judeo/Christian paradigm, they have sought to excuse their ignorance by
lambasting the play and, even when they find it strangely satisfying, they
concoct theories to show that only the parts they prefer were written by
In the 1971 Penguin edition, for instance, the editor, A. R. Humphreys,
lists a number of contradictory responses to the play and then, for his own
part, asserts that ‘Henry VIII is not a deeply rewarding play to criticise’. He
then trawls up the authorship issue as the only ‘incentive to critical attention’.
Yet from the vantage of the Sonnet philosophy the play is a brilliant exposé
of the iniquities of male-based religion and male-based succession. The same
play the misguided editor dismisses as unrewarding for criticism provides a
devastating criticism of the traditional paradigm to which he attempts to
convert the play.
Once it is appreciated that Henry VIII is based on the Sonnet philosophy,
the understanding of Shakespeare’s intent is increased. Shakespeare not only
critiques idealist contradictions but also creates a consistent model for
behaviour and understanding.
Analysis of Henry VIII
In keeping with his intention to use the example of the male-based prejudices
of King Henry VIII to illustrate the ludicrousness of male primogeniture,
especially when it is a pretext for divorce and execution, Shakespeare
has his Prologue inform the audience that the ‘Things’ they are about to
witness have a ‘Weighty, and a Serious Brow’. He invites those that can ‘Pity’
and those who can be ‘still, and willing’ to witness the finding of ‘Truth’
presented in ‘two short hours’.
I come no more to make you Laugh, Things now,
Shakespeare is dismissive of those who have come to the theatre
expecting a ‘Bawdy Play’ or one in which characters wear a ‘motley coat’.
His rejection of their lowly expectations anticipates the subsequent reception
of his work in which commentators, who suggest he deliberately indulges
in ‘bawdy’ or smut, avoid his logical examination of the mythic relation of
the sexual and the erotic. Shakespeare dismisses those who forfeit their ‘own
Brains’ when they refuse to see beyond the prejudices or ‘Opinion’ they
bring with them.
That bear a Weighty, and a Serious Brow,
Sad, high, and working, full of State and woe:
Such Noble Scenes, as draw the Eye to flow
We now present. Those that can Pity, here
May (if they think it well) let fall a Tear,
The Subject will deserve it. Such as give
Their Money out of hope they may believe,
May here find Truth too. Those that come to see
Only a show or two, and so agree,
The Play may pass: If they be still, and willing,
Ill undertake may see away their shilling
Richly in two short hours. Only they
That come to see a Merry, Bawdy Play,
A noise of Targets: Or to see a Fellow
In a long Motley Coat, garded with Yellow,
Will be deceived. For gentle Hearers, know
To rank our chosen Truth with such a show
As Fool, and Fight is, beside forfeiting
Our own Brains, and the Opinion that we bring
To make that only true, we now intend,
Will leave us never an understanding Friend.
Therefore, for Goodness sake, and as you are known
The First and Happiest Hearers of the Town,
Be sad, as we would make ye. Think ye see
The very Persons of our Noble Story,
As they were Living: Think you see them Great,
And follow’d with the general throng, and sweat
Of thousand Friends: Then, in a moment, see
How soon this Mightiness, meets Misery:
And if you can be merry then, I’ll say,
A Man may weep upon his Wedding day. (Prologue.1-33)
He invites them, instead, to ‘think ye see the very Persons of our Noble
Story as they were Living’ and ‘think you see them Great’ only then to see
‘How soon this Mightiness, meets Misery’. Then ironically he suggests that if
the audience can be ‘merry’, after witnessing the disastrous consequences of
the abrogation of natural logic, then such a man would ‘weep upon his
Shakespeare begins the play with the character who is closest to Nature.
The Duke of Buckingham, while not given the insights of a person who
understands the Sonnet logic, is nevertheless acknowledged by the King in
scene 2 as being the most bound to Nature.
The Gentleman is Learn’d, and a most rare Speaker,
Buckingham, because of his regard for Nature, is a teacher of ‘Teachers’.
He, somewhat like the Poet of the Sonnets whose inner thoughts are at one
with Nature, is able to find within himself all the ‘aid’ he requires to be the
complete person. So his execution, brought about by the deceptions of the
Cardinal and the gullibility of the King, identifies them with the persistent
Church and State sponsored evil that runs through the play.
To Nature none more bound; his training such,
That he may furnish and instruct great Teachers,
And never seek for aid out of himself: (1.2.450-3)
Buckingham, who has been confined by an illness, opens by asking the
Duke of Norfolk how things went in France when the ‘Suns of Glory, those
two Lights of Men’, King Henry and Francis 1, met in the Vale of Andren.
Norfolk recounts how the two kings embraced as if they were a
Beheld them when they lighted, how they clung
Shakespeare then has Norfolk describe the ‘earthly glory’ of their
meeting as a marriage in which ‘Pomp’, once ‘single’, was now married ‘to
one above itself ’.
In their Embracement, as they grew together,
Which had they,
What four Thron’d ones could have weighed
Such a compounded one? (1.1.50-4)
Then you lost
The effect in Norfolk’s eyes was to reveal the Christian God’s historic
relation to ‘Heathen Gods’ and the Gods of ‘India’.
The view of earthly glory: Men might say
Till this time Pomp was single, but now married
To one above itself. (1.1.57-60)
Today the French,
Norfolk also recognises that the ‘Pride’ of men inverts the priority of
the female over the male. Their pride turns the propensity for females to
give birth or ‘labour’ into little more than a work of art or ‘painting’.
Shakespeare, through Norfolk, critiques the belief that, because women are
depicted in myth as inferior beings, they must be so in life. But the ‘Mask’
of male superiority is shown to be a ‘Fool, and Beggar’ at ‘night’, when the
logic of the sexual dynamic in Nature reasserts itself.
All Clinquant all in Gold, like Heathen Gods
Shone down the English; and tomorrow, they
Made Britain, India: (1.1.62-5)
The Madams too,
The punctuation of the passage is critical for understanding the relation
of day and night. Editors remove the colon after ‘night’ and the comma after
‘fool’, so removing the pauses, which emphasise the way ‘Pride’ is shown
to be a fool when it begs for the Madams’ pleasure. Norfolk began his
description of the events in France by telling Buckingham how ‘each
following day became the next day’s master’. His account does not suggest
that the Kings’ ‘Suns’ were on display at night, so the ‘ensuing night’must
refer to the time when the Kings’ sexual ‘Pride’was deflated by the Madams.
Not used to toil, did almost sweat to bear
The Pride upon them, that their very labour
Was to them, as a Painting. Now this Mask
Was cried incomparable; and th’ensuing night:
Made it a Fool, and Beggar. (1.1.67-72)
The effect on the two Kings then, who appear ‘but one’ and ‘equal in
lustre’ when together, is to switch from being the ‘best’ to being the ‘worst’
when one or the other was present. Shakespeare follows the sexual allusions
of the preceding lines with the logical relation of beauty and truth out of
the sexual. The capacity of the Kings to seem one when together, but best
or worst when apart, after the introduction of Nature’s Buckingham, brings
the basic components of the Sonnet logic into play.
The two Kings
Shakespeare, though, has Norfolk use another sexual pun when he
reports that any person who discerned the Kings’ weakness as men before
women dared not wag his own ‘Tongue’ (or penis) in censure. The sight of
the Kings in arms was sufficient to quell such thoughts.
Equal in lustre, were now best, now worst
As presence did present them: Him in eye,
Still him in praise; and being present both,
’Twas said they saw but one, (1.1.73-6)
and no Discerner
The opening lines of Henry VIII recall the words and themes of The
Phoenix and the Turtle. The similarity is confirmed by Norfolk’s reference to
‘that former fabulous Story’ and, by the reference to ‘birds of wonder’ and
‘Maiden Phoenix’ in Cranmer’s speech at the end of the play. Phrases such
as ‘grew together’, ‘compounded one’, ‘single, but now married to one above
itself ’, ‘equal in lustre’, ‘present both’, and ‘they saw but one’, are all reminiscent
of the 1601 poem.
Durst wag his Tongue in censure, when these Suns
(For so they phrase ’em) by their Heralds challenged
The Noble Spirits to Arms, they did perform
Beyond thought’s Compass, (1.1.76-80)
In The Phoenix and the Turtle, Shakespeare critiques the excessive idealism
of the two deluded birds. When they immolate themselves to gain immortality,
they incur the scorn of the Poet for reducing to ashes their natural
potential for posterity. Shakespeare begins Henry VIII by invoking the same
critique. The Kings, when they embraced, ‘grew together’ to become a
‘compounded one’ that shone like the single idealised God. The sexual
metaphor of ‘growing’ mocks the male on male conceit that precludes the
‘four Thron’d ones’ or the Kings meeting on equal terms with their Queens.
Having characterised King Henry as a Godlike male, Shakespeare then
introduces the natural logic of the female to reveal the fallacy of the King’s
pride. The ‘Madams’, like the argument for posterity in The Phoenix and the
Turtle, serve as a reminder that, if they are constrained to toil under male
pride they might as well be ‘paintings’. But the ‘Suns’ that shine by day are
eclipsed by night. They become like fools and beggars when their sexual
urges acknowledge the logical priority of the female.
If, according to the commentators, Henry VIII is an uneven play by an
aging playwright, who wanted to honour a King of England by indulging
in pageantry and a few stirring speeches, then their quibbles about the play
should be justifiable. At the least Shakespeare’s reasons for introducing the
play with Buckingham and Wolsey instead of Henry, for criticising Henry’s
judgment, for featuring only two of Henry’s wives, and for ending with the
birth of Elizabeth should remain incomprehensible.
If, though, it can be shown that the whole play can be understood by
applying the logic of the Sonnet philosophy, which prioritises Nature over
God, the female over the male, increase over truth and beauty, and provides
the logical conditions for any mythic expression, then the commentators’
quibbles are unjustified. Further, if it can also be shown that the critique of
excessive idealism in The Phoenix and the Turtle drives the opening 40 lines
and that the theme of addressing excessive idealism is consistent with the
action of the play, then the disservice given Shakespeare by 400 years of
inadequate commentary needs to be rectified.
When Buckingham suggests Norfolk goes too ‘far’ in his account of
the royal excesses, Norfolk insists to the contrary that ‘Honesty’ even by a
good ‘Discourser’would ‘lose some life’ when compared with the ‘tongue’
of ‘Action’s self ’. Then Buckingham, responding to the success of the
pageantry in France, notes ironically that the ‘Order’ of the Great Chain
of Being (with Kings and Gods at the top) has been observed, so asks who
was responsible for setting ‘the Body, and the Limbs of this great sport
Norfolk. As I belong to worship, and affect
The passage is reproduced in full because editors, following Theobald
in the eighteenth century, reallocate parts of the speeches from the Folio
text. Because they are blind to Buckingham’s sarcasm, or unwilling to
acknowledge it for prurient reasons, they destroy the ironic tone established
by Shakespeare as he critiques the iniquities of Church and Throne.
In Honour, Honesty, the tract of every thing,
Would by a good Discourser loose some life,
Which Action’s self,was tongue to.
Buckingham. All was Royal,
To the disposing of it nought rebelled,
Order gave each thing view. The Office did
Distinctly his full Function: who did guide,
I mean who set the Body, and the Limbs
Of this great Sport together?
Norfolk. As you guess:
One certes, that promises no Element
In such a business. (1.1.84-96)
The mocking tone throughout the dialogue between Buckingham and
Norfolk is then brought to a pitch. Buckingham’s sarcasm toward the
‘Order’ of duty anticipates his question as to ‘who’ it is that Norfolk refers,
even though he knows the answer. When Norfolk, acknowledging that
Buckingham can ‘guess’ who, says it was the ‘Reverend Cardinal of York’,
Buckingham vents his spleen at the ‘fierce Vanities’.
The devil speed him: No man’s Pie is freed
Buckingham’s retort summarises the principle concerns of the play.
Shakespeare argues throughout the Sonnets, and presents case after case in
the plays, against the iniquities of excessive idealism. So it is not surprising
to hear Buckingham call Cardinal Wolsey a devil’s agent whose belief in God
becomes evil when it is applied beyond its natural bounds. The Cardinal’s
stage-management of the meetings of the two Kings as a heavenly pageant
is recognised by Buckingham as being an evil expression of the ‘vanity’ or
egos of all concerned, monarchy and clergy.
From his Ambitious finger. What had he
To do in these fierce Vanities? I wonder,
That such a Keech can with his very bulk
Take up the Rays o’th’beneficial Sun,
And keep it from the Earth. (1.1.100-5)
Buckingham characterises Wolsey as a roll of fat or ‘Keech’ who keeps
the natural rays of the beneficial sun from reaching the earth. Buckingham,
already associated with Nature, is aware of the unnatural consequences when
the overly idealistic expectations of the Church are associated with the
worldly powers of Kings.
Norfolk reflects that the Cardinal has no legitimacy other than through
the wealth his Church gathers from believers, which he then uses for selfaggrandizement
and for buying favour with the King.
There’s in him stuff, that’s put him to these ends:
Lord Abergavenny interjects that it is not possible to tell what qualities
heaven has given the Cardinal because ‘his Pride’ creates a new hell out of
the God from whom the hell of Satan was originally derived. Shakespeare,
through Abergavenny, rejects as wishful thinking the belief that God and
Satan separated once and for all before the creation of the world. Men like
Cardinal Wolsey demonstrate that an excessive belief in God in any age
brings forth a renewed Hell.
For not being propped by Ancestry, whose grace
Chalks Successors their way; nor called upon
For high feats done to’th’Crown; neither Allied
To eminent Assistants; but Spider-like
Out of his Self-drawing Web. O gives us note,
The force of his own merit makes his way
A gift that heaven gives for him, which buys
A place next to the King. (1.1.107-15)
I cannot tell
The Cardinal’s devilry has seen many of the gentry charged penalising
taxes that have so ‘sickened their estates’, which then provide a ‘most poor
issue’ (a sexual pun). The peace between the English and French was not
worth the cost imposed on the people. The ‘fierce Vanities’ of the Kings,
which were given a glorious expression by the Cardinal, generated a ‘general
Prophecy’that the ‘Peace’would experience a ‘sudden breach’, which is what
transpired at ‘Bordeaux’.
What Heaven hath given him: let some Graver eye
Pierce into that, but I can see his Pride
Peep through each part of him: whence has he that,
If not from Hell? The Devil is a Niggard,
Or has given all before, and he begins
A new Hell in himself. (1.1.116-22)
When Buckingham reflects that the Reverend Cardinal should be held
responsible for the ‘business’ of the French ‘attaching’ the ‘Merchants goods
at Bordeaux’, Norfolk cautions him to ‘read’ the Cardinal’s ‘Malice, and his
Potency together’. He warns that the Cardinal’s ‘Hatred’, his ‘Revengeful
Nature’, and his sharp ‘Sword’ make him a ‘Rock’ to be shunned.
So when Wolsey passes by on cue, he ‘fixes’ a disdainful eye on Buckingham,
and makes his intent clear by asking his secretaries about the examination
of Buckingham’s surveyor. Once he has moved on, Buckingham
calls him a ‘venom’d-mouth’d…Butcher’s Cur’ who he does not have the
‘power to muzzle’. Norfolk response, and Buckingham’s rejoinder, characterises
Buckingham. This Butcher’s Cur is venom’d-mouth’d, and I
The Butcher’s Cur or Dog is snake-like, and hence speaks like the Devil.
But tradition says the Devil was once at one with God, recalling
Abergavenny’s accusation that Wolsey creates a new hell through his selfserving
role as God’s representative. Buckingham cannot muzzle the Dog
because the Cardinal hides behind the Bible. Wolsey turns the Bible into a
Beggar’s book in an attempt to out-worth Buckingham’s rights as a Noble.
Have not the power to muzzle him, therefore best
Not to wake him in his slumber. A Beggar’s book,
Out-worth’s a Noble’s blood.
Norfolk. What are you chaffed?
