Thomas Merrian. The Old Lady, or All Is Not True

The third scene of Act Two of All Is True rewards particular consideration as it is almost literally, and certainly symbolically, central to the play. The scene is described by R.A. Foakes as follows.

For her [Katherine's] divorce follows the brief scene between Anne and an Old Lady the only scene in the play devoted to Anne in which Anne, as it were, is queened: it is a scene of rich and complex meaning, of bawdry and high spirits, in which Anne's promotion as Marchioness of Pembroke foreshadows her further elevation. Out of Anne's pity for Katherine grows the Old Lady's series of quibbles, playing always on the idea of Anne becoming queen (or quean),

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

    Old L.:
Beshrew me, I would,
And venture maidenhead for't, and so would you
For all this spice of your hypocrisy.

      [II. iii. 2326]

The placing of this gay little scene of Anne's rise before the trial lends added poignancy to Katherine's refusal to yield1.

Foakes's synopsis is of an innocuous and amusing exchange; he regards Anne Boleyn's expression of sympathy for Queen Katherine, soon to be supplanted by Anne herself, as genuine despite the Old Lady's allegation of Anne's hypocrisy2. Hypocrisy is not a word which Shakespeare uses without deliberation3. How seriously then are we to take remarks of the Old Lady whose speech is riddled with ambiguous ironies?

To answer the question one must consider the Old Lady's indelicacies in the wider context of Shakespearian usage. Anne's swearing by her maidenhead is uniquely paralleled in Shakespeare by Juliet's nurse in Romeo and Juliet [1. 3. 2], Now, by my maidenhead at twelve year old, a sardonic expression which links the pairing of Anne and the Old Lady with Juliet and her near toothless Nurse. The Nurse's reminiscences of Juliet's childhood are spiced with double entendres as are Juliet's mother's.

Count has a similar usage in Romeo and Juliet [1. 3] and All Is True [2. 3]. Juliet's mother employs a triple entendre: By my count / I was your mother much upon these years / That you are now a maid. [Romeo 1. 3. 7375]. The Old Lady says, Pluck off a little; / I would not be a young count in your way / For more than blushing comes to [All Is True 2. 3. 4042]. The dialogue between Anne and the Old Lady is reminiscent not only of the exchanges between Juliet and her nurse, but also of the women-only exchange between the French Princess Catherine4 and Alice, an old gentlewoman, in Henry V [3. 4]. Alice pronounces the English word gown so as to sound like cown/coun, a homophone of coun5, thereby shocking the Princess. However, the authenticity of Catherine's protestation at les mots de son mauvais, corruptible, gros, et impudique, et non pour les dames d'honneur d'user.6 is laid open to question by her readiness to memorize the offending words, the recitation of which meets with approval and encouragement from Alice7.

Je ne voudrais prononcer ces mots devant les seigneurs de France pour tout le monde! Foh! De foot et de cownl Néamoins, je réciterai une autre fois ma leçon ensemble. D'hand, defingre, de nails, d'arma, d'elbow, de nick, de sin, de foot, de cown8. [Henry V 3. 4. 5055].

Audiences are bemused by the wit and playful bawdiness of the scene. Catherine affects a refinement which charms by virtue of the audience's unfamiliarity with foreign linguistic insouciance. Her denial pour tout le monde is word-for-word Anne Boleyn's I would not be a queen / For all the world [All Is True 2. 3. 4546]. Shakespeare deftly (perhaps too deftly) casts doubt on the sincerity of both young women. The parallelisms suggest that he may have consulted his previous history play before contributing to All Is True.

The most searching meditation on for all the world with its Biblical echo9, and its consideration of conscience, is found in the dialogue between Othello's wife Desdemona and lago's Emilia. Desdemona's values are compared with Emilia's situational ethics, thereby shedding light on the respective morals of Catherine and Anne Boleyn. The contrast between Desdemona and Emilia parallels the contrast between Queen Katherine and Anne Boleyn.


Dost thou in conscience think tell me, Emilia
That there be women do abuse their husbands
In such gross kind?


There be some such, no question.


Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?


Why, would not you?


No, by this heavenly light.


Nor I neither, by this heavenly light. I might do't as well i'th' dark.


Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?


The world's a huge thing. It is a great price for a small vice.


In truth, I think thou wouldst not.


In truth, I think I should, and undo't when I had done. Marry, I would not do such a thing for a joint ring, nor for measures of lawn, nor for gowns, petticoats, nor caps, nor any pretty exhibition; but for all the whole world? Ud's pity, who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a monarch? I should venture purgatory for't.


Beshrew me if I would do such a wrong For the whole world.


Why, the wrong is but a wrong i'th' world, and having the world for your labour, tis a wrong in your own world, and you might quickly make it right.


I do not think there is any such woman.


Yes, a dozen, and as many.
To th' vantage as would store the world they played for.

