Study Guide

Henry VIII Act 2, Scene 4

By William Shakespeare

Act 2, Scene 4

Read the full text of Henry VIII Act 2 Scene 4 with a side-by-side translation HERE.

  • Over at Blackfriars, it's a formal affair with a bunch of pomp and circumstance. Everyone's gathered to hear the report from the Pope's rep (Campeius) read. Wolsey shuts everyone up so they can hear it.
  • Henry doesn't think that's necessary, since the report has already been read, but Wolsey wants to carry on anyway.
  • Katherine comes into the court and kneels at Henry's feet. Then she delivers a long speech about her position. Here are the highlights: 1) She's a foreigner in England, so she should be treated kindly; 2) She's been faithfully married to Henry for twenty years and has always tried to be a good wife; 3) Her dad (the King of Spain) and Henry's dad were buddies and decided their marriage was a great idea, so it must not be illegal.
  • Wolsey won't have any of it: there are bunch of brainiacs here who have already tried to convince Henry to change his mind, so why should she try? That's just a waste of everyone's time. Unsurprisingly, Campeius agrees.
  • So Katherine talks to Wolsey directly. She claims he's the real reason for Henry's beef with her, and she doesn't think it's fair that he's the one controlling her trial. He shouldn't have a say.
  • "You got a problem with me?" asks Wolsey. He plays innocent and tells everyone he's never said anything bad about Katherine and doesn't know what her problem is. This isn't like her—is she sure she's okay?
  • Katherine can see right through Wolsey's antics, but she's also worried about her own skill. She says she can't properly defend herself against him because he's very clever and twists things around.
  • When Katherine tries to leave, Campeius and Henry call her back in. Katherine doesn't budge: she's not going to take this, so she won't come to any more of this sham. She leaves.
  • Henry doesn't bother chasing after her. Instead, he compliments her, telling everyone that she is a great wife who is noble and obedient. Um, isn't the purpose of this whole thing to break up the marriage?
  • Always thinking of himself, Wolsey asks Henry to clear his name. The queen just said that Wolsey was behind this whole thing; that's not true, and it gives Wolsey a bad rap. Henry agrees.
  • Now it's time for a long speech from Henry. He tells everyone about his marriage and why he thinks it might be illegal.
  • The short version: Katherine first married his bro and then got hitched to Henry after his bro died. (This was actually pretty common in Shakespeare's day.) Plus, Katherine only gave birth to girls or had miscarriages, and that's a bad sign. Once Henry thought about it, he figured it must be Heaven punishing him for getting into an illegal marriage. Yeah, that makes sense.
  • Henry got some confirmation from his nobles, too. It's not that Henry doesn't like Katherine; it's that he worries he's not doing the right thing by being with her.
  • Campeius declares that they have to wait until Katherine is present to make the divorce final, so they plan to get back together when she's ready.
  • Everyone agrees, but Henry secretly tells the audience that he doesn't really trust the Roman cardinals—they play around with him, and he's not sure why. He just hopes that Cranmer, his trusty right-hand man, gets back soon so he doesn't have to deal with these clowns anymore.