Ask God for Temp’rance, that’s th’appliance only
Which your disease requires.
Buckingham. I read in’s looks
Matter against me, and his eye reviled
Me as his abject object, (1.1.188-97)
Norfolk’s mention of ‘God’ plays on the anagrammatic reversal of Dog
and God. He implies that Wolsey the Cur shows by his words and deeds
that God and Dog inhabit the one form. Once Buckingham appreciates that
God, and God plus the Devil, are logically the same because one is the
inverse one of the other, then that is the only ‘appliance’ or device he needs
to cure the Cardinal’s ‘disease’. The disease is inherent in the Cardinal’s
avowal of belief in an absolute God.
Wolsey as Cardinal presumes to represent God as the absolute good.
Instead, because of his ambitions, he reveals the dark side of God in his Doglike
acts. And he compensates for his self-delusion by looking at Buckingham
as if he was the ‘abject object’. A man who should be seen as a simple ‘object’
is twisted into an objectionable creature through the distorting lens of the
Cardinal’s over-weaning faith in the power of God the absolute.
Norfolk advises Buckingham to ‘let his reason’ question his ‘choler’. If
Buckingham’s ‘soul’ is based on the ‘sap’ of natural reason, then he should
minister to himself.
Buckingham agrees to moderate his anger but asserts he has ‘clear proof ’
that Wolsey is ‘corrupt and treasonous’. But Norfolk, knowing that Wolsey
will listen to neither anger nor reason, again urges caution. Buckingham,
though, is convinced that the Cardinal’s part in promoting the ‘costly treaty’
between England and France and its breach at Bordeaux, plus his complicity
with Charles the emperor of Spain, will cause the King to turn against him.
I say again there is no English Soul
More stronger to direct you than your self;
If with the sap of reason you would quench,
Or but allay the fire of passion. (1.1.218-22)
Before Buckingham has made his accusation, though, the sergeant at
arms and guards arrive to arrest him and Abergavenny for ‘High Treason’.
Buckingham and Abergavenny, by calling on the ‘will of heaven to be done’,
both note the irony of being betrayed by a man of God. They appreciate
that the chance of a just God emerging from the duplicitous God/Dog of
Wolsey or the gullibility of Henry is zero. As he is led away, ‘Nature’s’
Buckingham expresses Sonnet based insights by reflecting on that ‘which
makes my whit’st part, black’ (sonnet 127) and ‘whose Figure even this
instant Cloud puts on by Darkening my clear Sun’ (sonnet 33).
When scene 2 opens Shakespeare has Henry blindly state that Wolsey
has saved his ‘life’, whereas Wolsey, through his God/Dog machinations, has
taken the King further from a life at one with Nature.
My life itself, and the best heart of it,
The blindness of the King is further accentuated by the Queen’s
accusation against Wolsey. Already Buckingham and Abergavenny have
revealed the duplicity inherent in a man of God. In keeping with
Shakespeare’s Sonnet logic, the male-based authority of the Bible is shown
to be both self-serving and corrupt because it hides its male-based agenda
behind the appearance of idealised good.
Thanks you for this great care: I stood i’th’level
Of a full-charged confederacy, and give thanks
To you that choked it. (1.2.321-4)
So once the King reveals himself as a confederate in Wolsey’s male-based
politics (though compared with Wolsey he is relatively benign) Shakespeare
has the Queen or the representative of the Mistress from the Sonnets, clearly
identify the worldly evil being wrought by the holy cardinal of God. The
Queen opens her case by noting the false ‘good’ of the Cardinal, and the
shielded ‘honour’ of the King.
There have been Commissions
When the Cardinal attempts to deny his role in exacting punishing
taxes, the Queen insists that he knows ‘more than others’. She uses biblical
allusions (‘most pestilent to the hearing’, ‘the Back is Sacrifice to th’load’)
to convey the duplicity in Wolsey’s faith, and she appeals to the King that
there is ‘no primer baseness’. The effect of Wolsey’s Christian exactions is
to turn the King’s subjects ‘prayers’ to ‘curses’. But Wolsey attempts to
excuse his excessive taxes on the populace (and his personal aggregation of
wealth) by claiming they are a necessary ‘fate’ and ‘brake’ that ‘Virtue must
Sent down among ’em, which hath flawed the heart
Of all their Loyalties; wherein, although
My good Lord Cardinal, they vent reproaches
Most bitterly upon you, as putter on
Of these exactions: yet the King, our Master
Whose Honour Heaven shield from soil, even he escapes not
Language unmannerly; (1.2.347-54)
The King, whose ignorance is a consequence of male-based desires and
a denial of the illogic of those desires, ironically uses natural metaphors to
characterise Wolsey’s self-serving argument. Shakespeare, with deliberate
irony, has Henry evoke the tree of life, which in biblical mythology becomes
the tree of death in the Garden of Eden in Genesis and in the crucifix of
the New Testament.
Things done well,
The Cardinal’s unrelenting duplicity is revealed in his instruction for his
man to send a letter, which would make it seem as if he has received the
King’s ‘grace and pardon’.
And with care, exempt themselves from fear:
Things done without example, in their issue
Are to be feared
Sixth part of each?
A trembling Contribution;why we take
From every Tree, lop, bark, and part o’th’Timber:
And though we leave it with a root thus hacked,
The Air will drink the Sap. (1.2.424-34)
The irony is brought to a pitch when the King (after characterising
Buckingham as bound to Nature), under the influence of the Christian
Cardinal, falsely accuses Buckingham’s ‘mind’, rather than Wolsey’s, of
‘growing corrupt’ as if ‘besmeared in hell’.
When Wolsey instructs Buckingham’s surveyor to relate what he has
‘collected’ of his master, the surveyor first accuses him of wishing to supplant
the King if the King was to have no issue. Shakespeare points to the central
theme of the play (and of the Sonnets) at the decisive moment when
Buckingham’s fate is sealed by Wolsey’s influence over the surveyor.
Buckingham will be executed by the King because of a fabricated charge
regarding his inability to produce a male heir.
When these so Noble benefits shall prove
Not well disposed, the mind growing once corrupt,
They turn to vicious forms, ten times more ugly
Than ever they were fair. This man so compleat,
Who was enrolled ’mongst wonders; and when we
Almost with ravished list’ning, could not find
His hour of speech, a minute:He, (my Lady)
Hath into monstrous habits put the Graces
That once were his, and is become as black,
As if besmear’d in hell. (1.2.453-63)
First, it was usual with him; every day
Wolsey’s response plays on the possibility of ‘conception’ both as idea
and as pregnancy. He also twists the surveyor’s trumped up allegations of
Buckingham’s treason into an offence by Buckingham against himself. His
complicity in the surveyor’s testimony is revealed by his attempt to make
himself seem like a victim of treasonable intent.
It would infect his Speech: That if the King
Should without issue die; he’ll carry it so
To make the Scepter his. These very words
I’ve heard him utter to his Son in Law,
Lord Abergavenny, to whom by oath he menac’d
Revenge upon the Cardinal. (1.2.472-8)
Please your Highness note
The Queen’s interjects that the Cardinal should not prejudice the
evidence, but the King overrides her as he wants to know more of
Buckingham’s threat to his succession.
This dangerous conception in this point,
Not friended by his wish to your High person;
His will is most malignant, and it stretches
Beyond you to your friends. (1.2.479-83)
How grounded he his Title to the Crown
The surveyor, in accord with Wolsey’s intention of implicating Buckingham
by associating him with recalcitrant elements of the Church, claims his
Confessor ‘fed him every minute with words of Sovereignty’. The surveyor
purports that he obtained as ‘a matter of some moment’ the incriminating
information in confidence from his own Chaplain.
Upon our fail; to this point hast thou heard him,
At any time speak ought? (1.2.487-9)
neither the King, nor’s Heirs
But the Queen sees through the deception to which the King is blind.
(Tell you the Duke) shall prosper, bid him strive
To the love o’th’Commonalty, the Duke
Shall govern England. (1.2.514-7)
If I know you well,
But the surveyor is prepared to perjure his ‘Soul’. He claims he told the
Duke that the Monk might be deceived by the ‘Devil’s illusions’. So either
Buckingham and Abergavenny are right and it is Wolsey who sides with the
Devil, or the surveyor is right and it is Buckingham who is in league with
You were the Duke’s Surveyor, and lost your Office
On the complaint o’th Tenants; take good heed
You charge not in your spleen a Noble person,
And spoil your nobler Soul; I say, take heed; (1.2.518-22)
Shakespeare leaves no doubt about the evil intentions of an ambitious
churchman, and expresses his certainty through the insights of the Queen.
Her part in the play role as virtual ‘Mistress’ is in keeping with the priority
of the female over the male in the Sonnets. The surveyor delivers a fatal twist
when he claims Buckingham was plotting to ‘stretch’ Henry with a knife
as his father Henry VII should have done to ‘th’Usurper Richard’. Henry
turns to the Queen who responds ‘God mend all’ in keeping with Henry’s
leading role in the male-based self-delusion.
Shakespeare adds to the already intense irony when he has the Duke’s
supposed exploits with the knife read like a hilarious erotic encounter.
Surveyor. After the Duke his Father, with the knife
In scene 3, when the Lords’ dismiss the costumes and customs brought
back to England from France, Shakespeare anticipates the prejudiced
reception of his Nature based philosophy by Christian orthodoxy. The ‘spells
of France’, which could ‘juggle men into such strange mysteries’, are represented
as ‘unmanly’ and ‘Pagan’ to the point that they have ‘worn out’ the
beliefs of ‘Christendom’.
He stretched him, and with one hand on his dagger,
Another spread on’s breast, mounting his eyes,
He did discharge a horrible Oath, whose tenor
Was, were he evil used, he would outgo
His Father, by as much as a performance
Does an irresolute purpose.
King Henry. There’s his period,
To sheathe his knife in us: he is attached,
Call him to present trial: if he may
Find mercy in the Law, ’tis his; if none,
Let him not seek’t of us: By day and night
He’s Traitor to th’height. (1.2.556-69)
Chamberlain. Is’t possible the spells of France should juggle
In the exchange between the two Lords, Shakespeare unites two events
from Holinshed (from February and June 1520). Because he is using the
historic events to make a larger point about the inconsistencies of belief, he
is not concerned with the specific dates. Only when Henry VIII is viewed
as an expression of the Sonnet philosophy, with its priority of Nature and
women over the beliefs based in male Gods, can this exchange seem anything
more than the gossip of two disgruntled English Lords.
Men into such strange mysteries?
Sandys. New customs,
Though they be never so ridiculous,
(Nay let ‘em be unmanly) yet are follow’d.
Chamberlain. Death my Lord,
Their clothes are after such a Pagan cut to’t,
That sure th’have worn out Christendom: how now? (1.3.570-88)
Scene 3 also acts as a satirical interlude before Henry and Anne Bullen
meet in scene 4. As if anticipating Henry’s desire for divorce, which is
enflamed by his meeting with Anne and which leads to his schism with
Rome, his Lords compare the advantages of French and English seduction.
So when Sir Thomas Lovell enters to announce that a Proclamation has been
posted to enforce the ‘reformation’ of the ‘travel’d Gallants’, their exchange
contrasts Gallic flair with English reserve. The irony is reinforced by the
presence in the passage of an undercurrent of ‘faith’ and ‘converting’ and
oblique references to ‘our Lady’ and Mary (‘I marry’).
Lovell. They must either
To reveal the Lord’s insensitivity to hypocrisy, Shakespeare has them
excuse Wolsey’s excesses, who in ‘sparing’ for himself such excesses ‘would
show a worse sin, than ill Doctrine’. Shakespeare has the Lords, who say
they care more for the ‘Beauty of this Kingdom’, quibble over stylistic differences
in matters of sexual license. They do not appreciate that the language
they use to disparage the French is interwoven with the language of ‘ill
Doctrine’, the worst of which will be used by Henry to justify the pursuit
of his male-based machinations.
(for so run the Conditions) leave those remnants
Of Fool and Feather, that they got in France,
With all their honourable points of ignorance
The faith they have in Tennis and tall Stockings,
They may Cum Privilegio, wee away
The lag end of their lewdness, and be laughed at.
Sands. ’Tis time to give ‘em Physic, their diseases
Are grown so catching.
Chamberlain. What a loss our Ladies
Will have of these trim vanities?
Lovell. I marry,
There will be woe indeed Lords, the sly whoresons
Have got a speeding trick to lay down Ladies.
A French Song, and a Fiddle, has no Fellow.
Sands. The Devil fiddle ’em,
I am glad they are going,
For sure there’s no converting of ‘em: now
An honest Country Lord as I am, beaten
A long time out of play, may bring his plain song,
And have an hour of hearing, and by’r Lady
Held current Music too.
Chamberlain. Well said Lord Sands,
Your Colt’s tooth is not cast yet?
Sands. No my Lord,
Nor shall not while I have a stump. (1.3.601-32)
The conflict between ‘doctrine’ and ‘sin’ continues in scene 4 when the
Lords arrive at Wolsey’s banquet, which is replete with fair ladies. When
Lovell suggests to Sands he might be a ‘Confessor, to one or two of these’,
he replies he would find an ‘easy penance’ for them on a ‘downy bed’. The
easy virtue of the nobles, in a context of double standards generated by the
King, will reach its first pitch when the King uses ‘ill Doctrine’ to relieve
himself of the ‘sin’ of his marriage to his brother’s wife, Katherine, so that
he can bed the younger Anne Bullen.
In the banter between the Lords, as they position themselves amongst
the ladies, Anne first words are to ask Sands if his father ‘was Mad’. Sands
self-delusion is cut short by Anne when, after the Cardinal rebukes him for
not making the Ladies merry, he offers to ‘play’ with his ‘thing’. She says he
‘cannot show me’ and suggests his ‘stump’ is indeed beyond it.
The proclamation against ‘foreign wisdom’ is given a sardonic twist when
Shakespeare has Henry and his train arrive, speaking French and ‘habited
like Shepherds’ who have left their ‘flocks’ (in mock of Christian doctrines)
to ‘view these Ladies’. The Cardinal, in keeping with Shakespeare’s
consummate irony, says they ‘have done my poor house grace’ and ‘prays’
that they ‘take their pleasures’.
The King, after commending Anne Bullen for the ‘fairest hand I ever
touched’, removes his mask. His pleasure at ‘dainty’ Anne, his ‘Sweet
Partner’, mollifies his rancour at his leading Churchman.
Ye have found him Cardinal,
The second Act begins with two gentlemen commenting on the trial
and the fate of Buckingham. Their comments show it is common
knowledge that Wolsey has framed Buckingham, and that Buckingham’s son,
the Earl of Surrey, was sent by Wolsey to Ireland to keep him from his father’s
side. The gentlemen reflect that Buckingham was much loved and doted
on by the common folk, and that he was called ‘bounteous Buckingham,
the Mirror of all courtesy’.
You hold a fair Assembly; you do well Lord:
You are a Churchman, or I’ll tell you Cardinal,
I should judge now unhappy. (1.4.789-92)
When Buckingham enters and speaks, he calls on ‘Heaven’ to bear
witness to the injustice done him by those who sought his death, and wishes
his accusers were ‘more Christians’ than they pretend to be. He says they
should not ‘build their evils on the graves of great men’. He asks that prayers
should be made into ‘one sweet Sacrifice’ to lift his ‘Soul to Heaven’.
In the Sonnets Shakespeare criticises those who, like the Master Mistress,
allow their excessive idealistic faith to blind them to the limits and dangers
of their beliefs. To restore the balance he bases his understanding on the
logical priority of Nature over the idea of God(s) in the minds of men. So
when Buckingham, who speaks first in Henry VIII, is identified by the King
as being the most near Nature, Shakespeare creates a character who bases
his judgments in Nature ahead of his belief in God and ahead of his hopes
and aspirations for his ‘soul’.
