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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
Prologue is a direct address from the dramatist to the audience. He says that this is a sad play capable of arousing pity. He adds that those who have come to witness the historical truth or watch a good show will be satisfied. But those who have come expecting a senseless comedy will go away disappointed. The dramatist feels that, by mocking something as serious as this by making it a farce, he will win the audience’s scorn. He appeals to the audience to be freely affected by the pathos of its theme to see the characters of the play as if they were alive and to follow these lives as they fall from the pinnacle of glory to the depths of misery and less. He concludes by stating that if after watching this the audience is still untouched by sadness, then he is willing to let that a man can be sad on his wedding day.
The play protects itself with a defensive prologue against vulgar visions of its Themes. It appeals to the audience’s sense of dignity and attributes, to its audience, a capacity for pity. Thus, it establishes a contract between its "gentle hearers" and the good intentions of a company unwilling to forfeit "our own brains, and the opinion that the reader bring, to make that only true the reader now intend". The implication being that in such a contact of self-consciousness, to reduce it to "fool and fight" would be sacrilege. The play is an historical romance in which all is "true" in the sense that all has been derived from chronicle record; but it remains a "chosen truth" in that it expects its audience to find humanly sympathetic, entertaining and politically instructive. The prologue supports the play’s major theme: mightiness meeting misery, the rise and fall in the affairs of men and the unpredictability of Fate.
ACT I, SCENE I
The play opens with a scene in the palace, depicting a casual conversation that takes place among some nobleman. They are discussing the meeting of the English King with the French King that took place recently in Europe. The Duke of Norfolk, who has just returned from Europe, gives a detailed account of all the displays of Pomp and glory that characterized the meeting. It comes out that Cardinal Wolsey has organized it on the King’s behalf. The nobleman present mistrusts the Cardinal because of the unsatiable ambition. At this point the Cardinal walks in, accompanied by his secretaries. The Duke of Buckingham and the Cardinal eye each other with open loathing. When the Cardinal leaves, Buckingham announces that he will denounces Wolsey before the King. The Duke of Norfolk advocates caution in this matter. Buckingham sees the wisdom of Norfolk’s words and even as he is consenting to be more careful, soldiers enter and place him under arrest for high treason. Lord Abergavenny, Buckingham’s son in law, is also put under arrest, pending the King’s judgement. When Buckingham is told that one of the witnesses at his trial is his ex-surveyor, he realizes that he is the victim of a conspiracy.
Through the conversation that occurs among the nobleman the audience is given a sense of all the pomp, glory and magnificence that accompanies royalty. This is a useful dramatic device; it paints the picture with words, without any need to put anything like it on the stage itself.
The nobleman’s discussion serves as an introduction for the character and personality of Cardinal Wolsey. It is clear that Wolsey’s ambition is deeply resented. This resentment is further increases by the fact that Wolsey came from a humble family. At this time-period in Britain the 16 th century, being born in a noble family determined one’s status in the society. Noble blood was held to be of more importance than a person’s intrinsic worth and merit. There is further reference to Wolsey’s character he is a man of unsatiable ambition, a mastery at using politics to his own advantage, a man whose loyalty lies only to himself, one capable of destroying anyone to further his ends.
Henry VIII is an absolute monarch with a parliament that is dependent in name only. Therefore, the King has total power with no checks on his actions. The nobility and the courtiers are privileged men with titles, property and mercy. None of this is a guarantee of their future welfare, which depended on the King’s whims. At an order he can seize nobleman’s property and title and send him to the scaffold. This is exactly what happens to Buckingham. Instigated by Wolsey, the King has Buckingham and his son in law placed under arrest for high treason. The nobleman live in a state of constant flux knowing that their very lives depend on the King’s continued favor toward them.
The State of affairs explained above leave the political scenario open to power plays and conspiracies. Wolsey takes full advantage of this and the scene shows how adeptly he removes a powerful enemy, who is a source of potential danger, from his path.