Study Guide

Henry VIII Spirituality

By William Shakespeare

Spirituality

Did you notice how people are always talking about the spiritual in Henry VIII? Prayer, angels, heaven: religion is all over the place here. Characters are constantly taking it upon themselves to remind us how great the Church is and how holy the cardinals are (even when those cardinals are acting in some truly unholy ways). We also get some firsthand accounts of the different prayers characters recite when they're at trial or about to die, and we get one spooky dream vision that looks like something right out of the Bible.

It's clear that the characters in Henry VIII care a lot about spirituality: it's a driving force behind a lot of the action in the play. What's less clear is how sincere these religious beliefs are: is Wolsey, for example, acting in the best interests of the Church, or is he acting in his own best interests and just calling down the Church's authority to make his own interests seem legit?

That's a tough one to sort out, but we're here to help.

Questions About Spirituality

  1. Why does Katherine confront Wolsey about his spirituality? What is her problem with his holiness?
  2. Does any character use prayer or spiritual guidance in a positive sense? It seems like we're always treated to a call to a higher power when things go wrong.
  3. Which characters are the most spiritual? Why?

Chew on This

Wolsey finds comfort in his spirituality before his death, but does not become devout until things go wrong.

Katherine is deeply spiritual and offended that the Cardinal is a hypocrite because he's supposed to be a man of God.

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