Buckingham’s qualities, associated with Nature, distinguish him from
those ‘Christians’ who tie their faith to the Church and Crown, and who
abuse their beliefs for unnatural ends and for political and financial gain. In
the play, the King’s belief in male-primogeniture and Wolsey’s belief in his
divine right to personal gain are major offenses against Nature. Both are
inevitable consequences of a Christian faith that elevates a male God over
As if to mock the absence of Christian virtues in the Christian King and
Cardinal, Buckingham not only forgives Lovell when he asks forgiveness,
he ‘forgives all’ including his ‘Grace’ the King to whom he wishes a
‘Rule…ever belov’d and loving’. Shakespeare has Buckingham exhibit the
human qualities and heavenly graces that should have been shown him by
the King and Cardinal. Buckingham is ‘half in heaven’ because his appreciation
of the priority of Nature allows only half his being, his mind, to
preoccupy itself with God-like expectations.
Sir Thomas Lovell, I as free forgive you
Buckingham is sceptical about the King’s ability to reconcile the
‘goodness’ available in his Christian values and the evil in a Christian belief
that puts male-based expectations above natural processes. As in the Sonnets,
where the youth is subject to the audit of time for his offences against
Nature, Buckingham wishes the King time enough to redress the wrongs
of the Church and Crown.
As I would be forgiven: I forgive all.
There cannot be those numberless offences
Gainst me, that I cannot make peace with:
No black Envy shall make my Grave.
Commend me to his Grace:
And if he speak of Buckingham; pray tell him,
You met him half in Heaven:my vows and prayers
Yet are the King’s; and till my Soul forsake,
Shall cry for blessings on him. May he live
Longer than I have time to tell his years;
Ever belov’d and loving, may his Rule be;
And when old Time shall lead him to his end,
Goodness and he, fill up one Monument. (2.1.925-38)
Buckingham heightens the disjunction between his Nature based understanding
and the Pomp and pretension of the Crown and Clergy when he
says that his previous ‘State’ will ‘mock him’ as he is no more than a ‘poor
Edward Bohun’. He is aware that his naturalness and common sense make
him richer than his ‘base accusers’. Because his accusers invert natural logic,
and so lack the capacity to see the irony in their verdict, then they ‘never
knew what Truth meant’.
Nay, Sir Nicholas,
Buckingham accentuates the irony by recalling that his father, who was
‘felled’ without trial by Richard III, had his fortune restored by Henry VII,
only to have that Henry’s son Henry VIII, after a mock trial, condemn
Buckingham to death. Both were felled by their ‘servants’ and by those ‘men
we lov’d most’. In keeping with his regard for Nature and the role of faith
within Nature he reckons he has been served both unnaturally and faithlessly.
Let it alone;my State now will but mock me.
When I came hither, I was Lord High Constable,
And Duke of Buckingham: now, poor Edward Bohun;
Yet I am richer than my base Accusers,
That never knew what Truth meant: (2.1.946-51)
Now his Son,
The dynamic of ‘Truth’ that Buckingham relied on, and which the
Cardinal (and the King in his acquiescence) abused by forcing the surveyor
to lie, was in the ‘Counsels’ shared with servants, and in the friendships with
those in power to whom you gave ‘your hearts’. The King, who was once
his friend, has overnight become his end.
Henry the Eight, Life, Honour, Name and all
That made me happy; at one stroke has taken
For ever from the World. I had my Trial,
And must needs say a Noble one; which makes me
A little happier than my wretched Father:
Yet thus far we are one in Fortunes; both
Fell by our Servants, by those Men we lov’d most:
A most unnatural and faithless Service. (2.1.961-9)
Where you are liberal of your loves and Counsels,
When the Duke is taken away, the two gentlemen confirm that the
‘Authors’ of his downfall were the King and Cardinal. They have heard that
the King intends to divorce the Queen, and that Wolsey is behind the
separation to exact revenge on Katherine’s father for not giving him the
Archbishopric of Toledo. The two gentlemen predict an ensuing ‘greater
Be sure you be not loose; for those you make friends,
And give your hearts to; when they once perceive
The least rub in your fortunes, fall away
Like water from ye, never found again
But where they meant to sink ye: (1.2.972-7)
1st Gent. O, this is full of pity; Sir, it calls
So the Cardinal will act against Katherine, the one woman who is
prepared to speak out against his male-based iniquities.
I fear, too many curses on their heads
That were the Authors.
2nd Gent. If the Duke be guiltless,
’Tis full of woe: yet I can give you inkling
Of an ensuing evil, if it fall,
Greater than this. (2.1.984-90)
but is’t not cruel,
The first scene of Act 2, then, sees the ‘butchering’, by the male-based
Christian King and Cardinal, of the Duke most near Nature, and in its last
lines predicts the ‘fall’ of the woman who most objects to their machinations.
If the first Act represents Buckingham as part Nature and Katherine
as part archetypal female who assert their natural sensibilities, Shakespeare
is to demonstrate in the remainder of the play the logical consequences of
the wilful abrogation of natural logic.
That she should feel the smart of this: the Cardinal
Will have his will, and she must fall. (2.1.1020-2)
The first five scenes of the play are consistent with the natural logic of
the Sonnets. The division of the scenes by traditional commentators between
Shakespeare (1.1 and 1.2) and Fletcher (1.3, 1.4 and 2.1) fails to recognise
the content of the play out of the Sonnet philosophy.
vAct 2 scene 2 opens with the Lord Chamberlain reading a letter complaining
that the Cardinal unfairly requisitioned horses. So when Norfolk
and Suffolk enter, the Lord Chamberlain is more disposed to criticise the
illogicality of the interdependence of the Crown and Church. The King,
who they accuse of not ‘knowing himself ’, is about to divorce for the sake
of male primogeniture, and they call Wolsey, who is concerned only with
the personal advantage to his ‘cloth’, ‘King-Cardinal’. Shakespeare creates
two characters who, under the influence of their male God religion, demonstrate
its inevitable slide into anti-natural ‘zeal’.
Suffolk. How is the King employed?
The distance between the King’s religious fundamentalism and
Katherine’s womanly virtue is captured ironically in the idea that her love
for him has the quality with which ‘Angels love good men’. But, paradoxically,
as long as the Crown is associated with the male-driven expectations
of the Church such a hope can only be ‘pious’.
Chamberlain. I left him private,
Full of sad thoughts and troubles.
Norfolk. What’s the cause?
Chamberlain. It seems the Marriage with his Brother’s Wife
Has crept too near his Conscience.
Suffolk. No, his Conscience
Has crept too near another Lady.
Norfolk. ’Tis so;
This is the Cardinal’s doing: The King-Cardinal,
That blind Priest, like the eldest Son of Fortune,
Turns what he list. The King will know him one day.
Suffolk. Pray God he do,
He’ll never know himself else.
Norfolk. How holily he works in all his business,
And with what zeal. (2.2.1042-57)
Or her that loves him with that excellence,
The Chamberlain echoes the sentiment, expressing the insight that the
same ‘Heaven’ that has blinded the King ‘will one day’ also allow him to see.
That Angels love good men with: Even of her,
That when the greatest stroke of Fortune falls
Will bless the King: and is not this course pious? (2.2.1066-9)
Heaven keep me from such a counsel:
Norfolk is concerned that the Cardinal will fashion them all ‘into what
pitch he please’. But Suffolk is more phlegmatic since he appreciates that
the Cardinal’s pride comes from the Vicar of Christ, the Pope.
Heaven will one day open
The King’s eyes, that so long have slept upon
This bold man. (2.2.1070-6)
For me, my Lords,
When the Lords approach Henry he is at his ‘private meditations’, and
asks appropriately ‘Who am I?’
I love him not, nor fear him, there’s my Creed:
As I am made without him, so I’ll stand,
If the King please: His Curses and his blessings
Touch me alike: they’re breath I not believe in.
I knew him, and I know him; so I leave him
To him that made him proud; the Pope. (2.2.1084-90)
Suffolk. How sad he looks; sure he is much afflicted.
The King, though, summarily dismisses the Lords, but then welcomes
Wolsey wholeheartedly as he enters with Campeius, the Pope’s representative.
Shakespeare characterises the King as not only naïve, but also gullible
because of his faith in the ‘good Lord’ of Christ.
King. Who’s there? Ha?
Norfolk. Pray God he be not angry.
King. Who’s there I say? How dare you thrust yourselves
Into my private Mediations?
Who am I? Ha?
Norfolk. A gracious King, that pardons all offences
Malice ne’er meant: (2.2.1102-9)
Who’s there? my good Lord Cardinal? O my Wolsey,
Although The Famous History of the Life Of Henry the Eight (Henry VIII)
was included by Shakespeare’s colleagues in the 1623 Folio without a
suggestion of dual authorship, academic opinion has since assigned Act 2
scene 2 to Fletcher citing textual differences between scenes. But the differences
are no greater than in those plays (or poems) which they wholly
attribute to Shakespeare. So the problem for the commentators, who feel
obliged to convert Shakespeare to England’s Anglican Poet, is that the offending
passages contradict their prejudices.
The quiet of my wounded Conscience;
Thou art a cure fit for a King; you’re welcome
Most learned Reverend Sir, into our Kingdom,
Use us, and it:My good Lord, have great care,
I be not found a Talker. (2.2.1116-21)
The representation of the King as a fool and gull increases as the scene
unfolds. Shakespeare, using the play to demonstrate the evils of excessive
idealism, now points to the heart of the problem, the male-based authority
of the Christian hierarchy. The idea that Katherine’s trial could be a ‘free’
one within a male-dominant faith is a delusion fostered by the avaricious
Cardinal and acquiesced in by Henry whose conscience is driven largely by
Your Grace has given a Precedent of wisdom
Shakespeare is unrelenting in exposing the hypocrisy of the Cardinal and
the King. The exchange implicates Christendom in the scandal that will
befall Katherine as a woman. The King emphasises the dominance of the
male when he refers to Campeius as ‘such a Man’. And in response Campeius
disingenuously offers an ‘unpartial judging of this Business’. Wolsey’s
generous offer to have ‘Scholars’ argue for Katherine, with the King’s agreement,
is the nadir of hypocrisy.
Above all Princes, in committing freely
Your scruple to the voice of Christendom:
Who can be angry now? What Envy reach you?
The Spaniard tied by blood and favour to her,
Must now confess, if they have any goodness,
The Trial, just and Noble. All the Clerks,
(I mean the learned ones in Christian Kingdoms)
Have their free voices. Rome (the Nurse of Judgment)
Invited by your Noble self, hath sent
One general Tongue unto us. This good man,
This just and learned Priest, Cardinal Campeius, (2.2.1133-44)
Wolsey. I know your Majesty, has always lov’d her
Even Campeius has doubts. He queries Wolsey about the promotion of
Gardiner to King’s secretary, because he has heard rumours of foul play. But
Wolsey is blatant about his ‘Christian’ motives.
So dear in heart, not to deny her that
A Woman of less Place might ask by Law;
Scholars allow’d freely to argue for her.
King. I, and the best she shall have; and my favour
To him that does best, God forbid else: (2.2.1157-62)
Heaven’s peace be with him:
Shakespeare has the King complete the litany of hypocrisy when he
admits that despite the outcome of the trial he will still leave Katherine for
the younger Anne Bullen.
That’s Christian care enough: for living Murmurers,
There’s places of rebuke. He was a Fool;
For he would needs be virtuous. That good Fellow,
If I command him follows my appointment,
I will have none so near else. Learn this Brother,
We live not to be gripped by meaner persons. (2.2.1184-90)
The most convenient place, that I can think of
Scene 2 is a critical one for establishing the duplicity of the King and
his Cardinal. From the vantage of the Sonnet philosophy, it explicitly
identifies the iniquities that arise from a male-based system of belief. No
wonder commentators want to attribute it to Fletcher, who they claim was
susceptible to court gossip. The commentators argue that ‘their’Shakespeare
would not have wanted to offend the monarchy.
For such a receipt of Learning, is Black-Friars:
There ye shall meet about this weighty business.
My Wolsey see it furnished, O my Lord,
Would it not grieve an able man to leave
So sweet a Bedfellow? But Conscience, Conscience,
O ’tis a tender place, and I must leave her. (2.2.1193-99)
But if the scene was offensive to the monarchy it would have been so
whoever wrote it. If there was a valid concern that Shakespeare would not
have risked offending the monarchy, the presence of the scene in the play
rules that out. The scene was in the play in Shakespeare’s day, so whoever
put it there could have been subject to the displeasure of Crown and Church.
The commentators prejudice is unwarranted.
Shakespeare’s examination of hypocrisy continues in scene 3 where the
less circumspect Old Lady openly questions the hypocrisy of the youthful
Anne Bullen’s idealistic opinions about the possibility of becoming Queen.
Anne first expresses sympathy for Katherine, sympathy she will later
overlook when Henry proposes marriage.
Not for that neither; here’s the pang that pinches.
The bitter irony is that even a young woman such as Anne, because of
her allegiance to the idealistic programme of the Church, is unprepared for
the ‘truth’ she is about to experience. Shakespeare has her call on the ‘God’
whose biblical illogic separates ‘soul and body’ to save the Queen from just
such a ‘severing’.
His Highness, having liv’d so long with her, and she
So good a Lady, that no Tongue could ever
Pronounce dishonour of her; by my life,
She never knew harm-doing: Oh, now after
So many courses of the Sun enthroned,
Still growing in a Majesty and pomp, the which
To leave, a thousand fold more bitter, than
’Tis sweet at first t’acquire After this Process,
To give her the avaunt, it is a pity
Would move a Monster. (2.3.1202-12)
Oh God’s will, much better
The deeper irony is that Anne anticipates her own fate. Shakespeare, as
he does for the youth in sonnets 1 and 55, has Anne imagine the prospects
of both living ‘Content’ (as in contented) and living with the ‘Content’ (as
in knowledge) of her mind at one with natural logic.
She ne’er had known pomp; though’t be temporal,
Yet if that quarrel. Fortune, do divorce
It from the bearer, ’tis a sufferance, panging
As soul and bodies severing. (2.3.1215-9)
So much the more
The Old Lady concurs that ‘our content is our best having’. If ‘content’
in the Sonnets relates to the appreciation of the dynamic of increase and truth
and beauty out of Nature, then Anne’s next vow pits her potential to increase
against her capacity for truth, or her ability to vow honestly.
Must pity drop upon her; verily
I swear, ’tis better to be lowly born,
And range with humble livers in Content,
Than to be perked up in a glittering grief,
And wear a golden sorrow. (2.3.1222-7)
By my troth, and Maidenhead,
But the Old Lady knows human nature too well. The issue is not only
that Anne might ‘stretch’ her maidenhood, but that the hypocrisy of her
idealised faith conceals from her the possibility that she might.
I would not be a Queen. (2.3.1230-1)
Beshrew me, I would,
Shakespeare makes a direct link, as he does in sonnet 151, between the
derivation of love from the increase potential and the faculty of conscience.
If the King has had his ‘tender’ conscience tested, and Anne
Bullen is about to have her ‘soft...Conscience’ exercised, and the Old Lady
suggests Anne’s conscience might be ‘stretched’, Shakespeare is drawing on
the logical relation expressed in the Sonnets between physical love (increase
sonnets) and deliberations about the logic of love (the truth and beauty
And venture Maidenhead for’t, and so would you
For all this spice of your Hypocrisy:
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 soothe, are Blessings; and which gifts
(Saving your mincing) the capacity
Of your most Cheveril Conscience, would receive,
If you might please to stretch it. (2.3.1232-41)
The connection to the Sonnets, and particularly to the last of the Mistress
sonnets that explores the dynamic of truth, is also apparent in the number
of times Anne pledges her ‘troth’ or ‘swears’ she will not sacrifice her
maidenhead. The exchange between the two women mimics sonnet 152
that mentions truth twice, swearing or foreswearing 7 times, oath 3 times,
vow 3 times and perjury twice.
Anne. By my troth, and Maidenhead,
But intertwined with the litany of avowals are Anne’s protestations of
sexual innocence and the Old Lady’s erotic suggestiveness. As in the Sonnets,
which derive the logic of truth and beauty from the increase dynamic out
of Nature, Shakespeare’s Henry VIII demonstrates the close link between the
forces of life and the conscience.
