Study Guide

Henry VIII Katherine's Dream

By William Shakespeare

Katherine's Dream

What would you say if we told you we just saw a bunch of people in white robes and golden masks, with garland over their heads, and branches in their hands? You'd probably tell us to get some help, that's what. But this creepy vision is what Katherine actually sees right before she dies. Some scholars think this is a shout out to—what else?—the Bible. It makes sense considering Katherine's religious ways, right?

Check out what Revelation 7 : 9-10 says: "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb."

Sounds similar to us. If this vision really is a Biblical reference, it's probably fair to say that it celebrates Katherine's religious beliefs in a real way. She's seeing Biblical events in her dreams, right before she dies… we're betting you can fill in the blanks: Shakespeare may be suggesting not only that Katherine is a religious gal but that she's the one with right on her side in the play.

On the other hand, this vision might not be a reference to the Bible at all; it could be symbolic in other ways. Let's break it down: "six / personages, clad in white robes, wearing on their / heads garlands of bays, and golden vizards on their / faces, branches of bays or palm in their hands" (SD 4.2.88.2). If we were going to go all lit analysis on you, it would look something like this:

  • White robes: If you've been around literature long enough, you start to figure out that white is usually good, and black is usually bad. Here, white probably symbolizes purity and faithfulness. White is also the color of weddings and chastity—two things Katherine knows a little something about.
  • Golden masks: In Greek theater, a golden mask would be worn by God to show off his holiness.
  • Garland: Back to the Bible. Proverbs 4:9 tells us: "She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee." So garland is like a crown, and not just any crown—a crown of glory.
  • Palm branch: Usually, palm branches are hauled out when someone is victorious. After all, you're not gonna get fanned with a palm branch after you've just lost a big battle, right? Palm branches also symbolize peace—and sometimes even eternal life.

Hmm… so if we put all of this together, what do we get? A pure, peaceful figure wearing a crown, who is also holy. That sounds a lot like Katherine to us. We think there's something about this vision that hints at what's to come for Katherine. She might be dying, but she's on her way to eternal life (palm branches) with God (golden masks) because she's been pure (white robes). Wolsey might have knocked off Katherine's crown, but she'll get a better one (garland) where she's going because she's been devout and steadfast the whole time.

We're not totally sure if Shakespeare is actually coming down on Katherine's side here, but this dream sequence does suggest to us that there might be some higher justice going down behind the scenes. There's all kind of nastiness and injustice in this play, but the dream sequence gives us some hope that things will sort themselves out somehow.

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