By William Shakespeare
Written in 1613 or earlier

Comments by Bob Corbett
April 2011

General Note: In January 2009 I decided that I’d like to go back and read all the plays of William Shakespeare, perhaps one a month if that works out. I hadn’t read a Shakespeare play since 1959, 50 years ago! But I had read nearly all of them in college. I wanted to go back, start with something not too serious or challenging, and work my way through the whole corpus. Thus I began with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. At this time I have no idea how the project will go, nor if it will actually lead me through the entire corpus of Shakespeare’s plays. However, I will keep a separate page listing each play I’ve read with links to any comments I would make of that particular play. See: List of Shakespeare’s play’s I’ve read and commented on


This is the 28th month of this project of reading all of Shakespeare’s plays, the 28th play. Despite the fact that I had never read this play before nor heard much about it, it was one of my favorites. It’s a great and familiar story, many long and rewarding speeches, perhaps over the length of a whole play, the most really long speeches of any. Many of them are quite elegant, long and with flowing rhythms, interesting, subtle and revealing the depth of the character speaking.

This is the basic story of Henry VIII’s decision to divorce his long-time first wife, Katherine and to marry Anne Boleyn. It is also the story of the fall of the powerful Cardinal Wosley. It is so much the latter that the play might almost have been name for Wosley as for Henry VIII.

It will be no plot spoiler for many to know the situation revolves around the fact that the children, many, of Katherine and Henry did not survive early childhood save one female child. However, Henry wants a male heir to seal more strongly the Tudor rule in England. He is also totally infatuated with Anne Boleyn, so he want to divorce Katherine and marry Anne.

However, England is still a Roman Catholic nation and the church will not agree with Henry’s request for the divorce. The key figure in the intercession between the Vatican and Henry is Cardinal Wosley, who is really controlling much of the monarchy by manipulating Henry. Once this become clear to Henry near the end of this play, Henry turns upon Wosley with a vengeance and his fall from power, fame and wealth is immediate. What made the play so fascinating to me were the many wonderful speeches. Early on the good and noble Buckingham speaks:

All good people,
You that thus far have come to pity me,
Hear what I say, and then go home and lose me.
I have this day receiv'd a traitor's judgment,
And by that name must die; yet, heaven bear witness,
And if I have a conscience, let it sink me
Even as the axe falls, if I be not faithful!
The law I bear no malice for my death:
'T has done, upon the premises, but justice.
But those that sought it I could wish more Christians.
Be what they will, I heartily forgive 'em;
Yet let 'em look they glory not in mischief
Nor build their evils on the graves of great men,
For then my guiltless blood must cry against 'em.
For further life in this world I ne'er hope
Nor will I sue, although the King have mercies
More than I dare make faults. You few that lov'd me
And dare be bold to weep for Buckingham,
His noble friends and fellows, whom to leave
Is only bitter to him, only dying,
Go with me like good angels to my end
And as the long divorce of steel falls on me
Make of your prayers one sweet sacrifice,
And lift my soul to heaven. Lead on, a God's name.

LOV. I do beseech your Grace, for charity,
If ever any malice in your heart
Were hid against me, now to forgive me frankly.

BUCK. Sir Thomas Lovell, I as free forgive you
As I would be forgiven. I forgive all.
There cannot be those numberless offences
Gainst me that I cannot take peace with. No black envy
Shall mark my grave. Commend me to his Grace,
And if he speak of Buckingham, pray tell him
You met him half in heaven. My vows and prayers
Yet are the King's, and, till my soul forsake,
Shall cry for blessings on him. May he live
Longer than I have time to tell his years;
Ever belov'd and loving may his rule be;
And when old time shall lead him to his end,
Goodness and he fill up one monument!

That gentleman’s plea is soon followed by Wosley’s treachery. Historically Wosley is indeed an ignoble character. However, Shakespeare’s source are especially hard on him and Shakespeare is marvelous at capturing this villain. Wosley says of Dr. Pace, whom Wosley replace

Heav’n’s peace be with him!
That’s Christian care enough. For living murmurers
There’s places of rebuke. He was a fool,
For he would needs be virtuous: that good fellow,
If I command him, follows my appointment,
I will have none so near else. Learn this, brother
, We live not to be grip’d by meaner persons.

I wasn’t too sure just how Shakespeare understood Anne Boleyn. Early on he has her singing the praises of queen Katherine, but are the lines honestly prophetic, or ironic? Later in the play, she has definitely changed her language a great deal.

ANNE. Not for that neither.
Here's the pang that pinches:
His Highness having liv'd so long with her, and she
So good a lady that no tongue could ever
Pronounce dishonour of her - by my life,
She never knew harm-doing - O, now, after
So many courses of the sun enthroned,
Still growing in a majesty and pomp, the which
To leave a thousand-fold more bitter than
'Tis sweet at first t' acquire - after this process,
To give her the avaunt, it is a pity
Would move a monster.

OLD Lady: Hearts of most hard temper
Melt and lament for her.

ANNE. O, God's will! much better
She ne'er had known pomp; though't be temporal,
Yet, if that quarrel, fortune, do divorce
It from the bearer, 'tis a sufferance panging
As soul and body's severing.

OLD L. Alas, poor lady!
She's a stranger now again.

ANNE. SO much the more
Must pity drop upon her. Verily,
I swear 'tis better to be lowly born
And range with humble livers in content
Than to be perk'd up in a glist'ring grief
And wear a golden sorrow.

OLD L. Our content
Is our best having.

ANNE. By my troth and maidenhead,
I would not be a queen.

Queen Katherine is not fooled by Wosley and the Vatican representative. She knows they are up to no good. As the two cardinals enter her quarters she says:

They should be good men, their affairs as righteous;
But all hoods made not monks.

Later on when Wosley’s treacheries have been uncovered and Katherine is speaking of Wosley, a lowly official says:

“Men’s evil manners live in brass: their virtue
We write in water.”

Quite nice line!

Perhaps my sole criticism of the whole play was the quickness with which Wosley was repenting his sins and ways. He was totally unconvincing.

This was just a great read, delightful from beginning to end.

Bob Corbett



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Bob Corbett