I would not be a Queen.
Anne. Nay, good troth.
Old Lady. Yes troth, and troth; you would not be a Queen?
Anne. No in truth.
How you do talk;
I swear again, I would not be Queen,
For all the world: (2.3.1230-57)
Beshrew me, I would,
Sonnets 137 to 152 examine the relation between excessive avowals of
faith and their inevitable forswearing or disavowal. To demonstrate the Sonnet
logic, when the Lord Chamberlain enters, he and Anne exchange half-truths
that reflect their undeclared agendas. She because she does not want to admit
that most of her conversation with the Old Lady centered on the possibility
of her accession, and he because he comes offering sweeteners to further
the King’s desire to bed Anne before he has divorced Katherine.
And venture Maidenhead for’t
You that have so fair parts of Woman on you,
Of your soft Cheverel Conscience, would receive,
If you might please to stretch.
Have you limbs
To bear that load of Title.
If your back
Cannot vouchsafe this burthen, ’tis too weak
Ever to get a Boy.
In faith, for little England
You’ld venture an emballing. (2.3.1232-59)
The deceptiveness evident in the exchange between Anne and the
Chamberlain derives directly from the disjunction between the excessive
idealism of their beliefs and the natural logic of life. Although the Chamberlain
is inquisitive about the ‘secret’ the women were sharing, Anne says
she will not reveal all. And despite his suspicions, because he has his own
agenda, he commends them as ‘good women’.
Chamberlain. Good morrow Ladies; what wer’t worth to know
Because the Chamberlain knows the King is torn between his conscience
and his penis, he overstates Anne’s piousness by patronising her ‘heavenly
blessings’. His words lack the ‘sincerity’ he claims as his.
The secret of your conference?
Anne. My good Lord,
Not your demand; it values not your asking:
Our Mistress’ Sorrows we were pitying.
Chamberlain. It was a gentle business, and becoming
The action of good women, there is hope
All will be well. (2.3.1263-70)
Anne. Now I pray God, Amen.
The irony is pure Shakespeare. The reference to ‘Creatures’ recalls the
first sonnet that declares, ‘From fairest creatures we desire increase’. Ironically,
Shakespeare then has the Chamberlain reveal his deceit with the equivalent
of a Freudian slip.
Chamberlain. You bear a gentle mind, and heavenly blessings
Follow such Creatures. That you may, fair Lady
Perceive I speak sincerely, and high notes
Ta’en of your many virtues; the King’s Majesty
Commends his good opinion of you, to you; (2.3.1271-6)
When the Chamberlain announces the King’s gift of a title and a thousand
pounds, Anne is sent into a litany of erotic compliance. She unwittingly
depicts herself as a receptive vessel that is ‘tender’, ‘nothing’, ‘hallowed’,
‘empty’, yet sexually ‘blushing’.
I do not know
The Chamberlain finds himself attracted, like Henry, to Anne’s charms.
He reveals his awareness of Henry’s intentions when he acknowledges that
from Anne a ‘lemme’, or the wished-for male child, will be born that might
‘lighten all this Isle’. If a male ‘lemme’ is born to Anne then that would justify
Henry’s object or argument (lemma) based on male primogeniture. Shakespeare
not only highlights the evil in male primogeniture from which the
‘light’ of God is expected to shine, but also the deep irony that the great light
that did shine from Anne Bullen was Henry’s famous female heir, Elizabeth.
What kind of my obedience, I should tender;
More than my All, is Nothing:Nor my Prayers
Are not words duly hallowed; nor my Wishes
More worth, than empty vanities:
and my obedience,
As from a blushing Handmaid, (2.3.1281-8)
So the Old Lady sardonically asks Anne if the ‘taste’ of Henry’s largesse
is ‘bitter’. Her sexual puns make it clear that she understands the cause of
Anne’s blushing. Anne’s sexual receptivity is now ‘filled up’.
A very fresh Fish here; fie, fie, fie upon
Anne has to admit that she is aroused and wonders what is to ‘follow’.
Her previous concern for Katherine’s predicament is now coupled with an
anxiety that Katherine might hear of her excitement at the thought of
This compell’d fortune: have your mouth filled up,
Before you open it.
With your Theme, I could
O’er-mount the Lark:
Is no longer than his fore-skirt; (2.3.1305-19)
When the court assembles to determine the legitimacy of the King’s
marriage to Katherine, Katherine rises from her seat and addresses Henry.
Rather than accuse him directly of rejecting her because of her inability to
produce a male heir and because of his desire to marry a younger woman,
she appeals to the ‘Rights and Justice’ she deserves from his faith in ‘heaven’
Make your self mirth with your particular fancy,
And leave me out on’t. Would I had no being
If this salute my blood a jot; it faints me
To think what follows.
The Queen is comfortless, and we forgetful
In our long absence: pray do not deliver,
What here y’have heard to her. (2.3.1322-29)
Instead of berating Henry’s gullibility, as she did Wolsey for his religious
duplicity, the Queen appeals to her husband’s troubled sense of decency. She
represents herself as always obedient to Henry, as amicable to the point of
personal effacement, as the bearer of his ‘many children’ (most of whom
died young), and as faithful in wedlock. In her willingness to subject her
female intuitions to his male-based machinations, she fails to address the
logical point that she has a surviving child by him, albeit a female.
I have been to you, a true and humble Wife,
At all times to your will conformable: (2.4.1375-7)
Katherine deepens the paradox when she calls on the ‘prudence’ and
‘wisdom’of Henry’s father, King Henry VII, and that of her father Ferdinand
V. While she reminds Henry that their fathers’ deemed their marriage lawful,
she does not address the critical issue of his God driven male pride or his
sexual desire for the maidenhead of a younger women. Because of her
inability to identify the fault in Henry’s attitude, she paradoxically allows
that if he does not heed her plea then it will be under the ‘name of God’
that his ‘pleasure be fulfilled’.
Katherine’s speech is full of the equivocations. As a woman she is caught
between her feminine insights and her unwillingness to question the male
prerogative, which secured her a good 20 years of wealth and advantage.
Shakespeare demonstrates that even a woman capable of insights into the
evil of Wolsey does not necessarily have the fortitude to address the same
God-derived evil in her husband that makes him so susceptible to Wolsey’s
Shakespeare’s persistent argument in the Sonnets and throughout the plays
is that evil arises just as readily from those whose beliefs are benign. The
sexual sea change in Angelo in Measure for Measure dramatically illustrates
the problem with the belief in an idealised God. Equally, a character such
as the otherwise testy Katherine can be blind to the benign evil in others.
By the end of the play, Shakespeare identifies Elizabeth as the woman who
will be wise enough to temper the machinations of God-based pride. Queen
Elizabeth more than Queen Katherine will be true to the logic of the
So when Wolsey and Campeius insist that Katherine will be given a fair
hearing she objects, but still does not appreciate that both Wolsey and Henry
are agents of the God who usurps the priority of the female in Nature.
Shakespeare, in Katherine’s tirade against the Cardinal, captures her
confusion of values. Her appeals to ‘God’ for herself and for her husband
are ignorant of Henry’s plan to achieve his desires while maintaining his
beliefs. Facetiously she wishes that ‘God’s dew quench’ the Cardinal’s evil,
even while her ‘Sacred’(2.4.1394) husband’s ‘dew’ is about to be quenched
(sonnets 153 and 154) in the valley of Anne Bullen.
For it is you
Wolsey responds by reminding her of her ‘gentle’ acquiescence ‘o’ertopping
woman’s power’. Wolsey is quiet clear about the need to subject
the natural power or priority of women to the ‘wisdom’ of men through
the ‘Charity’ of the male God.
Have blown this Coal, betwixt my Lord, and me;
(Which God’s dew quench). (2.4.1435-7)
I do profess
Wolsey appeals to his friend, the gullible King, to affirm that he is free
of the accusations Katherine makes against him. His duplicity is captured
in an echo of the biblical confusion of ‘Truth’ and ‘Falsehood’.
You speak not like your self: who ever yet
Have stood to Charity, and displayed th’effects
Of disposition gentle, and of wisdom,
O’er-topping woman’s power. (2.4.1442-6)
If it be known to him,
Ironically, in Wolsey’s Christian need to constrain the female to prevent
her from exercising her natural right, Shakespeare has him acknowledge the
logical priority of female over the male, and then leads him on to invert the
logic of truth by corrupting the relation between the true and the false.
Shakespeare’s critique of the Cardinal is equally a critique of the Church,
which dogmatises the priority of the male God and then institutes
commandments of God, the first three of which demand unquestioned
obedience and worship of the jealous male God to obscure the perversion
of natural logic.
That I gainsay my Deed, how may he wound,
And worthily my Falsehood, yea, as much
As you have done my Truth, (2.4.1453-6)
The Queen, who admits she is a ‘simple woman’unable to argue against
the cunning of Wolsey’s appeal to the King’s pride, is still able to assert that
his ‘meekness and humility’ in public belies the ‘arrogance, spleen, and pride’
in his ‘heart’. Faced with her inability to argue in defense of her rights as a
woman, she has no option but to depart. In Measure for Measure, Isabella is
similarly unable to defend herself against the deceptions of Angelo, and it
is only later under the tutelage of the Duke that she gains the capacity to
do so. (Other heroine’s such as Lucrece learn from the evil consequences of
their earlier gullibility.)
Henry, struck by Katherine’s independence of mind, ironically misattributes
her qualities to the very male-based prerogatives that keep him
blind to Wolsey’s deceitfulness. As ‘Queen of earthly Queens’ he keeps her
in her place, under the God given powers of his monarchy, but in doing so
he ironically identifies the source of her greater insights over his male–based
Go thy ways Kate,
Wolsey, in thanking ‘God for such a Royal lady’, moves to take advantage
of the King’s homily to Katherine. He asks if he has ever within the King’s
hearing maligned the Queen. The King replies with unwittingly irony that
any who do so are ‘like to Village Curs’ (evoking the God/Dog relationship).
Whatever Henry may think of Wolsey, he has a more pressing reason for
‘excusing’ the good Lord Cardinal. He needs Wolsey’s friendship to expedite
a divorce so he can bed Anne Bullen. So, after summarily dismissing the
Queen’s accusations against Wolsey, he explains why his marriage has given
him a tender ‘conscience’.
That Man i’th world, who shall report he has
A better Wife, let him in naught be trusted,
For speaking false in that; thou art alone
(If thy rare qualities, sweet gentleness,
Thy meekness Saint-like,Wife-like Government,
Obeying in commanding, and thy parts
Sovereign and Pious else, could speak thee out)
The Queen of earthly Queens: (2.4.1496-1504)
Henry begins by claiming that when the legitimacy of his marriage to
the Queen was raised, during a debate concerning the marriage of their
daughter Mary, the implications ‘shook the bosom of his conscience’ and
made ‘tremble the region of my Breast’.
Thus it came; give heed to’t:
Shakespeare, whose first child was conceived out of wedlock, would have
been particularly conscious of the irrationality of an argument based on
legitimacy. Henry’s conscience would not otherwise have stopped him having
mistresses, as was common practice, and his conscience, racked by issues of
legitimacy, was not going to stop him bedding Anne Bullen whether
Katherine consented to a divorce or not (2.2.1199). But when in a passage
lifted from Holinshed, Henry attempts to justify his actions by connecting the
male God and male primogeniture, Shakespeare has him by the proverbial
My Conscience first receiv’d a tenderness,
Scruple, and prick, on certain Speeches utter’d
By th’Bishop of Bayon, then French Ambassador,
Who had been hither sent on the debating
And Marriage ’twixt the Duke of Orleans, and
Our Daughter Mary: I’th Progress of this business,
Ere a determinate resolution, he
(I mean the Bishop) did require a respite,
Wherein he might the King his Lord advertise,
Whether our Daughter were legitimate,
Respecting this our Marriage with the Dowager,
Sometimes our Brother’s Wife. This respite shook
The bosom of my Conscience, enter’d me;
Yea, with a spitting power, and made to tremble
The region of my Breast, which forc’d such way,
That many maz’d considerings, did throng
And pressed in with this Caution. (2.4.1535-52)
First, me thought
Commentators recognise the explanation of Henry’s concerns about his
inability to produce a ‘Male Issue’ as the key passage in the play. Significantly
for Shakespeare’s demonstration of the logic of the Sonnet philosophy, the
passage is nearly word for word from Holinshed. The Holinshed passage,
where Henry uses his fear of ‘God’s indignation’ to justify a divorce from
Katherine, is the centre of hypocrisy around which Shakespeare constructs
I stood not in the smile of Heaven, who had
Commanded Nature, that my Lady’s womb
If it conceiv’d a male-child by me, should
Do no more Offices of life to’t; than
The Grave does to th’dead: For her Male Issue,
Or died where they were made, or shortly after
This world had air’d them. Hence I took a thought,
This was a Judgment on me, that my Kingdom
(Well worthy the best Heir o’th’World) should not
Be gladded in’t by me. Then follows, that
I weigh’d the danger which my Realm stood in
By this my Issues fail, and that gave to me
Many a groaning throw: thus hulling in
The wild Sea of my Conscience, I did steer
Toward this remedy, whereupon we are
Now present here together: that’s to say
I meant to rectify my Conscience, which
I then did feel full sick, and yet not well,
By all the Reverend Fathers of the Land,
And Doctors learned. (2.4.1552-72)
The wonderful irony begins with the recollection that Henry already has
an heir in Mary, his daughter with Katherine. Shakespeare emphasises the
point with relish at the end of the play when he rejoices in the golden reign of
Elizabeth the daughter of Anne Bullen who Henry executed. Shakespeare
celebrates the reign of Elizabeth but was also conscious that the older Mary
did reign briefly, although disastrously, before her.
The deeper irony lies in the difficulty Henry has with his ‘conscience’,
which can be attributed directly to the religious and political forces that
drove him to want a male heir. Holinshed gives Shakespeare the lead by
explicitly identifying the male-God of Christianity with the command to
beget a male heir, and with Henry’s consequent ‘guilt’ at not being able to
do so. Because male-based religions and their political counterparts usurp
the logical priority of the female, they resort to denigration and murder to
stop a female from claiming right of ascendancy. Henry’s guilty ‘conscience’
at not maintaining the charade of male priority was exacted on his wives.
From the vantage of the Sonnet philosophy, Shakespeare recognises that
Henry’s appeal to the male God in Holinshed to justify his actions is the
critical moment of unwitting self-condemnation. Henry reveals the
hypocrisy in religious belief when he uses the righteous male God/Dog
syndrome to justify divorcing Katherine, while concealing the Dog/God
dynamic of his desire to lie with Anne Bullen.
To highlight the illogicality of Henry’s vengeful male-based God
assuming priority over the natural forces of life, Shakespeare adds the word
‘Nature’ to the passage from Holinshed. Shakespeare points to the logical basis
of the hypocrisy by emphasising the illogicality of a male God ‘commanding
Nature’ to emasculate Henry’s line of descent. By introducing ‘Nature’ into
Henry’s speech, Shakespeare shows that when Holinshed’s Henry argues that
God is punishing him for an illegitimate marriage, then Henry’s God was
acting against natural logic by ‘commanding’ the death of the male issue from
Shakespeare also points to the irony that the ‘wild Sea’ of the conscience,
which the King appeals to for a divorce from the Queen, can only be
‘rectified’ by the ‘Reverend Fathers of the Land’. As sonnet 151 of the
Mistress sequence makes the logical connection between the ‘conscience’
and ‘love’ derived from the increase dynamic in Nature, then the ‘wild Sea
of my Conscience’doubly identifies the female with the conscience. Henry’s
appeal to his conscience disingenuously uses the feminine side of his mind
to ‘steer’ his ‘hull’ or penis toward a male-based landing or outcome.
