Study Guide

Old Lady in Henry VIII

By William Shakespeare

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Old Lady

Did someone call for some comic relief? The Old Lady is at your service.

The Old Lady tells it like it is. She ribs Anne when Anne swears doesn't want to be queen. Then, when Anne gets a promotion and some spending money to boot, the Old Lady is there to mock her: "There was a lady once—'tis an old story— / that would not be a queen, that would she not, / for all the mud in Egypt. Have you heard it?" (2.3.109-111).

That's classic Old Lady: good, old-fashioned dry humor. We see her again when she reports Elizabeth's birth to the king, and even then, she's got her jokester hat on. She says she wishes Henry had paid her more for delivering such important news. He totally would have... if the baby had been a boy.

As you might have guessed by now, the Old Lady gives us a few laughs. Shakespeare loves to place a commoner or yappy old woman near all the action so we get some laughs along with our history. We also get a different perspective on the action, because all these crazy things the royals and nobles do look pretty different when you're on the outside and can see the absurdity of it.

The Old Lady sees through it all and says more or less what she likes; she's not a queen or a princess, so the stakes are lower for her when she tells the truth.

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