Study Guide

Henry VIII Society and Class

By William Shakespeare

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Society and Class

There's no fight for the everyman like there in some of Shakespeare's other plays, but we're certainly aware of the importance of social class in Henry VIII: pretty much all of the action that goes on is caused by people trying to either maintain or up their social status.

Shakespeare puts the high-society wheelings and dealings at the heart of the play into perspective by contrasting them with scenes featuring more average people (imaginatively called "First Gentleman," "Old Lady," and so on). Sure, we get big events like Buckingham's trial, Katherine's trial, Anne's coronation, Elizabeth's christening—but we also get to see what the people who weren't invited to these big events have to say about them.

Listen up, folks, because what these people have to say is often right on the money.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Why might Shakespeare include scenes with average people discussing what's happening with the nobles? What does his choice to write scenes for these people suggest about social class?
  2. How are the gentlemen treated in the play? Are we supposed to take their word for the entire lower or middle class?
  3. What's up with the gents talking about big events only? How do the scenes with the gentlemen comment on the entire class system?

Chew on This

The gentlemen comment on the big ceremonies so that we can mock the nobles' lavish lifestyle.

Henry VIII questions the social order by including intelligent, reasonable average people and greedy, manipulative nobles and royals.

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