Henry’s dependence on his male colleagues is emphasised when he calls
on Lincoln and Canterbury to confirm the ‘oppression’ he originally felt
when pondering the state of his marriage. Lincoln admits that Henry’s
‘question’ had ‘staggered’ him, so he ‘entreated’ Henry to submit to a trial
by ‘Doctors learned’. Again Henry, despite his determination to marry Anne
whatever the outcome, claims he would remain with Katherine if the
marriage is found lawful. But the men who Henry so desperately needs to
help rid him of Katherine have their own religious agendas. When
Campeius suggests an adjournment because the Queen will not return, the
King senses that the Cardinals ‘trifle’ with him, a premonition borne out as
the play progresses.
Shakespeare’s Henry VIII is patently not about the glories of Henry’s reign
nor is it about retrospectively exonerating the King who established the
Church of England. The opposite is the case. Shakespeare takes the historical
account in Holinshed that justifies Henry’s deeds by invoking the prejudices
based in the male God to show how Holinshed’s account reveals the
hypocrisy of belief in a male God, and exposes the iniquitous influence of
male primogeniture on the culture.
Before scene 4, in which Henry attempts to conceal his double standards
behind the will of God, Shakespeare has considered some of the iniquities
that arise when Church and Crown collude. The introduction of the word
Nature into Henry’s exculpation is consistent with the roles Buckingham
and the Queen have played in anchoring the play in the natural logic of the
Sonnets. The following scenes will show that the natural logic of the priority
of Nature over God and female over male cannot be suppressed, despite the
machinations of Church and Crown.
When the Queen enters in Act 3, Shakespeare has her confirm the
relation between the conscience and the sea. Not only is the Mistress of the
Sonnets associated with the sea through her numbering of 28 (the lunar
number), and with the immediacy of the conscience as the source of beauty
and truth, she is also associated with the natural interval in music, the octave.
So it is not surprising that the song sung by the Queen’s women mentions
Orpheus with his Lute made Trees,
The word ‘Music’ is mentioned twice in the song, as it is in first line of
the music sonnets 8 and 128. Sonnets 8 and 128 both argue that music is
an expression of natural concord, and the relationship of the two sonnets
to sonnet 145 identifies the Mistress as the natural font of music on which
the Master Mistress plays. The 3 sonnets connect the concord the youth can
find in music to the natural dynamic of increase and thence to the logic of
beauty and truth. The ‘care’ or ‘grief ’ of the Queen’s conscience finds its
natural resolution in the features of Nature, the ‘Spring’ of increase, and
particularly in the ‘Billows of the Sea’.
And the Mountain tops that freeze,
Bow themselves when he did sing.
To his Music, Plants and Flowers
Ever sprung; as Sun and Showers,
There had made a lasting Spring.
Every thing that heard him play,
Even the Billows of the Sea,
Hung their heads, and then lay by.
In sweet Music is such Art,
Killing care, and grief of heart,
Fall asleep, or hearing die. (3.1.1620-31)
The evocation in the song of the qualities of the Queen in terms similar
to the logical characteristics of the Mistress prepares for the exchange
between her and the two Cardinals. Shakespeare represents Katherine as a
woman who is partly aware of the logic of beauty and truth out of the
Mistress sonnets 127 to 154, but who does not appreciate the logic of truth
and beauty in the Master Mistress sonnets 20 to 126. Unlike the Poet who
critiques the excessive idealism of the Master Mistress, she only partially
appreciates the relation of human nature to Nature at large. When the Poet
attempts to lift the understanding of the Master Mistress to maturity, because
the female and male are also personae of the mind, he seeks to make the
female aware of the masculine side of her character.
The Cardinals bring to Katherine their God-given desire to distort the
relation of true and false. While she has the capacity to appreciate that they
bend argument to suit themselves, she is unable to counter their persistent
deceit. They mercilessly exploit her 20 years of servile acquiescence to the
So when the Cardinal’s are announced the Queen immediately expresses
her mixture of insight and wariness.
what can be their business
And again she reveals her lack of masculine guile.
With me, a poor weak woman, fallen from favour?
I do not like their coming; now I think on’t,
They should be good men, their affairs as righteous:
But all Hoods, make not Monks. (3.1.1639-43)
Your Graces find me here part of a Housewife,
When they suggest retiring to her ‘private Chamber’ Katherine expresses
her dislike of anything other than ‘open dealing’.
(I would be all) against the worst may happen:
What are your pleasures with me, reverent Lords? (3.1.1646-8)
Speak it here.
In his Katherine, Shakespeare creates a woman as Queen who has a sense
of her own limits. Yet, while she can make cutting remarks about the clergy
(‘Hoods not Monks’), her continued commitment to her faith means she
lacks the circumspection to out-argue the Cardinals or see into the Kings
heart. There is bitter irony in her claim to be freer in ‘Soul’ than all other
There’s nothing I have done yet o’my Conscience
Deserves a Corner:would all other Women
Could speak this with as free a Soul as I do.
My Lords, I care not (so much am I happy
Above a number) if my actions
Were tried by ev’ry tongue, ev’ry eye saw ’em,
Envy and base opinion set against ’em,
I know my life so even. If your business
Seek me out, and that way I am Wise in;
Out with it boldly: Truth loves open dealing. (3.1.1652-62)
In the fitting organic metaphor ‘breed’, Shakespeare has Wolsey reveal
the hypocrisy of his ‘faith’.
I am sorry my integrity should breed,
And Cardinal Campeius unwittingly puns on ‘nature’ as he adds his
support to Wolsey’s argument.
(And service to his Majesty and you)
So deep suspicion, where all faith was meant; (3.1.1674-6)
Most honour’d Madam,
Not only are the two Cardinals dishonest, Shakespeare indicates the
nature of their deceit by having them echo the Queen’s questions about their
‘pleasures’ with words like ‘breed’ and ‘service’ (twice). The subtle Freudian
slip gives away their real purpose of supplanting her with another bedmate
My Lord of York, out of his Noble nature,
Zeal and obedience he still bore your Grace,
Forgetting (like a good man) your late Censure
Both of his truth and him (which was too far)
Offers, as I do, in sign of peace,
His Service, and his Counsel. (3.1.1685-91)
For her part the Queen accuses them of betraying her, but again she
conditions her response with a sense of feminine inadequacy.
To betray me.
Wolsey attempts to reassure her of the ‘infinite’ love and friendship of
the King but she says she trusts only her Spanish kin. When Campeius
suggests she put herself in the protection of Henry or else face being
disgraced before the Law, she calls them both corrupt Christians.
My Lords, I thank you both for your good wills,
Ye speak like honest men, (pray God ye prove so)
But how to make ye suddenly an Answer
In such a point of weight, so near mine Honour,
(More near my Life I fear) with my weak wit;
And to such men of gravity and learning;
In truth I know not.
Alas, I am a Woman friendless, hopeless. (3.1.1692-705)
Ye tell me what ye wish for both, my ruin:
Katherine’s slating of ‘Christians’, and her avowal of a faith in ‘heaven’
or ‘God’ as a ‘Judge’ above the King, suggests Shakespeare casts her more as
a deist than a theist. Her determination to reject the authority of the Church
is increased when Campeius says she is mistaken because she is in a ‘rage’.
Is this your Christian Counsel? Out upon ye.
Heaven is above all yet; there sits a Judge.
That no King can corrupt. (3.1.1728-31)
The more shame for ye; holy men I thought ye,
Campeius’ claim that she turns the ‘good we offer, into envy’, elicits a
further condemnation from her of ‘Churchmen’.
Upon my Soul two reverend Cardinal Virtues:
But Cardinal Sins, and hollow hearts I fear ye:
Mend ’em for shame my Lords: Is this your comfort?
The Cordial that ye bring a wretched Lady?
A woman lost among ye, laugh’d at, scorned?
I will not wish ye half my miseries,
I have more Charity. But say I warn’d ye;
Take heed, for heaven’s sake take heed, lest at once
The burthen of my sorrows, fall upon thee. (3.1.1733-42)
Ye turn me into nothing. Woe upon ye,
Shakespeare’s examination of Katherine’s state of mind can only be
understood in the light of the Sonnet philosophy. The logical relationship
between the Mistress and the Master Mistress and the unification of their
personae in the Poet’s understanding applies in these passages. Shakespeare
as Poet pits the adolescent idealistic misrepresentations of the Churchmen
against the elementary appreciation of the logic of beauty and truth of the
Queen. Because traditional commentators do not understand the Sonnet
logic, and because many are psychologically disposed toward the institution
of the Church and Crown, they seek reasons to attribute the scene to a hand
other than Shakespeare’s. Yet from the vantage of the Sonnet philosophy,
Henry VIII has a consistency of development from the opening scene that
makes Shakespeare’s authorship unimpeachable.
And all such false Professors. Would you have me
(If you have any Justice, any Pity,
If ye be anything but Churchmen’s habits)
Put my sick cause into his hands, that hates me?
Alas, he’s banished me his Bed already,
His Love, too long ago. I am old my Lords,
And all the Fellowship I hold now with him
Is only my Obedience. What can happen
To me above this wretchedness? (3.1.1745-54)
When Katherine defends her unblemished service as a ‘Wife’, she reveals
a lack of insight into her husband’s male persona. The Mistress of the Sonnets
demonstrates in sonnets such as 138, where she and the Poet ‘lie’ together,
her awareness of the full dynamic of truth. Katherine’s avowal reveals only
the influence of her cloistered womanhood.
Have I lived thus long (let me speak my self,
It has been noted already that Shakespeare takes ‘virtuous’ characters like
Isabella in Measure for Measure and Helena in All’s Well that Ends Well and,
without compromising their virtuousness teaches them a lesson about the
logic of the male or masculine side of their personalities. In the Famous
History of Henry VIII, Shakespeare does not attempt give a lesson to an
historical person but shows, from the evidence of the Chronicles, that their
natural logic was inadequately realised, so leading to their misfortune or
iniquity. The patent iniquities of the Church/Crown are an obvious target.
Also interesting is the misunderstanding between individuals who thought
they understood one another.
Since Virtue finds no friends) a Wife, a true one?
A Woman (I dare say without Vainglory)
Never yet branded with Suspicion?
Have I, with all my full Affections
Still met the King? Lov’d him next Heav’n? Obey’d him?
Been (out of fondness) superstitious to him?
Almost forgot my Prayers to content him?
And am I thus rewarded? ’Tis not well Lords.
Bring me a constant woman to her Husband,
One that ne’er dreamed a Joy, beyond his pleasure;
And to that Woman (when she has done most)
Yet I will add an Honour; a great Patience. (3.1.1757-69)
Like the Churchmen and academics over the last 400 years who have
refused Shakespeare his natural right to the scenes they would rather Fletcher
have written, Wolsey does not appreciate that there is a truth to be weighed
behind the Queen’s musings. Instead, in keeping with the interests of his
evil intent, he says,
Madam, you wander from the good
But Katherine, in the defense of her ‘Dignities’, refuses to divorce the
King. Despite her spirited attack, though, on the hypocrisy of the Cardinals
she does not see, as Shakespeare demonstrates in the overall plot of his play,
that her greatest weakness is her faith in a male God who provides her Henry
with an excuse to leave her ‘Bed’ on the pretext of his search for a male
heir. Instead she thinks her fortunes would be kinder if she could resort to
her Spanish countrymen for succour and pity. Yet sixteenth century Spain
no less than England is beholden to the unnatural logic of male priority,
particularly over women such as her.
We aim at. (3.1.1770-1)
Would I had never trod this English Earth,
Katherine’s lack of introspection into natural logic leads her to self-pity,
which in turn makes her more susceptible to the Cardinal’s persistent claim of
honesty. Wolsey not only claims honesty but also plays on her sense of dignity.
Or felt the Flatteries that grow upon it:
Ye have Angel Faces; but Heaven knows your hearts.
What will become of me now, wretched Lady?
I am the most unhappy Woman living.
Alas (poor Wenches) where are now your Fortunes?
Shipwrack’d upon a Kingdom, where no Pity,
No friends, no Hope, no Kindred weep for me?
Almost no Grave allow’d me? Like the Lily
That once was Mistress of the Field, and flourish’d,
I’ll hang my head, and perish. (3.1.1778-88)
If your Grace
And Campeius adds his bit.
Could but be brought to know, our Ends are honest,
You’d feel more comfort. Why should we (good Lady)
Upon what cause wrong you? Alas, our Places,
The way of our Profession is against it;
We are to Cure such sorrows, not to sow ’em.
The hearts of Princes kiss Obedience,
So much they love it. But to stubborn Spirits,
They swell and grow, as terrible as storms.
I know you have a Gentle, Noble temper,
A Soul as even as a Calm; Pray think us,
Those we profess Peace-makers, Friends, and Servants. (3.1.1789-803)
You wrong your Virtues
When the Queen acquiesces to their continual dissembling of her ‘Spirit’,
Shakespeare has her apologise to the Cardinals with a pun on her inability
to counter their male-based conceits. She, unlike them, lacks a ‘wit’ or a
With these weak Women’s fears. A Noble Spirit
As yours was, put into you, ever casts
Such doubts as false Coin from it. (3.1.1805-8)
Do what ye will, my Lords:
The second scene of Act 3 sees Cardinal Wolsey, and with him the
Christian Church, caught in the excesses that follow inevitably from their
abuse of natural logic. Shakespeare takes Wolsey all the way from a self-proud
male, who has just come from lording his power over the hapless Katherine,
to the point where he finds himself ‘playing the Woman’.
And pray forgive me;
If I have used myself unmannerly,
You know that I am a Woman, lacking wit
To make a seemly answer to such persons. (3.1.1812-6)
If Wolsey deserves a complete reversal of ‘Fortunes’, then Henry’s fate
for marrying the beautiful Anne Bullen to ease his male-driven conscience
is also appropriate. Ironically, Anne Bullen’s first and only child, Elizabeth,
fails to ease Henry’s male God-driven ‘conscience’, leading to the atrocity
of executing the beauty for whom he rejected Katherine.
Despite the efforts of the Church and Crown to gloss over Henry’s
murderous male-driven ambitions, he remains an unsavoury founder for the
Church of England. The gradual decline of the influence of the Church
and Crown in English political life could be attributed to a long-term
reaction to Henry’s willingness to murder to preserve the priority of the male
sanctioned by male-based beliefs.
When Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey and the Lord Chamberlain enter,
they share the intelligence that the King has evidence of Wolsey’s duplicity.
Surrey particularly is ‘joyful’ of the chance to ‘revenge’the Duke of Buckingham.
Ironically, the Cardinal will fall not because he opposes Henry’s
divorce but because he connives to have Henry marry the Catholic Duchess
of Alanson rather than the Lutheran Anne Bullen. His fate is not aided
by the fact that Henry has already secretly married Anne, even before the
Court of Learned Doctors grants a divorce from Katherine. And Henry is
further annoyed to find that Campeius has delayed proceedings by returning
While Suffolk is able to appreciate Anne’s qualities, Shakespeare has the
four Lords unwittingly acknowledge the support they give to the male-based
hierarchy. To Suffolk’s ‘My Amen to’t’ Norfolk responds ‘All men’s’. (A
similar play on ‘Amen’ occurs in Macbeth.) And there seems to be agreement
among the men that Anne is a ‘gallant Creature, and compleat in mind and
When the Cardinal returns, his ‘moody’ entry is observed by the Lords.
His desire to maintain the power of the male God is reflected in his
objection to the role women play in the ‘Lutheran’ Church. Shakespeare
captures Wolsey’s institutionalised misogyny in the iteration of the word
The late Queen’s Gentlewoman?
Then the King enters pondering the evidence of the Cardinal’s excessive
penchant for possessions. Shakespeare’s general condemnation of the
Christian Church with its fabulous wealth and compromised spirituality can
be read in Henry’s condemnation of the Cardinal’s avariciousness.
A knight’s Daughter
To be her Mistress’ Mistress? The Queen’s, Queen?
