Henry VIII: Novel Summary: Act 5 Scene 2
Cranmer arrives at the council chamber, hoping he is not late. But the doorkeeper will not let him in, saying he must wait outside the door until he is called. Dr Butts, the king's physician, sees how Cranmer is being treated, and condemns it as malice, since Cranmer is himself a member of the council. Butts leaves to tell the king what has happened.
Cranmer is unnerved by Butts' concerned look; he hopes it does not mean he is about to be disgraced. He is now certain that this is a trap set for him by his enemies. Butts leads the king to a window from where they can observe events, and shows him how Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is being kept waiting outside the door with the servants. The king is surprised that one so much favored by him should be humiliated in this way. He says that it is a good thing that his authority exceeds that of the council.
The Lord Chancellor leads in the nobles who constitute the council. Cranmer is finally allowed in. The Lord Chancellor tells Cranmer that he is here because he has been teaching dangerous and heretical new ideas around the kingdom. Gardiner goes further, alleging that Cranmer must be stopped from spreading such ideas immediately or revolutions and riots will break out, as has already happened in continental Europe. Cranmer says that he has been careful not to stir up trouble with his teachings, and has always opposed those who do. He believes he is the victim of envy and malice, and asks to be brought face-to-face with his accusers so that he can debate them openly. But Suffolk points out that because Cranmer is a council member, no one can accuse him of anything.
Gardiner breaks in, saying that they have more important business to get on with, and so he will be brief. The king and the council wish Cranmer to be imprisoned in the Tower, which will reduce to the status of a common man once more, so that his accusers can charge him openly. Cranmer sarcastically thanks Gardiner for his kindness, and says that he sees that Gardiner is out to ruin him. He counsels Gardiner that love and humility are more fitting for a churchman than ambition. He says he has no doubt that he can clear himself. Gardiner accuses Cranmer of being an adherent of a sect (Protestantism). Cromwell rebukes Gardiner for being too sharp to "a falling man." Gardiner turns his attack on Cromwell, accusing him of favoring the same "new sect" as Cranmer.
The Lord Chancellor silences the men and gives the order for Cranmer to be taken to the Tower. Gardiner calls in the Guard. Cranmer is shocked that he is being taken away like a traitor. He asks to speak first, and shows them the king's ring, saying that it gives him the right to be heard by the king himself. The council members see that they underestimated how much Cranmer enjoyed the king's favor. Suffolk confirms that the ring is the king's and reminds the others that he told them, when they first moved against Cranmer, that it would rebound on them. Norfolk agrees that the king will not allow Cranmer to be harmed. Cromwell says he suspected that no good would come of trying to build a case against Cranmer, whose honesty is renowned.
At that moment, the king, who has left the window from which he was observing the council meeting, enters. Gardiner greets the king in a flattering speech, but the king is not impressed, saying that this is no time for flattery. The king says that Gardiner cannot hide his misdeeds and his cruel nature. He had thought that the council members were men of wisdom, but now he sees that they are not. He says they were wrong to make Cranmer wait outside the door like a servant. He gave the council authority to try Cranmer as an equal, not an inferior, but he sees that some of them are pursuing him out of malice. The Lord Chancellor protests that they were only planning to imprison Cranmer in order to give him a fair trial. The king says that he himself owes much to Cranmer, and orders the council members to embrace him and be friends. Then he asks Cranmer to baptize his daughter, Elizabeth. Gardiner does not immediately embrace Cranmer, so the king asks him again. Gardiner does so, "with a true heart." Cranmer weeps and gives thanks. The king says that what everyone says about Cranmer is true: a man may do him an injury, and he is his friend forever. The king urges the council members to remain unified and leads them all off to the baptism.
For the first time, a person who is set up to fall does not do so. Buckingham, Katherine and Wolsey all succumbed, but Cranmer escapes a similar, seemingly inevitable, fate. This is because Cranmer is the only one who has done nothing wrong. Whereas Buckingham may have had treasonous intentions, Cranmer is universally renowned for his honesty and integrity. Gardiner's objection to Cranmer - that he teaches heresy - would have been roundly discredited in the eyes of Shakespeare's officially Protestant audience because Gardiner is a sworn ally of the Catholic Wolsey and Cranmer is one of the pioneers of Protestantism. Henry VIII began the movement towards Protestantism when he created himself head of the Church of England (independent of the authority of the Pope) in order to get his divorce from Katherine and marry Anne. Cranmer supported the king in this process. When Henry's daughter Elizabeth came to the throne, she made Protestantism the official religion of England, a move that helped unify the nation and ended years of sectarian unrest. Thus, in terms of the grand purpose of the play - celebrating the arrival of the Protestant Elizabeth - Cranmer was on the 'right' side of history and could not be punished. Wolsey and Katherine, on the other hand, with their Catholic allegiance to the Pope and opposition to the king's marriage to Anne, were on the 'wrong' side and stood in the way of Elizabeth's destiny. Thus, they had to go.
Another reason why Cranmer survives is that the king, for the first time in the series of falls, takes a fully active role. In the trial of Buckingham, the king was essentially Wolsey's puppet, unquestioningly believing suspect witnesses and ignoring Katherine's warnings of partiality. At Katherine's trial, the king also took a back seat. He expressed sadness at losing such a good wife, but would not engage with her and went along with his advisors - driven partly, of course, by his attraction to Anne and need for an heir. With Wolsey, the king is more active, but the type of action is significant: he merely listens politely to Wolsey's protestations of goodness and loyalty before silently handing to him his own incriminating letters. The sense is that Wolsey has undone himself by his own double-dealing and greed; the king has merely been the messenger. Moreover, the king takes no further part in Wolsey's fate.
But the matter is different with Cranmer. In giving Cranmer his ring, the king ensures that whatever happens at the council meeting, the archbishop will be under his protection. Sure enough, as soon as Cranmer produces the ring, the council members know their game is up. The king has been watching the council proceedings unseen, and we in turn have been watching the king. It is as if the extra eyes and ears following the proceedings throw them open to daylight and end the dark machinations that have been going on. The king enters the council chamber, rebukes the members for pursuing the innocent Cranmer, and orders them to reconcile with him. In asking Cranmer to baptize Elizabeth, the king shows everyone how much he honors Cranmer, and shifts the focus from petty persecutions and resentments to joy at the new life and hope that Elizabeth represents, and her future reign of peace and prosperity.
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