Study Guide

Henry VIII

by William Shakespeare

Henry VIII Characters

Characters Discussed (Great Characters in Literature)

King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII, the king of England. Possibly because he may be a composite portrait by two authors and possibly because of the difficulty of writing about a controversial political figure so nearly contemporary, King Henry is not one of the more successful creations in the playwright’s gallery. At times, he seems to be an allegorical figure of Royalty, like Magnificence in John Skelton’s morality play of that title. The injustice of his treatment of Queen Katharine is partly offset by his generous protection of Cranmer against the council’s attack.

Thomas Cardinal Wolsey

Thomas Cardinal Wolsey, the cardinal of York and Lord Chancellor of England. A far better dramatic creation than the king, he is drawn as arrogant and stubborn when he is in power and ruthless in hounding the duke of Buckingham to his death and in attempting to force Queen Katharine to submit the decision on her divorce to Henry and Wolsey. He falls through pride but accepts his fall with dignity. His death is reported to Queen Katharine as a good death, and she speaks of him with forgiveness.

Queen Katharine

Queen Katharine, called Katharine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. Characterized by dignity, firmness, and compassion, she never allows her adversity and her material losses to shake her integrity or reduce her to bitterness. Even her successful rival for the king’s affections, Anne Bullen, speaks of her with pity and admiration. The king himself has nothing to say in dispraise of her character or conduct, either before or after the divorce.

Thomas Cranmer

Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop of Canterbury, a loyal friend and supporter of King Henry. He is considered a heretic by Wolsey. Saved from the plots of the council by the king, then chosen as godfather for the infant Elizabeth, he delivers a glowing prophecy of the future of his tiny goddaughter. This supposed prophecy and actual eulogy of the late queen is the true end of the play, followed only by the concluding speech of King Henry, in keeping with the contemporary convention of giving royalty the last word on stage.

Anne Bullen

Anne Bullen (also spelled Anne Boleyn), Queen Katharine’s maid of honor. She becomes the king’s second wife and the mother of Elizabeth. Although she has sympathy for the queen and says that she would not be a queen for all the riches under heaven,...

(The entire section is 1011 words.)

Henry VIII Character Analysis

Buckingham (Duke of Buckingham)

Buckingham is a noble, afterwards condemned as a traitor. In this play about falling from greatness, Buckingham is the first to fall. Beloved...

(The entire section is 733 words.)

Henry (King Henry VIII of England)

Henry VIII is not so much the story of Henry the man, as it is the story of what happens in the kingdom while Henry is king. It begins with...

(The entire section is 767 words.)

Katherine (Queen Katherine)

Katherine of Aragon is wife to Henry and is afterwards divorced. Much of the central action of the play concerns Henry's attempt to divorce...

(The entire section is 865 words.)

Wolsey (Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York; Lord Chancellor until III.ii)

Henry's prime minister until his fall, Wolsey is a butcher's son who has risen to his high position through his own ambition. As cardinal,...

(The entire section is 804 words.)

Other Characters

Aburgavenny (Lord Aburgavenny)
Lord Aburgavenny is Buckingham's son-in-law, and he shares Buckingham's dislike of Wolsey. He...

(The entire section is 4248 words.)