Study Guide

Henry VIII Plot Analysis

By William Shakespeare

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation)

Treason, Trial, and Execution

Right after Buckingham starts complaining about how dangerous Wolsey's behavior is to the kingdom, he gets cuffed. He's quickly tried and executed for treason, but not before he gets a chance to raise some serious questions about whether his trial was fair or not. Meanwhile, Queen Katherine definitely does not trust Wolsey, and he's coming for her next. 

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)

Gents Don't Kiss and Tell

Wolsey holds a party where King Henry meets the lovely Anne Bullen. He dances and flirts with Anne, and he turns into a smitten kitten. Too bad he's married. Henry gives Anne a new title and some money, but that's not all he's planning. Word on the street is that he's trying to get out of his marriage with Katherine so that he can get with Anne.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)

Divorce Should Be a Four-Letter Word

With Wolsey's help, Henry divorces Katherine. We get the sense that Henry wants to marry Anne but also thinks that Katherine has been a faithful and loving wife. So, he'll take care of Katherine by giving her a place to stay and servants even after they're divorced. Wolsey, on the other hand, wants to get rid of Katherine, since she gets in the way of him controlling the king. She knows Wolsey's real motives and calls him out on it.

Falling Action

Liar, Liar

It's not just Katherine who can see that Wolsey is two-faced by this point; the other nobles want to get rid of him. Wolsey slips up, and Henry learns of his lies. Henry fires Wolsey and gives Cranmer a position. Wolsey dies alone, mourning his crumbled status and his ruined life. Katherine gets sick and dies. Oh, and Henry marries Anne.

Resolution (Denouement)

It's a Girl! Aw, Man

Anne gives birth to a girl, and everyone is excited for the new princess—except for Henry, who wishes the baby had been a boy. Meanwhile, the lords want to fire Cranmer after a bunch of complaints about him surface. Not to worry, Henry says: it's all good. Henry makes all the nobles shake on it their friendship with Cranmer. With that new friendly vibe, Elizabeth is christened. Wolsey delivers a heartfelt speech about how amazing baby Elizabeth will be when she grows up.

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