Remember when your mom told you that you had to share your toys and play nice with your little brother? If only the characters in Henry VIII had been taught the same thing. Throughout the play, a person's principles get called into question more than once. From the time Buckingham accuses Wolsey of being up to no good, all the way to Cranmer's run-in with the council members, characters are totally judging each other's ethics and principles.
But don't go thinking that means everyone is treated fairly. Nope: in this play, being a good person often means you have a higher chance of being treated unfairly by the unscrupulous shady characters running the show.
Now, there are lots of shades of gray here: some people think Wolsey is corrupt, for example, while others think he's just doing his job. Shakespeare didn't make it easy for us: he gives us lots of clues about whether certain characters have good principles, but he leaves it up to us to decide for sure.
Questions About Principles
- Which characters stick to their principles throughout the entire play? How are those characters portrayed?
- Why is everyone so interested in Wolsey's principles? Why does it matter so much if he is corrupt? Is it because he's a church official, or because the king trusts him?
- How do a man's principles define his strength and masculinity in this society? Is it the same for the women? Why or why not?
Chew on This
Everyone talks a big game when it comes to principles, but no one lives up to the high standards they've set themselves.
Only the women are honorable and virtuous in Henry VIII. Some men might seem to have principles, but they all slip up eventually.