Henry VIII: Novel Summary: Act 4 Scenes 1 & 2
The two Gentlemen meet in the street. They are waiting to see Anne pass by on her way back from her coronation. The Second Gentleman recalls that the last time they met, it was to see Buckingham coming from his trial. That was an occasion of sorrow, whereas this is one of joy. They discuss who is to be promoted today: Suffolk is to be made high steward, and Norfolk earl marshal. The First Gentleman reports that Cranmer has held another court to decide the matter of the divorce. Katherine was often called, but refused to attend. The court ruled that the king and Katherine were divorced, and she has been moved to the country, where she is now ill. The Second Gentleman expresses pity for her. They are interrupted by Anne's coronation procession, which includes Suffolk, Norfolk, Anne, and other nobles and officials.
The Second Gentleman remarks on Anne's beauty. A third Gentleman arrives. He has seen the ceremony and describes it to the others, emphasizing Anne's beauty and the people's joy. Anne was crowned by Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The coronation feast is being held in Wolsey's former house, which is now the king's and renamed Whitehall. The Second Gentleman says that Gardiner has been promoted from the king's secretary to Bishop of Winchester. He adds that Gardiner does not like Cranmer. The Third Gentleman says that this does not matter, as Cranmer has a good friend in Cromwell, whom the king so respects that he has made him master of the jewel house and a member of the privy council.
Scene 2 opens at Kimbolton, where a sick Katherine is led in by Griffith, her servant, and Patience, her maid. Griffith asks how she is, and she replies that she is deathly ill. She has heard that Wolsey is dead, which Griffith confirms. She asks how he died. Griffith says that the Earl of Northumberland arrested him at York, but on his way to answer the charges against him, he fell sick and died a penitent man in the abbey at Leicester. Katherine says she will speak of him charitably, but goes on to describe his ambition, arrogance, lying and underhand dealing. She also criticizes his habit of ambiguity in speech and his lack of pity for others, and says he set a bad example for the clergy.
Griffith asks Katherine's permission to speak about Wolsey's good points, which she gladly grants. He says that he rose from humble stock, was a fine scholar from his earliest years, and was clever in speech. He was rude to those who disliked him, but sweet to those who asked him for help. He founded two colleges at Ipswich and Oxford, one of which survived his death, and became renowned throughout Christendom. Finally, Griffith suggests that he was happiest after his fall: he achieved self-knowledge and found the blessedness of being little" (line 66).
Katherine is impressed by Griffith's honest but appreciative speech and says she wishes that he would speak about her after her death. He has brought her to honor Wolsey, whom she hated when he was alive. She wishes him peace. She tells her attendants that she is near death, then asks for music and falls asleep.
Katherine sees a vision of six people dressed in white, apparently spirits, wearing gold masks and garlands round their heads. They dance around Katherine and hold a garland over her head. As if inspired, in her sleep, she holds up her hands joyously to heaven. The dancers vanish and Katherine wakes, sad that the spirits have left her behind. She asks her attendants where they are, but they have seen no one. She tells them that the spirits invited her to a banquet and promised her eternal happiness. Her attendants see that she is dying.
A Messenger comes in and says that the king has sent a gentleman to see her. Lord Capuchius, an ambassador from Katherine's nephew, King Charles V of Spain, enters. Capuchius brings words of comfort from the king, who is concerned for Katherine in her illness. Katherine says his comfort comes too late; she is past all comfort except for prayers. She asks after the king's health and wishes him well. Then she asks her maid to bring the letter she wrote to the king. In her letter, Katherine asks the king to look after their daughter, Mary, and to love her. She also asks the king to look after her ladies-in-waiting, who have been loyal, and to find them good husbands. Finally, she asks the king to pay her manservants. She asks Capuchius to remind the king of her "in all humility", that she will no longer be a trouble to him and that she blessed him as she was dying. She asks her ladies to help her to bed.
In the street scene, Shakespeare deliberately juxtaposes the fall of one of the king's favorites with the rise of another. A Gentleman recalls that the last time they met, it was to see Buckingham on his way from his trial; this time, it is to see Anne coming from her coronation. And no sooner does a Gentleman ask after Katherine and receive his answer that she is sick, than her replacement, Anne, appears in full coronation regalia. There could be no clearer indication of the transient nature of royal favor.
Katherine and Griffith act as a chorus in this scene, with Katherine enumerating Wolsey's faults and sins, and Griffith emphasizing his good points. In line with the play's theme of forgiveness triumphing over accusation and recrimination, Katherine is able to forgive Wolsey after hearing Griffith speak well of him.
Neither Wolsey nor Katherine lives for long after being cast off by the king. Katherine, like Wolsey, makes a 'good' death, as is made plain by her heavenly vision of spirits promising eternal happiness. The vision comes after she forgives Wolsey. This is not coincidence but a sign that Katherine has prepared herself for heaven partly by her act of forgiveness. The name of her maid, Patience, is also significant, as this is the quality that Katherine most has need of at this point in her life, hence her lines, "Nay Patience, / You must not leave me yet" (lines 165-6). She emphatically lacked patience when she stormed out of the courtroom at her trial (Act 2, scene 4), but feels that she has cultivated it by Act 3, scene 1, line 138, when she boasts of her "great patience."
Patience is a quality that several of the characters are forced to learn. Buckingham at the start of the play lacks it, perhaps to a fatal degree, as we see in his hotheaded attempt to rush off and tell the king about Wolsey's alleged treason - before he is counseled by Norfolk to exercise restraint. In his speech before his execution, he expresses forgiveness of his accusers and acceptance of his state. Cranmer already has it in abundance, as we shall see in Act 5, scene 2, where he is forced to wait outside the council chamber door in spite of the fact that he is a council member. He does so without anger.
Another notable character trait of Katherine is her generosity, as shown by her concern for the welfare of her servants after her death.
Henry VIII Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Henry VIII
- The Prologue
- The Prologue
- Act 1 Scene 1
- Act 1 Scene 2
- Act 1 Scene 3 & 4
- Act 2 Scene 1
- Act 2 Scene 2
- Act 2 Scene 3
- Act 2 Scene 4
- Act 3 Scene 1
- Act 3 Scene 2
- Act 4 Scenes 1 & 2
- Act 5 Scene 1
- Act 5 Scene 2
- Act 5 Scenes 3 & 4, and Epilogue
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- William Shakespeare
- Essay Q&A