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William Shakespeare (1564–1616). The Oxford Shakespeare. 1914.

Act II. Scene III.

The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth

An Antechamber in the QUEEN’S Apartments.

Enter ANNE BULLEN and an Old Lady.

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 enthron’d,

Still growing in a majesty and pomp, the which

To leave a thousand-fold more bitter than

’Tis sweet at first to 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 Lady.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 Lady.Our content

Is our best having.

Anne.By my troth and maidenhead

I would not be a queen.

Old Lady.Beshrew me, I would,

And venture maidenhead for ’t; and so would you,

For all this spice of your hypocrisy.

You, that have so fair parts of woman on you,

Have too a woman’s heart; which ever yet

Affected eminence, wealth, sovereignty:

Which, to say sooth, are blessings, and which gifts—

Saving your mincing—the capacity

Of your soft cheveril conscience would receive,

If you might please to stretch it.

Anne.Nay, good troth.

Old Lady.Yes, troth, and troth; you would not be a queen?

Anne.No, not for all the riches under heaven.

Old Lady.’Tis strange: a three-pence bow’d would hire me,

Old as I am, to queen it. But, I pray you,

What think you of a duchess? have you limbs

To bear that load of title?

Anne.No, in truth.

Old Lady.Then you are weakly made. Pluck off a little:

I would not be a young count in your way,

For more than blushing comes to: if your back

Cannot vouchsafe this burden, ’tis too weak

Ever to get a boy.

Anne.How you do talk

I swear again, I would not be a queen

For all the world.

Old Lady.In faith, for little England

You’d venture an emballing: I myself

Would for Carnarvonshire, although there ’long’d

No more to the crown but that. Lo! who comes here?

Enter the Lord Chamberlain.

Cham.Good morrow, ladies. What were ’t worth to know

The secret of your conference?

Anne.My good lord,

Not your demand; it values not your asking:

Our mistress’ sorrows we were pitying.

Cham.It was a gentle business, and becoming

The action of good women: there is hope

All will be well.

Anne.Now, I pray God, amen!

Cham.You bear a gentle mind, and heavenly blessings

Follow such creatures. That you may, fair lady,

Perceive I speak sincerely, and high note’s

Ta’en of your many virtues, the king’s majesty

Commends his good opinion of you, and

Does purpose honour to you no less flowing

Than Marchioness of Pembroke; to which title

A thousand pound a year, annual support,

Out of his grace he adds.

Anne.I do not know

What kind of my obedience I should tender;

More than my all is nothing, nor my prayers

Are not words duly hallow’d, nor my wishes

More worth than empty vanities; yet prayers and wishes

Are all I can return. Beseech your lordship,

Vouchsafe to speak my thanks and my obedience,

As from a blushing handmaid, to his highness,

Whose health and royalty I pray for.


I shall not fail to approve the fair conceit

The king hath of you.[Aside.]I have perus’d her well;

Beauty and honour in her are so mingled

That they have caught the king; and who knows yet

But from this lady may proceed a gem

To lighten all this isle?[To her.]I’ll to the king,

And say, I spoke with you.

Anne.My honour’d lord.[Exit LORD CHAMBERLAIN.

Old Lady.Why, this it is; see, see!

I have been begging sixteen years in court,

Am yet a courtier beggarly, nor could

Come pat betwixt too early and too late;

For any suit of pounds; and you, O fate!

A very fresh-fish here,—fie, fie, upon

This compell’d fortune!—have your mouth fill’d up

Before you open it.

Anne.This is strange to me.

Old Lady.How tastes it? is it bitter? forty pence, no.

There was a lady once,—’tis an old story,—

That would not be a queen, that would she not,

For all the mud in Egypt: have you heard it?

Anne.Come, you are pleasant.

Old Lady.With your theme I could

O’ermount the lark. The Marchioness of Pembroke!

A thousand pounds a year, for pure respect!

No other obligation! By my life

That promises more thousands: honour’s train

Is longer than his foreskirt. By this time

I know your back will bear a duchess: say,

Are you not stronger than you were?

Anne.Good lady,

Make yourself mirth with your particular fancy,

And leave me out on ’t. Would I had no being,

If this salute my blood a jot: it faints me,

To think what follows.

The queen is comfortless, and we forgetful

In our long absence. Pray, do not deliver

What here you’ve heard to her.

Old Lady.What do you think me?[Exeunt.