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Free Study Guide-Henry VIII by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Synopsis Notes
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A few courtiers are gathered in the antechamber to the King’s apartment plotting Wolsey’s downfall. Norfolk informs them the King had chanced upon a letter Wolsey wrote to the Pops entreating him to stop the divorce. Thus Wolsey is now out of favor with the King. Moreover, the King has married Anne Bullen. Furthermore, Suffolk says that Campeius surreptitious departure for Rome to do Wolsey’s bidding had reached the King adding to his growing anger. Cranmer has returned to Britain and is helping the King with the divorce making the public announcement of Anne’s coronation immanent.

Wolsey and Cromwell enter discussing some papers Wolsey had sent the King. Wolsey asks Cromwell to leave and frets about the King’s attachment to Anne Bullen. Wolsey is determined to see the King wed the Duchess of Alezon. The King enters with Lovell, he is very angry with Wolsey as he has come across some personal papers of Wolsey listing his monetary assets. The King is staggered at the huge amount of material wealth Wolsey has amassed for himself. Wolsey, unaware of this is confused by the King’s cold behavior. He swears loyalty to the King, who just hands Wolsey the condemning, papers and leaves.

Wolsey discovers among these papers the letter he wrote to the Pope requesting a halt to the divorce proceedings. Norfolk approaches him with the kings orders: rendering the great seal back to the King and confident to Asher House pending the King’s further decisions. Wolsey refuses to comply without seeing the official orders and this leads to an exchange of heated words between the two parties. Lord Chamberlain brings about a halt to this, and Wolsey is further informed that he has to forfeit all his wealth and he has been removed from the King’s protection. The courtiers leave behind a sorrowful and repentant man.

Cromwell is amazed and grieved when he finds out the truth about Wolsey’s state of affairs. Wolsey reassures him by saying that it has happened for the best since now he has gained true humility. Meanwhile, Sir Thomas More has been appointed Lord Chancellor and Cranmer the Archbishop of Canterbury. The fact that Anne is the King’s new wife is public and her coronation is being planned. Wolsey bids Cromwell a very emotional farewell, touched by his unshakable loyalty and advises him to seek the King’s service.


This is the longest scene in the play and it contains several events that further the plot. It is a scene of rapidly occurring action and every event that occurs augers significant change.

Wolsey has earned himself a lot of resentment from the court nobles. In the blind arrogance of power he may have supposed himself to be invulnerable to any threats. The courtiers have joined forces to denounce him. And circumstances aid them in their plans. Due to cross carelessness on his part, Wolsey is already a ruined man. When the nobles find out the truth of the situation they are overjoyed and glad over Wolsey’s downfall.

The scene is quite effective in evoking a sense that Fate influences men’s lives in spite of their own manipulations and plans. This is very striking because as yet Wolsey is totally unaware that the King knows his secret intentions. Even as he is abuse planning the King’s future, his own has already been decided. The deeds he has done are returning to him. Norfolk incites the already angry King with his spiteful words.

Wolsey’s disloyalty stands revealed to the King who has trusted and befriends him. The King’s anger is cold and unforgiving. When Wolsey realizes the full extent of what has happened, he resigns himself to fate. That something as trifling as a misplaced paper sold being about the destruction of man highlights the tragic irony of the whole situation.

On the surface level, the scene is about Wolsey and what happens to him. But on a deeper level it is about men and the resilience of his spirit along with his latent nobility. Out of the ruins of Wolsey’s material prosperity arises his spiritual enlightenment. His very doom leads to the evolution and transformation of his soul. As enlightenment floods him he is "truly happy".

Just as much as the scene highlights human nobility it also brings to light the baser nature of men. This is exemplified by the gloating of the courtiers in the face of Wolsey’s loss. Their treatment of him is harsh and cruel without any semblance of basic civility that is extended even to wrong doers because he is a human being.

The relationship between Wolsey and Cromwell is a poignant portrayal of loyalty and devotion. Cromwell’s true loyalty is shown in the fact of his continued devotion to a man who is now ruined and can offer him nothing. Wolsey shows himself worthy of such a noble attitude when be lied Cromwell leaves him and seeks the King’s service. At a time like this, Wolsey is in need, more than ever, of a loyal servant. But he puts Cromwell’s welfare before his and makes a truly admirable gesture.

It is a well-crafted scene with elements of flashing wit and biting sarcasm seen in 2the conversations between the King and Norfolk and also between the King and Wolsey. This makes the scene very enlivening and interesting to the audience who, being in full possession of hidden facts, are in the position to enjoy its subtleties.

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Free Study Guide-Henry VIII by William Shakespeare-Free Online Book Notes


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