This Candle burns not clear, ’tis I must snuff it,
Then out it goes. (3.2.1950-4)
If we did think
Shakespeare loads the King’s facetious comments with a veiled warning
straight out of sonnet 126, which threatened the idealistic Master Mistress
with the ‘Audit’ of Nature if he is unwilling to appreciate the logic of
increase and truth and beauty. The irony is intense as Henry indirectly
accuses Wolsey of accumulating material wealth in lieu of ‘Spiritual’
husbandry. In Shakespeare’s mind the Cardinal’s earthly greed is a logical
consequence of the poverty of ‘Heavenly stuff ’. Shakespeare sardonically has
Wolsey acknowledge his failure to appreciate the logical role of ‘Husband’
and ‘son’ with his pitiful invocation of ‘Nature’.
His Contemplation were above the earth,
And fixed on Spiritual object, he should still
Dwell in his Musings, but I am afraid
His Thinkings are below the Moon, not worth
His serious considering.
Good my Lord,
You are full of Heavenly stuff, and bear the Inventory
Of your best Graces, in your mind; the which
You were now running o’er: you have scarce time
To steal from Spiritual leisure, a brief span
To keep your earthly Audit, sure in that
I deem you an ill Husband, and am glad
To have you therein my Companion. (3.2.1994-2011)
For Holy Offices I have a time; a time
When Henry facetiously compliments him for ‘saying well’, Wolsey seeks
to have the benefit allied with his ‘doing well’. But Henry will not allow it.
To think upon the part of business, which
I bear i’th’State: and Nature does require
Her times of preservation, which perforce
I her frail son, amongst my Brethren mortal,
Must give my tendance to. (3.2.2013-18)
King. You have said well.
Shakespeare has Henry characterise the Cardinal as incapable of unifying
‘word’ and ‘deed’. The double irony, of course, is that the King proves to
be no more a man of his word than the Cardinal. The Cardinal is too much
a man of the ‘word’ of the male God to see that his ‘deeds’ are unnatural to
husbands and sons in Nature. An appreciation of the logic of words (or truth)
and their relation to the dynamic of life or Nature, which Shakespeare articulates
in the Sonnets, is missing from the deeds of both Henry and Wolsey.
Cardinal. And ever may your Highness yoke together,
(As I will lend you cause) my doing well,
With my well saying.
King. ’Tis well said again,
And ’tis a kind of good deed to say well,
And yet words are no deeds. My Father lov’d you,
He said he did, and with his deed did Crown
His word upon you. (3.2.2019-27)
As if to reinforce the connection to his Sonnet philosophy, and particularly
the 14 increase sonnets that provide the logical relation between Nature
and husbands and sons as the basis for truth and beauty (sonnet 14),
Shakespeare has Surrey say as an aside,
The Lord increase this business. (3.2.2033)
The exchange between King and Cardinal has compared ‘Heavenly stuff ’
and ‘Holy Offices’ with ‘earthly Audit’ and ‘Nature’s requirements’. In a
single breath, Surrey’s comment conjoins the illogicality of ‘the Lord’
(Christ?) undergoing physical increase, with the hope that the Cardinal
increases his ‘business’ of offending the King, and with the illogicality of
Wolsey’s relationship to Nature as an ‘ill husband’ and ‘frail son’ who has no
empathy with the logic of increase. The words and tone of the exchange
are derived directly from the arguments the Poet advances to the Master
Mistress to cure his illogical attitude toward increase in the first 14 sonnets.
Henry continues to elicit from Wolsey affirmations of loyalty and
obedience. The double irony of the King receiving an assurance from the
lying Wolsey, who says his ‘ends’ are toward the King’s ‘most Sacred Person’,
indicates Shakespeare was aware of the conceit of divine rule sanctioned by
a male God, as he was of the deceit by a divinely appointed cardinal
concealing his God/Dog driven need for ‘Bounty’.
As the King is about to leave, he hands Wolsey a ‘paper’, which is an
account of ‘all that world of Wealth’Wolsey has ‘drawn together for mine
own ends’. Included also is a letter Wolsey sent to the Pope explaining
the need to hinder the divorce to prevent the marriage of Henry and the
Lutheran Anne Bullen. Wolsey even associates his desire for wealth with
his plan to ‘gain the Popedom’, directly aligning his greed with the Vicarship
of Christ. He even associates this God/Dog moment with the
‘cross Devil’, who is present in Christ on the ‘cross’, the central symbol of
(Indeed to gain the Popedom,
Wolsey, as if meeting Surrey’s earlier expectation, again identifies his holy
deceit as the ‘Business’. His evil business is the consequence of his absolute
allegiance to a male God whose devilish underbelly emerges in Wolsey to
reveal the illogicality in Christian belief. Shakespeare highlights the grossness
of the conceit when the Cardinal refers to his worldly glory as his ‘Greatness’,
and his ‘fall’ as a disappearance from the sight of ‘man’. The opposite has
been the case, as attested by the ignominy that has descended on the divine
conceit over the last four centuries.
And see my friends in Rome.) O Negligence!
Fit for a Fool to fall by: What cross Devil
Made me put this main Secret in the Packet
I sent the King. (3.2.2091-5)
I have touch’d the highest point of all my Greatness,
Contrary to the Cardinal’s pious hopes, sonnet 14 argues against the
psychology of looking to the stars or heavens for a God-like expectation.
Rather it presents the logic of the relation between human eyes and truth
and beauty. Shakespeare has Wolsey describe his meteoric descent, not to
human understanding but against it. Wolsey’s convenient piety in the
remaining scenes reveals the hypocrisy of religious psychology.
And from the full Meridian of my Glory,
I haste now to my Setting. I shall fall
Like a bright exhalation in the Evening,
And no man see me more. (3.2.2102-6)
When the Lords enter to retrieve the ‘Great Seal’ from Wolsey, he persists
in his conceit. Suffolk re-invokes the ‘cross’ reference by challenging Wolsey’s
right to ‘cross’ the ‘words’ of the divine King. The suggestion is that Wolsey
makes a Christ of himself above the ‘word’ of God’s King. Wolsey acknowledges
the implication when he accuses the Lords of ‘envy’ and ‘Malice’ and
demands a ‘Christian warrant’ to verify their ‘words’. Surrey adds to the
accusation of Christian corruption when he calls Wolsey a ‘proud Traitor’,
a ‘Scarlet sin’ and a ‘piece of scarlet’ and accuses him of absolving
Buckingham with an ‘Axe’.
The constant reiteration of the power and value of ‘words’ throughout
this part of the scene corresponds to Shakespeare’s detailed analysis of the
logic of truth in the Mistress sequence (137 to 152) and his attempt to teach
the idealising youth the logic of truth (20 to 126). So by the time Wolsey
claims that his innocence will surface when the ‘King knows my Truth’, the
value of words has been completely undermined.
The Lords give an extensive list (from Holinshed) of the Cardinal’s
offences and then leave. Wolsey, now alone, drops all pretence and bemoans
his fall from greatness. Shakespeare sardonically has him express his slide in
an organic metaphor of growth and decay in keeping with the denial of
Nature and increase in biblical belief.
This is the state of Man; today he puts forth
Shakespeare then has Wolsey depict himself as a ‘boy’ who goes beyond
his depth at ‘sea’. The words recall the adolescent pride of the Master
Mistress that keeps him from reconnecting with the Mistress, whose lunar
numbering (28) associates her with the sea.
The tender Leaves of hopes, tomorrow Blossoms,
And bears his blushing Honours thick upon him:
The third day, comes a Frost; a killing Frost,
And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a ripening, nips his root,
And then he falls as I do. (3.2.2252-8)
I have ventur’d
Wolsey’s earlier description of himself as a ‘star fallen’ is now complemented
by a further image from sonnet 14. He ruminates on the fate of
those who hang on Princes’ favours. In sonnet 14 the favour of Princes is
proscribed and replaced with the sense of truth and beauty available from
Like little wanton Boys that swim on bladders:
This many Summers in a Sea of Glory,
But far beyond my depth:my high-blown Pride
At length broke under me, and now has left me
Weary, and old with Service, to the mercy
Of a rude stream, that must for ever hide me. (3.2.2258-64)
Vain pomp, and glory of this World, I hate ye.
Abergavenny’s assessment of Wolsey’s God/Dog status early in Act 1 is
now Wolsey’s self-actualisation. His self-pity, though, unlike Shakespeare’s
incisive vision into the implications of belief in a male God, allows him to
evoke only the inevitability of natural logic with no awareness of the implications
for male-based religions. The priority of the female over the male,
so clearly articulated in the Sonnets, appears only as a lament on the nature
of ‘woman’ as he senses the God/Dog flip in his fortunes.
I feel my heart new open’d. Oh how wretched
Is that poor man, that hangs on Princes’ favours?
There is betwixt that smile we would aspire to,
That sweet aspect of Princes, and their ruin,
More pangs, and fears than wars, or woman have;
And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,
Never to hope again. (3.2.2265-72)
Cromwell’s entry brings out the disoriented sense of the Cardinal’s
newfound ‘still and quiet conscience’. He feels at ‘peace above all earthly
Dignities’ as if he realises his only ‘hope for Heaven’ is in abject self denial.
Even in his ‘cured’ state he still maintains the conceit of wanting to be
‘greater far than my Weak-hearted Enemies’.
Never so truly happy, my good Cromwell,
The lesson of the Sonnets is that any form of idealised pride whether of
Kings or paupers, whether holy or most evil, remains self-serving pride if
there is no recognition of the priority of Nature and the female over the
male. This Wolsey does not do. Shakespeare laces Wolsey’s speech with
Sonnet terminology to show how the logic of language is based on natural
logic whether or not the speaker is aware that he turns to it in extremis.
I know myself now, and I feel within me,
A peace above all earthly Dignities,
A still, and quiet Conscience.
O ’tis a burden Cromwell, ’tis a burden
Too heavy for a man, that hopes for Heaven.
I am able now (me thinks)
(Out of fortitude of Soul, I feel)
To endure more Miseries, and greater far
Than my Weak-hearted Enemies, dare offer. (3.2.2283-97)
The Shakespearean irony that Wolsey is ‘pulled down’ by ‘one woman’
(Anne Bullen) is given another twist when the Cardinal somewhat
ashamedly is forced to ‘play the Woman’.
Cromwell I did not think to shed a tear
Cromwell’s patronising statement that Wolsey is ‘so good, so Noble, and
so true a Master’wrings from Wolsey an understanding of ‘truth’ so corrupt
that he can only ‘play’the ‘Woman’. As the Sonnets acknowledge the Mistress
is the source of beauty and truth, Wolsey’s bizarre conjunction of ‘truth’
and ‘woman’ is a misrepresentation that Shakespeare deliberately gives to a
character in the play who represents the illogical psychology of biblical belief.
Wolsey, as long as he is ignorant of natural logic, can never do more than
‘play’ the woman. His ‘unmannerly’ or ashamed playing of the ‘Woman’,
though, has devastating consequences.
In all my Miseries: But thou hast forc’d me
(Out of thy honest truth) to play the Woman. (3.2.2342-4)
Wolsey counsels Cromwell to learn from his abuse of power. After
‘sounding the depths’, he imagines he can offer Cromwell a way to avoid
his own ‘wrack’.
Say I taught thee;
The imagery can only be reconciled from the vantage of the Sonnet
philosophy. Shakespeare takes Wolsey to the brink of natural logic but shows
how Wolsey’s continued faith in the male God leaves him blind to the nature
of his downfall. The two references to ‘woman’ at a time when Wolsey is
down on his luck are an involuntary recognition by him of the priority of
the female. He resists the need to identify his condition in terms of the
female, and that resistance indicates his incomplete connection to his true
self. When he talks of ‘sounding all the depths, and Shoals of Honour’ he
again indirectly accedes to the greater profundity of the female.
Say Wolsey, that once trod the ways of Glory,
And sounded all the Depths, and Shoals of Honour,
Found thee a way (out of his wrack) to rise in:
A sure, and safe one, though thy Master missed it.
Mark but my Fall, and that that Ruin’d me: (3.2.2348-53)
In sonnet 126 Shakespeare cautions the adolescent Master Mistress about
the reckoning he will be subjected to by ‘Nature (sovereign mistress over
wrack)’. And Shakespeare has taken Wolsey through just such a reckoning.
Wolsey identifies the sea, the symbol of Nature (the sovereign mistress),
as the cause of his ‘wrack’, and even identifies himself as the male adolescent
‘Master’ or Master Mistress.
But Wolsey does not understand the logical implications of the words
Shakespeare puts in his mouth. He goes on to characterise the nature of his
‘Fall’, by paradoxically implicating ‘man’ and his male ‘Maker’ in the fall of
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away Ambition,
Within the dynamic of the play, sourced from an historical instance of
male-based iniquity, Wolsey’s fall represents a partial recovery of natural logic.
Shakespeare has introduced into Wolsey’s speeches elements of his Sonnet
philosophy but does not allow Wolsey a full realisation of its Nature based
logic. Instead, in keeping with the historic precedent, Wolsey capitalises on
his turn of fortune by espousing Christian exemplars and virtues in the name
of the God, whose inner Devil he has epitomised. Despite his pious exhortations
to Cromwell, he ends by misunderstanding the direct connection
between ‘my God’ and the persistence of his ‘enemies’.
By that sin fell the Angels: how can man then
(The Image of his Maker) hope to win by it?
Love thyself last, cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than Honesty.
Still in thy right hand, carry gentle Peace
To silence envious Tongues. Be just, and fear not;
Let all thy ends thou aim’st at, be thy Countries,
Thy Gods and Truths. (3.2.2354-62)
Then if thou fall’st (O Cromwell)
Shakespeare has Wolsey again unwittingly admit to a fatal blindness when
he persists in inverting the relation between ‘Court’ and ‘Heaven’. As a
Cardinal he used his hopes of heaven to advance his material well being.
Thou fall’st a blessed Martyr.
Serve the King.
Had I but serv’d my God, with half the Zeal
I serv’d my King: he would not in mine Age
Have left me naked to mine Enemies. (3.2.2362-71)
After the long scene in which Wolsey is exposed and brought to Audit,
Act 4 begins with the coronation of Anne Bullen. The action is watched
by three gentlemen who reflect on the divorce of Katherine, which was
effected after she refused to appear before the ‘learned men’. When Anne
appears they note her ‘Angelic sweetness’, sweet enough they think to ease
the King’s ‘conscience’. They describe a moment in the rejoicing when a
group of pregnant women were so pressed together they seemed ‘woven so
strangely in one piece’.
The Hopes of Court, my Hopes in Heaven do dwell. (3.2.2373-4)
Shakespeare notes the irony of the gentlemen’s acquiescence to the logic
of increase, despite their penchant to see all in terms of God and King. So
when Anne is crowned, the Anne who previously rejected such a possibility
by vowing on her ‘troth and maidenhead’, the third gentleman describes her
approach to the Altar as ‘Saint-like’ as she casts her ‘fair eyes to Heaven’ and
prays ‘devoutly’. But he has already characterised her sexually as the
‘goodliest woman that ever lay by man’. The Sonnet logic predicts that all
pretence of sanctity and virtue is superceded by the logic of increase in
The second scene appropriately cuts to a conversation between
Katherine and her man Griffith. After the confirmation of her divorce and
the public rejoicing at the coronation of Anne, the Queen begins by
describing herself as psychologically damaged by her experiences. Her
idealised expectations of marriage and the King have meant her natural
disposition to increase, instead of being a tree of life has become ‘loaden
Branches’ whose fruit has weighed her down.
O Griffith, sick to death:
Sardonically, she calls her nemesis Wolsey ‘that Child of Honour’. His
adolescent male-God belief (Master Mistress) over-rides what should have
been her triumph as a childbearing female (Mistress). Again, while Katherine
can perceive the evil in Wolsey, she does not have the insight to see the dark
side of believing in the absoluteness of a male God that makes Wolsey’s evil
ambition and greed absolutely evil.
