Study Guide

Anne Bullen in Henry VIII

By William Shakespeare

Anne Bullen

One dance with Anne, and Henry is a smitten kitten. Who can blame him? The gents all tell us that she's "the sweetest face I ever looked on" (4.1.53); "saint-like" (4.1.100); and "an angel" (4.1.54). Okay, okay: we get it. She's so hot.

But Anne's beauty and charm pose a real threat to Katherine, Henry's wife. Anne herself realizes the power she holds, which is why she tells the Old Lady to keep mum about the new promotion Henry's given her. On top of that, she says: "It faints me / to think what follows" for Katherine (2.3.124-125).

In this society, a woman's power comes from her social status, and that's only partly determined by birth. The rest is determined by youth and beauty. Katherine's been Henry's wife for twenty years. Anne is hot teenager. This is not good news for Katherine. 

Queen Maker

Even so, Anne insists that being queen is not what she wants. She claims, "'tis better to be lowly born / And range with humble livers in content / Than to be perked up in a glist'ring grief / And wear a golden sorrow" (2.3.23-26). Hmm… does she really believe this, or is Shakespeare just setting her up for one big joke? It doesn't really matter, because soon enough, she's queen, whether she wants to be or not.

It's a little strange that once Anne becomes queen, we don't hear much from her. Once Henry has put a crown on it, we don't see her talking to the Old Lady anymore, and there are no jokes about how being royalty is so much better than she ever thought it could be. Nope, we get nothing, nada, zip. All Anne does is stand around at her coronation and her baby's christening listening how beautiful and totally amazing she is.

It's almost as if now that she's become queen, Anne's personality is no longer important: she's just a pawn in a political game. And even though she doesn't meet her fate on stage, everybody in the audience would know how Henry lopped her head off shortly after the events in this play. Like Henry in the early scenes, Anne seems to get swept up in something she doesn't really understand. The fact that she pretty much disappears halfway through is maybe a sign of what's to come for her.

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