Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
The title of the play points out King Henry VIII as the most obvious protagonist. Not only is the play named after him, but it also dramatizes events that occurred in his reign. Moreover, the longest role is assigned to a character called "King Henry VIII". The play focuses on his divorce from Katherine, his marriage to Anne, his disillusionment with Wolsey and the joy that Princess Elizabeth’s birth brings him.
No one person or event can be singled out and named as the antagonist in the play. But a host of people and circumstances that frustrate the plans and ambitions of King Henry VIII can be grouped together as the antagonistic elements in the play. To begin with it is the lack of a male heir, and consequently the Duke of Buckingham who threatens the Tudor succession. Secondly, all the hindrances to his divorce from Katherine - Katherine’s refusal to consent, the prevarication of the papal legate and Wolsey’s attempts to halt the divorce all from the second antagonist force working against Henry. And finally, the third element is the combined efforts of the various nobleman to destroy Cranmer. Since the latter is a highly esteemed servant of the King’s, people seeking his downfall indirectly affect the King adversely.
The play does not have a single dramatic momentum that carries it to a proper, climax. Instead, the current of the dramatic interest shifts several times in the play leading to several minor climaxes rather than to a single major one. The interest first clings to the Duke of Buckingham and his designs against Wolsey. The climacteric point is the Duke’s arrest. In Act II, the attention is focused on Wolsey and the climax is the point where the King confronts him with the truth in Act III, Scene II. In the meantime, the focus shifts to the question of the King’s divorce and the tension reaches its peak when the hearing of the trial begins officially in a hall in Black friars. The final point of interest in the play is the anticipation of a male heir while Queen Anne is in labor and this is resolved when the King receives the new of the child’s birth.
The Duke of Buckingham is found guilty of high treason at his trial and executed. He meets a tragic end with his courage and loyalty to the King intact. Wolsey’s carelessness leads to a catastrophe and he is deprived of both his power and position. He dies, on his way to prison, a reformed and a repentant man. The King is granted the divorce and marries Anne, whereas Katherine moves to Kimbolton and dies there heart-broken and answering in her love for the King. The King Henry and Queen Anne become the parents of Princess Elizabeth. Cranmer’s prophecy about the glory the princess would being to England moves Henry to great joy and the plays ends on this festive mote.