My legs like loaden Branches bow to’th’Earth,
Willing to leave their burthen: (4.2.2552-4)
Griffith captures something of the irony when he reports that Wolsey,
unlike Christ, ‘could not fit his mule’. Wolsey’s last words, recounted by
Griffith, sustain the false sense of ‘Charity’ and the odious sight of a man
on his deathbed, now full of repentance to ensure he gains God’s ear. His
wish that his ‘Honours’ go to the ‘world’ and his ‘blessed part to Heaven’ is
the final indignity of a God-fearing man.
Katherine, though, is in no mood to be so charitable toward Wolsey soul.
She gives a true account of his ‘graces’.
So may he rest,
When Griffith attempts to ‘speak his good’, he manages only to be more
damning of a man who used his knowledge for personal aggrandizement.
The deep irony that ‘Christendom’ would speak Wolsey’s ‘Virtue’ because
he established Oxford University is a joke Shakespeare anticipated and would
have appreciated of a man who ‘died, fearing God’.
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 unbounded stomach, ever ranking
Himself with Princes. One that by suggestion
Tied all the Kingdom. Simony, was fair play,
His own Opinion was his Law. I’th’presence
He would say untruths, and be ever double
Both in his words, and meaning. He was never
(But where he meant to Ruin) pitiful.
His promises,were as he then was, Mighty:
But his performance, as he is now, Nothing:
Of his own body he was ill, and gave
The Clergy ill example. (4.2.2585-99)
The litany of Wolsey’s ‘good’ amounts to that of an academic who sourly
guards his meager reputation, but generously uses his influence to expand
the only institution in which he feels valued. Griffith’s linking of Wolsey’s
academicism with his last minute fear of God is a brilliant parody by
Shakespeare of the vacuous relation between ‘learning’ and religion. Shakespeare
predicts the succession of academic Christian commentators, such as
Samuel Johnson, who have misinterpreted the ‘great’ passages in his plays,
and have converted through emendation and denigration the passages
patently critical of Christianity. In Griffith’s pathetic eulogy Shakespeare
anticipates the traditional commentaries on Henry VIII that iniquitously slight
him by attributing passages to Fletcher.
Though from an humble Stock, undoubtedly
Was fashion’d to much Honour. From his Cradle
He was a Scholar, and a ripe, and good one:
Exceeding wise, fair spoken, and persuading:
Lofty, and sour to them that lov’d him not:
But, to those men that sought him, sweet as Summer.
And though he were unsatisfied in getting,
(Which was a sin) yet in bestowing, Madam,
He was most Princely:Ever witness for him,
Those twins of Learning, that he rais’d in you,
Ipswich and Oxford: one of which, fell with him,
Unwilling to out-live the good that did it.
The other (though unfinished) yet so Famous,
So excellent in Art, and still so rising,
That Christendom shall ever speak his Virtue.
His Overthrow, heap’d Happiness upon him:
For then, and not till then, he felt himself,
And found the Blessedness of being little.
And to add greater Honours to his Age
Than man could give him; he died, fearing God. (4.2.2606-26)
Shakespeare’s deeper concern is with how a woman such as Katherine,
who sees clearly into the evil that is God’s Wolsey, can be so blinded by
claims based on academic learning and achievement. When she describes
Griffith as an ‘honest Chronicler’ Shakespeare is drawing attention to the
extent to which his account of the natural logic of humankind differs
from the supposedly factual account available in chronicles such as
Holinshed’s. Holinshed conforms to the expectations of ‘Religious Truth’
that Shakespeare demonstrates to be an inversion of the logic of truth in his
Sonnets and in all his plays.
After my death, I wish no other Herald,
By showing the susceptibility of a woman whose intuitions are razor
sharp in identifying the evil in Wolsey but are next to blunt when faced with
‘knowledge’ beyond her station as a housewife/Queen, Shakespeare reveals
the close link between vulnerable intuition and religious fantasy. When the
ex-Queen calls for music she slips into a slumber in which she has a ‘vision’
of ‘celestial harmony’.
No other speaker of my living Actions,
To keep mine Honour, from Corruption,
But such an honest Chronicler as Griffith.
Whom I most hated Living, thou hast made me
With thy Religious Truth, and Modesty,
(Now in his Ashes) Honour: (4.2.2627-33)
As in all Shakespeare’s works the realm of fantasy is clearly differentiated
from natural processes of the world. In this case the Queen sleeps and dreams
of dancing figures and then of herself, holding ‘up her hands to heaven’. To
emphasise the logic of the fantasy the stage instruction indicates that only
in her sleep does it makes sense to hold her hands to heaven. The fantasy
of ‘spirits of peace’ is accentuated when the Queen awakes to ‘wretchedness’
with the realisation that the ‘blessed Troupe’ is no more than a dream.
No? Saw you not even now a blessed Troupe
Shakespeare traces with exactness the path from intuition, through
inadequate knowledge, to superstitious fantasy. The abuse of intuition by
those with knowledge for the sake of power and personal gain is a
significant theme in Henry VIII. Katherine’s willingness to be beguiled by
the ‘vision’ in her dream, and her wretchedness immediately after, confirm
the psychological nature of her experience. Consequently, despite her
recent near-heaven encounter, she vents her frustration on the messenger
when he enters. She not only calls him a ‘saucy fellow’ and demands ‘more
Reverence’, but gives orders that she ‘ne’er see (him) again’. In contrast to
Wolsey, who she recently pilloried, she demands the messenger
acknowledge the ‘Greatness’Wolsey so conveniently relinquished.
Invite me to a Banquet, whose bright faces
Cast thousand beams upon me, like the Sun?
They promised me eternal Happiness,
And brought me Garlands (Griffith) which I feel
I am not worthy yet to wear: I shall assuredly. (4.2.2664-9)
Lord Capuchius enters to convey the King’s ‘grief ’ for Katherine’s increasing
‘weakness’ and hopes she ‘take good comfort’. But Katherine will
not entertain such last minute sentiment.
O my good Lord, that comfort comes too late,
She reflects on her ‘chaste love’ and asks that her daughter be given
‘virtuous breeding’ fitting to her ‘Noble modest Nature’. But Shakespeare
knew that Queen Mary’s reign as a Catholic Queen was even more ‘Bloody’
than Henry’s. Katherine also asks that her servants be provided for on the
basis that Capuchius would ‘wish Christian peace to souls departed’. But it
would not bode well for her servants if he imitated her angry behaviour
when waking from a Christian fantasy. Her request to be remembered as a
‘chaste Wife’ and laid out ‘like a Queen’ completes the picture of a woman
whose ‘Christian’values keep her from seeing deeper into the minds of men
such as the King her husband.
’Tis like a Pardon after Execution;
That gentle Physic given in time, had cur’d me: (4.2.2708-10)
The examination of the psychology of the old Queen as one of strong
feminine intuitions but feeble judgment when confronted with male-based
‘Learning’, complements the characterisation of Buckingham as the male
most near Nature but still not able to act consistently with natural logic.
Because they both lack a conceptual connection from their intuitions to
Nature they, as do so many erstwhile people who seek a mature mythic
understanding of their relationship to the world, fall back on adolescent
expressions of faith in traditional male-based Christianity. In the inconsistency
between religious fantasy and ordinary behaviour Shakespeare shows
the ludicrousness of such psychological reinforcement. He particularly
examines Wolsey’s gross fulfillment of the idealistic excesses and his even
more abject expression of piety when his God-like ambitions fail.
If Henry VIII is a play deliberately structured by Shakespeare to demonstrate
the consistency of his Sonnet philosophy, then his choice of the aspects
of Henry’s life to depict should bear that out. His decision to play Wolsey
and Buckingham off against each other, and more significantly, his decision
to consider only Henry’s first two Queens is consistent with such a plan.
So far the logical relations revealed in the play support the idea that three
years after publishing the Sonnet philosophy Shakespeare wrote a history play
specifically to show how the philosophy could be applied to the politically
doctored accounts of the Holinshed Chronicles.
The Sonnet logic presents a consistent understanding of truth and beauty
based on the logic of increase out of Nature. The argument of the Sonnets
is that if human understanding does not acknowledge the priority of Nature
over God and the priority of the female over the male then truth and beauty
are compromised. Wolsey and Henry represent two males whose idea of
truth is inconsistent with the natural course of events. While they differ in
their degree of contradiction, the one malignant the other benign, as heads
of Church and State their actions create major divisions and injustices.
At the start of Act 5 the system of control based in a male King and a
male God still prevails. But a great irony is about to be realised when Anne
Bullen gives birth to a girl and not a boy. The opening scene confirms that
the male Lords of Church and State cannot resolve their differences. Because
they avow their allegiance to ‘Religious Truth’ based in a male God and
divine King they have no hope of doing so.
But an unconscious transformation occurs in Henry in Act 5, partly
through the consequences his rejection of Katherine and the fall of Wolsey.
The principal influence on his temperament, however, is the birth of
Elizabeth. Inspired by her entry into his life he at least attempts to bring the
dissenting Lords to an amicable agreement.
It is not by chance that Shakespeare has Henry call on the female Virgin
Mary three times in the scenes before he enforces a truce. Shakespeare is
not out to convert his characters to a new religion, but to show them that
only under the priority of the female can peace between the competing male
Gods of the Reformation (Catholic and Protestant) be maintained. As
Shakespeare knew, the reign of Elizabeth was to be an unprecedented though
partial surfacing of natural logic.
Scene 1 opens with an exchange between Gardiner, the Bishop of
Winchester, and a boy. The boy affirms that it is one o’clock, to which
Gardiner sets the theme for the whole Act by suggesting it is time to ‘repair
our Nature with comforting repose’. Shakespeare not only begins the Act
with a statement of its purpose, which is to recover the priority of natural
logic over male-based religions, but signals that the clock strikes ‘one’ or is
in unity with the numerological value of Nature (154 = 1) in the Sonnets.
(The numbers 1 and 10 at the beginning of the Epilogue confirm the
Gardiner. It’s one a clock Boy, is’t not.
Nature is again mentioned when Gardiner asks Lovell for a ‘touch of his
late business’. Gardiner suggests that the complexity of Nature can be better
seen at night than in daylight.
Boy. It hath strook.
Gardiner. These should be hours of necessities,
Not for delights: Times to repair our Nature
With comforting repose, and not for us
To waste these times. (5.1.2771-5)
Affairs that walk
Lovell divulges that Anne is in a difficult labour and may die, to which
Gardiner responds that he wish it were so.
(As they say Spirits do) at midnight, have
In them a wilder Nature, than the business
That seeks dispatch by day. (5.1.2786-9)
The fruit she goes with
But Lovell is not so bloody-minded and confesses that his ‘Conscience’
says she is a ‘good Creature, and sweet-Lady’. Gardiner’s concern, after
acknowledging that Lovell is a ‘Gentleman of mine own way, Wise,
Religious’, is that Cranmer and Cromwell are her ‘hands’ and it will not be
well until all are in their ‘Graves’.
I pray for heartily, that it may find
Good time, and live: but for the Stock Sir Thomas,
I wish it grubb’d up now. (5.1.2795-8)
Shakespeare examines the pattern of the religious conflict between the
Catholic and Lutheran Lords against the background of Anne Bullen’s labour
and the birth of Elizabeth. As Nature introduces Act 5, it is consistent with
the Sonnet logic that the idea of ‘increase’ should be introduced before, and
as a pretext for, differences between the Lords over ‘Religious Truth’.
Appropriately, Shakespeare shows how the logic of increase out of
Nature is the basis for a consistent appreciation of the dynamic of truth, in
this case ironically enforced by the unwitting King. If there was any doubt
of Shakespeare’s intent to provide a logic to regulate religious intolerance,
Gardiner states the case succinctly when he calls Cranmer an ‘Arch-Heretic,
a Pestilence that does infect the Land’.
The religious conceit is sustained by Suffolk when he wishes the King
a God-given ‘Heir’.
God safely quit her of her Burthen, and
When Cranmer enters the King at first suggests there is a case to answer
against him, but on Cranmer’s appeal of loyalty decides to stand by him.
With gentle Travail, to the gladding of
Your Highness with an Heir. (5.1.2853-5)
Stand up, good Canterbury,
Shakespeare gives Henry the words that indicate his change of attitude.
Cranmer is ‘rooted’ in him as if by increase, and when he exclaims in the
name of the Virgin Mary (Holidame), and asks what ‘manner of man’
Cranmer is, he indicates a sensitivity to the question of the role of the female.
Previously when Henry has apostrophised he has called on God, but tellingly
he now turns to the Virgin Mary (as Lutherans did not cultivate a devotion
to her). Shakespeare uses Mary as a symbol of Henry’s partial recovery of
the logic of the female in Nature.
Thy Truth and thy Integrity is rooted
In us thy Friend. Give me thy hand, stand up,
Prithee lets walk. Now by my Holidame,
What manner of man are you. (5.1.2912-6)
In their conversation Henry and Cranmer refer not only to ‘Truth and
Integrity’ but also ‘Truth and Honesty’ and ‘Justice and the Truth’. Their
desire to find the ground of truth is not enunciated explicitly, but their
common cause in the issue of Anne’s pregnancy leads them toward reconciliation
of their differences and then to seek a reconciliation of the opposing
Lords. Truth in the logic of the Sonnets is discovered not by contemplating
‘Religious Truth’ but by aligning oneself with natural logic from Nature to
the increase dynamic from which, in practice, the logic of truth and beauty
Henry, chastened by Wolsey’s deceptions, takes it upon himself to
describe the corruption in the ‘world’to Cranmer. As if Henry was reflecting
on Buckingham’s untimely fate, he accepts Cranmer was naïve or full of
innocence like himself. He warns Cranmer to be wary of not seeing the
danger in a hidden ‘Precipice’.
Know you not
To protect Cranmer from his enemies Henry gives him a royal Ring.
Again, as he recognises Cranmer’s ‘true-heart’, he calls on the ‘Mother’ of
How your state stands i’th’world, with the whole world?
Your Enemies are many, and not small; their practices
Must bear the same proportion, and not ever
The Justice and the Truth o’th’question carries
The dew o’th’Verdict with it; at what ease
Might corrupt minds procure, Knaves as corrupt
To swear against you; Such things have been done.
You are potently oppos’d, and with a Malice
Of as great Size. Ween you of better luck,
I mean in perjur’d Witness, than your Master,
Whose Minister you are, whiles here he liv’d
Upon this naughty Earth? Go to, Go to,
You take a Precipice for no leap of danger,
And woe your own destruction. (5.1.2927-41)
Look, the Goodman weeps:
But the entry of an Old Lady who brings the tidings of Anne’s labour
elicits from the King his ingrained preference for a male heir.
He’s honest on mine Honour. God’s blest Mother,
I swear he is true-hearted, and a soul
None better in my Kingdom. (5.1.2955-8)
Now by thy looks
The Old Lady initially plays to the King’s ‘God of heaven’ driven
prejudice, and then anticipates his disappointment by claiming the baby girl
looks like him. Shakespeare extends the irony of Henry’s exclamations on
the name of Mary by having the new Queen ask for Henry’s ‘Visitation’.
I guess thy Message. Is the Queen deliver’d?
Say Ay, and of a boy. (5.1.2967-9)
Ay, Ay my Liege,
When Cranmer is brought to trial, he is kept waiting, an inconvenience
observed by the King from an alcove. Again Henry resorts to apostrophising
‘holy Mary’ as he conveys his anger to the physician Butts. When Cranmer
is finally admitted, the Lord Chancellor, as one of the ‘men’ whose ‘natures’
are ‘frail’, accuses him of ‘heresies’.
And of a lovely Boy: the God of heaven
Both now, and ever bless her: ’Tis a Girl
Promises Boys hereafter. Sir, your Queen
Desires your Visitation, and to be
Acquainted with this stranger; ’tis as like you,
As Cherry, is to Cherry. (5.1.2970-6)
But we all are men
Shakespeare’s philosophy was developed in the aftermath of the Reformation
across all Europe including Britain. The continual bloodletting between
the Catholic and Protestant sects was restrained during the reign of Elizabeth.
