Study Guide

Henry VIII Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Let's face it: women didn't have a lot of options back in Shakespeare's day. Popular opinion taught that women were weaker and less important than men: they were allowed to get married, have kids, and follow their husband's rules in life, but that was pretty much it. So it comes as kind of a shock when the Epilogue tells us at the end of Henry VIII that the women were "good" and "merciful" and doesn't comment at all on the men. In fact, both of the play's leading ladies (Anne and Katherine) are shown to be virtuous and moral characters, whereas the men—well, not so much.

Now, we're not sure about you, but when a play called Henry VIII closes up with a comment about how the women might be the only thing going for it, we sit up and take notice.

Questions About Women and Femininity

  1. How does Henry VIII portray women? Do the male and female characters talk about women in different ways?
  2. Why might Shakespeare close out the play by asking us to think about the women? Why are the women important to Henry VIII?
  3. How are Anne and Katherine similar? In what ways are they at odds with one another? Who are we supposed to root for in the marriage competition with Henry?

Chew on This

Women are strong and honest in Henry VIII, but they are always put in awful situations by men.

Even though Anne may seem kind, she's actually trying to steal Henry from Katherine. She's just as deceitful and manipulative as the men in the play.

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