Characteristic of Shakespearean plays, ‘Henry VIII‘ contains nuggets of wisdom that teach, chastise and inspire readers on a vast range of life issues including human behaviour, politics, and ambition as it depicts the epic history of a religiously tense monarchy.
Truth loves open dealingQueen Katherine (Act III, Scene I)
This was said by an obstinate Queen Katherine to Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Campeius when they came to speak with her about the dissolution of her marriage to King Henry VIII and demanded to have an audience with her in private.
Queen Katherine saw the Cardinals as corrupt men who were scheming for their selfish gratifications, and considering them her enemies, she wanted to forestall what she suspected was an attempt by the cardinals to involve her in their scheming. Therefore, she demanded they say whatever they wanted to say in the open.
The implication of the quote is that there is no need for secrecy or clandestine activity when one is doing the right thing in sincerity.
Corruption wins not more than honestyCardinal Wolsey (Act III, Scene II)
This was said by Cardinal Wolsey after he had been disgraced and stripped of his power. His downfall was partly because his corrupt ways had been discovered by the king and so he was advising Cromwell not to imitate his corrupt ways.
The quote teaches that corruption is not more profitable than honesty in the long run.
Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s
Thy God’s and truth’s; then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell!
Thou fall’st a blessed martyrCardinal Wolsey (Act III, Scene II)
Still a piece of advice from Cardinal Wolsey to Cromwell, this quote appeals to its object to let his conscience be guided by patriotism, God and the truth because even if one is persecuted for upholding those three concepts, one dies a martyr.
Wealth and Value
A beggar’s book outworths a noble’s bloodDuke of Buckingham (Act I, Scene I)
The meaning of this quote is that a beggar who is given a position of authority is more powerful than one from a noble family who does not occupy an office of authority. The quote was made by the Duke of Buckingham about Cardinal Wolsey who rose to eminence despite not being from the nobility.
‘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 sorrowAnne Bullen (Act II, Scene III)
Anne Bullen was talking about the marital woes of Queen Katherine when she said this. In her opinion, it would have been better if Queen Katherine was a commoner living a simple life happily than for her to face such humiliation and disgrace after being in the elevated position of a queen.
Our content is our best havingOld lady (Act II, Scene III)
This means that contentment is the most valuable possession a person can have.
A closer evaluation of the quote will make one understand that social status or material possessions do not guarantee happiness as in the instance of Queen Katherine who was hurt and disgraced despite having both.
Vengeance and Enmity
Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself. We may outrun by violent swiftness that which we run at and lose by over runningDuke of Norfolk (Act I, Scene I)
Here, the Duke of Norfolk was advising the Duke of Buckingham to be careful not to be consumed by his hatred and disdain for Cardinal Wolsey. The lesson in this quote is that sometimes vengeance hurts its bearer even more than the object it is meant for.
Fling away ambition: by that sin fell the angels; how can man then, the image of his maker, hope to win by it?Cardinal Wolsey (Act III, Scene II)
Part of Cardinal Wolsey’s advice to Cromwell here is a lesson drawn from Cardinal Wolsey’s personal experience and from biblical stories.
Wolsey was teaching how ambition can lead to a person’s downfall after his ambitions had led to his disgrace. Then he also mentioned angels and their maker, alluding to the Christian belief that angels were cast out from heaven for nursing ambitions to take the place of God. These are some of the main themes in ‘Henry VIII‘.
Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues
We write in waterGriffith (Act IV, Scene II)
This means that we as humans have a propensity to remember and hold on to the bad things a person does but we easily forget the good they do.
Griffith, Queen Katherine’s assistant, said this in response to Queen Katherine’s condemnation of Cardinal Wolsey upon hearing news of his death. Griffith then pointed out to Queen Katherine that although Cardinal Wolsey had his faults, he also had some goodness that was worth commending.
We must not stint our necessary actions in the fear to cope malicious censurersCardinal Wolsey (Act I, Scene II)
This simply means that we must not allow what people will say to stop us from doing what is necessary for us to do.
This was Cardinal Wolsey’s response to the King and Queen when confronted with the issue of the masses’ complaints about his use of the office of Lord Chancellor.
Things done well and with a care, exempt themselves from fearKing Henry VIII (Act I, Scene II)
This means that when one does something right, there is no fear of condemnation. He was referring to the unprecedented taxation of one-sixth of total revenue on the masses, telling Cardinal Wolsey that the masses would have no need to complain if good policies were made.
To silence envious tongues: be just, and fear not.Cardinal Wolsey (Act III, Scene II)
Cardinal Wolsey here was saying that if one is just and fearless, one silences envious people that may conceive to speak ill against one. This was part of Cardinal Wolsey’s parting advice to Cromwell.
Where you are liberal of your loves and counsels be sure you not be looseDuke of Buckingham (Act II, Scene I)
The Duke of Buckingham was giving this as an open bit of advice to the public as he walked towards his execution. After being betrayed to his death by his servants and confidants, he was advising people to be cautious even in dealing with people they love and trust.
Those that tame wild horses
Pace ‘em not in their hands to make ‘em gentle
But stop their mouths with stubborn bits and spur’em
Till they obey the manageGardiner (Act V, Scene III)
This means that when dealing with people or situations that pose danger, it is best to be proactive and take drastic steps to prevent the situation from becoming out of hand or more dangerous.
In the play, the quote was said by Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who passionately wanted Cranmer to be punished by the law for heresy.
Change and Uncertainties
O! how wretched
Is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favours!
There is betwixt that smile we would aspire to,
That sweet aspect of princes, and their ruin
More pangs and fears than wars or women haveCardinal Wolsey (Act V, Scene III)
This is decrying the turbulence in fortune one faces when one’s fate is dependent on a royalty’s disposition. Because their dispositions are unpredictable and can change for the better or worse.
The mind, growing once corrupt,
They turn to vicious forms, ten times more ugly
Than they were fairKing Henry VIII (Act I, Scene II)
King Henry VIII was talking about the Duke of Buckingham in this context. Describing the Duke as a gifted and eloquent intellectual, the King expressed regret that when people with such gifts change and begin to use their gifts for evil, they are a dangerous force to reckon with.
What is a famous quote from Henry VIII?
”Things done well and with care exempt themselves from fear”. This is a famous quote said by King Henry VIII in William Shakespeare’s historical play, ‘Henry VIII‘. It was said in Act I, Scene II of the play when King Henry VIII heard about an exorbitant tax imposed on the masses by Cardinal Wolsey
Which King Henry did Shakespeare write about?
William Shakespeare wrote about four different Kings called Henry. Shakespeare wrote about King Henry IV, King Henry V, King Henry VI, and King Henry VIII. All of whom were Kings of England at various points in history.
What is one Shakespeare quote from a King Henry play?
”Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water”. This quote from Act IV, Scene II of ‘Henry VIII‘ by William Shakespeare aptly describes the sway of public opinion in judging people’s deeds and characters including that of Kings.
What did Cardinal Wolsey say about corruption?
”Corruption wins not more than honesty”. Cardinal Wolsey said this in Act III, Scene II of the play ‘Henry VIII‘ by Shakespeare., stating that corruption is not more profitable than honesty in one’s dealings.