If Shakespeare was looking to formulate an understanding that avoided the
sectarian impasses of the old faith, the example of Elizabeth and his own
reflections on Nature would have provided ample material to arrive at the
comprehensive and consistent Nature based philosophy of the Sonnets. He
critiques both the new Protestant Henry and the old Catholic Wolsey
because he reasserts the priority of Nature over all male Gods.
In our own nature’s frail, and capable
Of our flesh, few are Angels; out of which frailty
And want of wisdom, you that best should teach us,
Have misdemean’d your self, and not a little:
Toward the King first, then his Laws, in filling
The whole Realm, by your teaching and your Chaplains
(For so we are inform’d) with new opinions,
Divers and dangerous; which are Heresies;
And not reform’d, may prove pernicious. (5.2.3058-67)
So as the play draws to a conclusion it is not surprising to find the King
leaning toward an involuntary compromise elicited by the birth of a
daughter. Shakespeare has guided him toward the possibility of reconciliation
by structuring the play according to the logic of the Sonnets, and has
given his characters roles, in part derived from the Chronicles, but largely to
express an awakening to the natural logic within them which their malebased
faith has obscured. Gardiner’s reiteration of the Chancellor’s accusations
Which Reformation must be sudden too
Shakespeare’s sense of irony ensures that Gardiner’s condemnation of
Cranmer is couched in terms that identify the underlying problem as one
of managing the ‘childish’ consequences of a belief in ‘one man’, the
King/God of religious division.
My Noble Lords; for those that tame wild Horses,
Pace ’em not in their hands to make ’em gentle;
But stop their mouths with stubborn Bits and spur ’em,
Till they obey the mannage. If we suffer
Out of our easiness and childish pity
To one man’s Honour, this contagious sickness;
Farewell all Physic: and what follows then?
Commotions, uproars, with a general Taint
Of the whole State; as of late days our neighbours,
The upper Germany can dearly witness:
Yet freshly pitted in our memories. (5.2.3068-79)
Despite Cranmer’s plea of loyalty, the Lords are determined to consign
him to the Tower, so he challenges Gardiner’s friendship and Christian
Ah my good Lord of Winchester: I thank you,
After Cromwell tempts the same fate, Cranmer shows the King’s ring,
but Gardiner is determined to have him off to the Tower. With the entry
of the King, however, Gardiner delivers a barrage of religious patronisation.
You are always my good Friend, if your will pass,
I shall both find your Lordship, Judge and Juror,
You are so merciful. I see your end,
’Tis my undoing. Love and meekness, Lord
Become a Churchman, better than Ambition: (5.2.3107-12)
Again Shakespeare’s irony is superb as the ‘Churchman’ completely
misrepresents the course of events that are leading to the partial reformation
of Henry’s attitude. God and his Churchmen have no part in the series of
natural events and realisations that are impacting on Henry’s subconscious
sense of natural justice. Henry has learnt enough, though, to see through
Gardiner’s God driven flattery. Shakespeare has him play the God/Dog in
his dismissal of the Bishop’s ‘wagging tongue’.
How much are we bound to Heaven,
In daily thanks, that gave us such a Prince;
Not only good and wise, but most religious:
One that in all obedience, makes the Church
The chief aim of his Honour, and to strengthen
That holy duty out of dear respect,
His Royal self in Judgment comes to hear
The cause betwixt her, and this great offender. (5.2.3183-90)
You were ever good at sudden Commendations,
The objection of the Lords is over-ruled by a King no longer willing to
be subjected to Church deceit. Then when Henry insists all the Lords
embrace, he asks Cranmer to be Godfather to Elizabeth.
Bishop of Winchester. But know I come not
To hear such flattery now, and in my presence
They are too thin, and base to hide offences,
To me you cannot reach. You play the Spaniel,
And think with wagging of your tongue to win me:
But whatsoe’re thou tak’st me for; I’m sure
Thou hast a cruel Nature and a bloody.
Good man sit down. (5.2.3191-9)
Make me no more ado, but all embrace him;
And then again.
Be friends for shame my Lords: My lord of Canterbury
I have a suit which you must not deny me.
That is, a fair young Maid that yet wants Baptism,
You must be Godfather, and answer for her. (5.2.3230-4)
Once more my Lord of Winchester, I charge you
Shakespeare’s persistent argument throughout the Sonnets and in all the
plays is that the idealism of religion should be contextualised within Nature
from which it logically derives. To contextualise Nature within religion leads
to the inconsistencies and religious persecutions evident in the history influenced
by the male-based Bible. Once Henry acts, if only intuitively, in
accord with Nature, then it is possible to accommodate the psychology of
faith, with its rituals and institutions, under natural logic.
Embrace, and love this man. (5.2.3242-3)
Shakespeare has the scene end with Henry effecting a unity between the
Lords. Against their prejudices the agreement is based in Nature and the
female principle, and the unity of understanding typified by the Poet of the
Sonnets who reconciles Nature and religion in terms of sexual logic and the
erotic logic of mythology. Natural logic ultimately imposes reconciliation
upon enmity and accommodates the psychological deficiencies of a
populace. (See Volume 4 for Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence and
the American Constitution with its Bill of Rights.)
Scene 3 then reiterates the priority of Nature and increase over the rituals
of Church and Crown. (Editors make an unnecessary alteration by
beginning scene 3 when the Council assembled, but it is clear that the
Council meets in the same space as scene 2, while the King remains in the
To have this young one made a Christian.
As I have made ye one Lords, one remain:
So I grow stronger, you more Honour gain. (5.2.3252-5)
The Porter, struggling with the mass of people gathered to witness the
Christening of Elizabeth, is led to remark in lay terms on its implications
Is this Moorfields
The Porter’s man continues the sexual repartee by invoking noses, mortar
pieces, clubs, truncheons, broom staffs, and pebbles personified as sexual
objects. The Chamberlain’s concern for the safety of the Ladies returning
from the Christening is met with the Porter’s laconic response that ‘we are
to muster in? Or have we some strange Indian with the
great Tool, come to Court, the women so besiege us?
Bless me, what a fry of Fornication is at door? On my
Christian Conscience this one Christening will beget a
Thousand, here will be Father, Godfather, and all together. (5.3.3291-7)
Shakespeare, after the male God driven action of the play, has a final tilt
at male-based prejudices with the irony that Henry’s daughter Elizabeth will
have a golden reign as Queen Elizabeth. Both the King and Cranmer use
God talk to celebrate the birth of a princess who neither Church nor Crown
want. Politically they would prefer the persistence of male primogeniture
in keeping with the Church’s institutionalised priority of the male God.
Cranmer begins fatuously with the presumption that Elizabeth will make
her parents truly happy.
All comfort, joy in this most gracious Lady,
The ‘truth’ that Shakespeare has Cranmer speak in eulogy over the baby
Elizabeth, is true in its prediction of her golden reign as Queen but false in
its expectation that Elizabeth’s ‘heir’ will be a male to restore the primogeniture
Henry sought for himself when he married Anne Bullen.
Heaven ever laid up to make Parents happy, (5.4. 3371-2)
Cranmer’s characterisation of Elizabeth as a Phoenix whose male progeny
will rise from the ashes of her death is contrary to Shakespeare’s parody of
such expectations in The Phoenix and the Turtle. The allusions to the 1601
poem at the beginning of the play, where the union of the two Kings fails,
is completed at the play’s end by the historic failure of Henry’s line to
produce a male heir through Elizabeth (or Edward or Mary).
Because Henry’s sensitivity to Nature is only partially transformed by his
recent experiences he is still susceptible to the flattery about to be bestowed
on him by the naive Cranmer.
Let me speak Sir,
The success and failure of Cranmer’s predictions are predetermined by
Shakespeare’s historic perspective on the Chronicles and in the illogical hope
for the priority of the male in faith and politics. The ultimate irony is that
‘our Children’s Children’ are witnesses to the failure of God and Heaven to
deliver on such idealised expectations. Then Shakespeare has Cranmer return
to Henry’s earlier references to the Virgin Mary. He predicts Queen
Elizabeth will remain virginal, if not a virgin, sadly fulfilling her father’s
murderous inability to appreciate natural logic.
For Heaven now bids me; and the words I utter,
Let none think Flattery; for they’ll find ’em Truth.
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.
Truth shall Nurse her,
Holy and Heavenly thoughts still Counsel her:
She shall be lov’d and fear’d.
Nor shall this peace sleep with her: But as when
The Bird of Wonder dies, the Maiden Phoenix,
Her Ashes new create another Heir,
As great in admiration as her self.
So shall she leave her Blessedness to One,
(When Heaven shall call her from this cloud of darkness)
Who, from the sacred Ashes of her Honour
Shall Star-like rise, as great in fame as she was
And so stand fix’d. Peace , Plenty, Love, Truth, Terror,
That were the Servants to this chosen Infant,
Shall then be his, and like a Vine grow to him;
Where ever the bright Sun of Heaven shall shine,
His Honour, and the greatness of his Name,
Shall be, and make new Nations. He shall flourish,
And like a Mountain Cedar, reach his branches,
To all the Plains about him: Our Children’s Children
Shall see this, and bless Heaven. (5.4.3384-426)
She shall be to the happiness of England,
Henry’s response is in keeping with the prejudice in Cranmer’s speech,
An aged Princess;many days shall see her,
And yet no day without a deed to Crown it.
Would I had known no more: But she must die,
She must, the Saints must have her; yet a Virgin,
A most unspotted Lily shall she pass
To th’ground, and all the World shall mourn her. (5.4.3428-34)
Thou hast made me now a man. (5.4.3436)
His interest in Elizabeth’s future has been heightened but only to the
degree that he would want to watch her progress from ‘heaven’. Ironically
such a murderer only warrants a heaven reserved for wrackful males.
This happy Child, did I get anything.
Shakespeare’s version of the influence of Henry VIII is a logical lesson
in the psychology of male-God based evil and the curative powers of Nature.
Shakespeare could foresee, though, the Church and Crown would be
unwilling to accept his logic based in Nature. They were too wedded to
the psychology of personal worldly largesse and a communal reward in an
This Oracle of comfort, has so pleas’d me,
That when I am in Heaven, I shall desire
To see what this Child does, and praise my Maker. (5.4.3437-40)
As these volumes reveal, Shakespeare’s philosophy has remained unappreciated
for 400 years, so in the Epilogue it comes as no surprise to find a
prediction of the degree to which the play will please, and the confirmation
that the play is about the logical priority of women over men.
’Tis ten to one, this Play can never please
The Epilogue predicts the inadequate understanding of those who,
because they are ‘asleep’ or dumb to its content, will attribute half the play
to Fletcher. And it anticipates others who, because they do not see past the
politics of the Chronicles and see only bawdy humour in Shakespeare’s erotic
logic, will pass the play off as a late dalliance by the aging Shakespeare. It
also predicts that the play will not be understood until men acknowledge
the priority of women. If the play has been a casualty of male-based beliefs
and politics then the Sonnets that were written to expound its philosophy
have been even more so.
All that are here: Some come to take their ease,
And sleep an Act or two; but those we fear
W’have frighted with our Trumpets: so ’tis clear,
They’ll say ’tis naught. Others to hear the City
Abus’d extremely, and to cry that’s witty,
Which we have not done neither; that I fear
All the expected good w’are like to hear.
For this Play at this time, is only in
The merciful construction of good women,
For such a one we show’d ’em: if they smile,
And say twill do; I know within a while,
All the best men are ours; for ’tis ill hap,
If they hold, when their Ladies bid ’em clap. (3450-63)
The relation of Henry VIII to the Sonnet template
The disparagement of Henry VIII in the traditional Shakespearean literature
arises partly because of a proprietorial design on Shakespeare’s works by the
Anglican Church and the British Crown. The above analysis also reveals that
the misunderstanding prevails because of the commentator’s ignorance of
the Sonnet philosophy. The ignorance leads to a profound misunderstanding
of the meaning of the play and, in compensation, the conversion of the play
to conform with the traditional male-based expectations.
The need to attribute half the play to the lesser playwright Fletcher is
symptomatic of the degree of difficulty the traditional approach has with
Henry VIII. Because the scenes allocated to Fletcher are considered unworthy
of ‘our Shakespeare’, to sustain the charade Fletcher is dismissed as a ‘court
gossip’. And even the scenes that are attributed to Shakespeare are deliberately
misinterpreted to read as evidence of a Christian belief and loyalty to
But Henry VIII was included without hesitation in the 1623 Folio
published by Shakespeare’s fellow actors and associates who knew his works
intimately. And the commentaries in this volume show that Shakespeare’s
other works in the earlier quartos and in the Folio (such as Macbeth, Pericles,
and others) on which traditional scholarship casts doubt, are indubitably
Shakespeare’s when viewed from the vantage of the Sonnet logic. Significantly
Two Noble Kinsmen, the only play attributed at the time to Shakespeare and
Fletcher, was not included in the Folio and was not published until 1634.
Pericles, one of the more denigrated plays, was not included in the complete
works until 1664. Yet despite its absence from the Folio it went through three
quarto editions in Shakespeare’s name before 1623.
The inclusion of Henry VIII in the Folio as Shakespeare’s without qualification
by those who knew him and his work was over-ridden by academic
prerogatives based not in Shakespeare’s natural logic but in the male-based
power structures of Church and its influence on the State. Shakespeare has
been forcibly converted and colonialised to the opportunistic male God
psychology, which his works, and particularly Henry VIII, unequivocally
The persistent attempts to sanitise Henry VIII highlight the fact that in
400 years no one has come close to understanding the Sonnet philosophy.
The commentators are doubly paralyzed in front of Henry VIII. Not only
are they determined to bastardise the text in the service of Church and State,
they have not been able to penetrate the Sonnet logic because they are determined
to defend the traditional view. The issue then becomes one of professional
standards of interpretation. Rather than openly admit their inability
to understand Henry VIII, they commit the literary crime of emendation
and denigration while claiming that only they best know Shakespeare’s mind.
When the organisation of Henry VIII is compared with the template
derived from the Sonnet logic, the continuity in the play, with its basis in
Nature through increase to the dynamic of truth and beauty, is evident
throughout. The examination of only two of Henry’s Queens redoubles the
focus on the priority of the female over the male in Nature and the logical
significance of the increase dynamic over male-based expectations.
The roles of Buckingham as a male cognizant of Nature and Katherine
as a female still capable of responding to her feminine intuition form the
basis on which Shakespeare examines the truth and beauty of the other
characters. The logic of truth and beauty is examined both in terms of the
prejudiced history of the Chronicles, and with Shakespeare’s continual
assessment of true and false in the statements of the Cardinal (as the representative
of the Church) and the King (as the representative of the Crown).
Complete template (Sonnet numbers)
Henry VIII, as with all of Shakespeare’s other plays, shows how the Sonnet
logic applies to the dynamic of human relationships in the world. And Henry
VIII probably more than other plays based on historic events takes the
dynamic of female and male from the Sonnets to reveal the psychology of
political and religious prejudice. Shakespeare shows that only in the light of
the Sonnet logic can the hypocrisy of history be shown in its true light, and
only through the Sonnet logic can the iniquities be corrected.
There is evidence that The Famous History of the Life of Henry the Eight,
to give the play its full title from the Folio, was called All is True at the time
of its first performances around 1613. The recent Oxford edition (1988)
reverts to All is True for the play and attributes it to Shakespeare and Fletcher
without providing a convincing reason for the laconic title other than to
throw doubt on the authenticity of the Folio’s attribution to Shakespeare
Ironically if the play is accepted as fully Shakespeare’s and a full expression
of his Sonnet philosophy, its critique of Church and State and the use of only
two of Henry’s wives, elements questioned by the Oxford editors, are ‘true’
to the Sonnet logic. If ‘all is true’ then Shakespeare shows that only Nature
based logic is true to life and that male-based religious and political prejudices
give rise to the worst of injustices, particularly to women.
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Roger Peters Copyright © 2005
Venus and Adonis
Rape of Lucrece
The Phoenix and the Turtle
A Lover's Complaint
Love's Labour's Lost
Measure for Measure