[Othello 4. 3. 5984]

Juliet's nurse complains of a sore back. My back [Juliet rubs her back] a t'other side ah my back, my back! [Romeo 2. 4. 50]. And later reminds Juliet I am the drudge, and toil in your delight, / But you shall bear the burden soon at night [Romeo 2. 4. 7576]. The Old Lady wams Anne, If your back / Cannot vouchsafe this burden, tis too weak / Ever to get a boy [All Is True 2. 3. 4244].

The innuendo in the Old Lady's converse is more barbed than the Nurse's. When the Old Lady says of Anne,

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.

      [All Is True 2. 3. 2733]

she employs saving your, mincing, cheveril conscience, and stretch, all of which have indicative and pejorative meanings in their previous Shakespearian contexts. Saving your mincing is plausibly a translation of the Latin stock phrase, salva reverentia. Shakespeare uses saving your reverence as a mock disclaimer of what follows directly by one in conversation with a social superior10. With Launcelot Gobbo the phrase is addressed to the Devil. To be ruled by my conscience I should stay with the Jew my master who, God bless the mark, is a kind of devil; and to run away from the Jew I should be ruled by the fiend who, saving your reverence, is the devil himself [Merchant 2. 2. 1924]. Conscience and the Englished salva reverentia are within 33 words of each other in the scene with Gobbo, and within six words of each other in the scene with Anne and the Old Lady.

In Henry V, Fleullen addresses the King in a speech containing the salva reverentia formula as well as conscience and glove (made of chev-eril). The expression saving your majesty's manhood recalls Mistress Quickly's bawdy speech A comes continuantly to Pie Comer saving your manhoods to buy a saddle11... [2 Henry IV 2. 1. 2627].


Your majesty hear now, saving your majesty's manhood, what an arrant rascally beggarly lousy knave it is. I hope your majesty is pear me testimony and witness, and will avouchment that this is the glove of Alencon that your majesty is give me, in your conscience now

[Henry V 4. 8. 3439]

In the same play, Alice employs the salva reverentia formula in French, Sauf votre honneur, [Henry V 3. 4. 34 and 44] in a scene whose bawdy double entendres between future bride and her elderly noble companion parallel those in All Is True 2. 3. Sauf votre grace (addressed by Alice to Henry) and sauf votre honneur (addressed to Henry by Catherine) occur in a later scene with Henry V's wooing of Catherine, Henry V 5. 212.

As with Gobbo's speech in The Merchant of Venice, the salva reverentia in 1 Henry IV has a darker association.

    Prince Harry:

That villainous, abominable misleader of youth, Oldcastle; that old white-bearded Satan.

    Sir Jong:

My lord, the man I know.

    Prince Harry:

I know thou dost.

    Sir Jong:

But to say I know more harm in him than in myself were to say more than I know. That he is old, the more the pity, his white hairs do witness it. But that he is, saving your reverence, a whoremaster, that I utterly deny...

[1 Henry IV 2. 5. 467475]

Saving your mincing is richer in meaning than a straight rendering of salva reverentia. Shakespeare's most striking use of mince is spoken by Lear.

...Behold yon simp'ring dame,
Whose face between her forks presages snow,
That minces virtue, and does shake the head
To hear of pleasure's name.
The fitchew nor the soiled horse goes to't
With a more riotous appetite. Down from the waist
They're centaurs, though women all above,
But to the girdle do the gods inherit;
Beneath is all the fiend's.
There's hell, there's darkness, there is the sulphurous pit,
burning, scalding, stench, consumption...

      [Lear F 4. 5. 116126]

There are parallels between yon simp'ring dame and Anne Boleyn, difference of age notwithstanding. Anne expresses a virtuous sympathy for Queen Katherine, remarking that it would have been better for her never to have known the pomp of high station. Yet Anne tenders her thanks and obedience to the King for making her Marchioness of Pembroke, as from a blushing handmaid. She denies wishing to be queen as emphatically as Sir John Falstaff/Oldcastle denies being a whoremaster. Sir John, once disguised as an old, cozening quean13, however, is no less a whoremaster, and Anne later embraces the pomp of her regal coronation. Even the words spoken to the Lord Chamberlain,

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.

      [All Is True 2. 3. 7073]

are ambiguous, and especially so in the final suspended four-beat line, last of a series of eight lines with feminine endings: does Anne pray for acquiring royalty for herself14? In addition, the ambiguous word blushing echoes its previous sexual context, I would not be a young count in your way / For more than blushing comes to [All Is True 2. 3. 4142].

There is resonance of a similar ambiguity in Cressida. Lord Pandarus stage-manages the pivotal encounter between Cressida and Troilus, imagining himself the controller of his niece's life.


She's making her ready. She'll come straight. You must be witty now. She does so blush, and fetches her wind so short as if she were frayed with a spirit. I'll fetch her. It is the prettiest villain! She fetches her breath as short as a new-ta'en sparrow

[Troilus 3. 2. 2831]

But Cressida, false Cressid, is no new ta'en sparrow, nor is Anne Boleyn. Pandarus returns twice to Cressida's blushing.

Come, come, what need you blush? Shame's a baby.

      [Troilus 3. 2. 3899]

And again.

What, blushing still? Have you not done talking yet?

      [Troilus 3. 2. 9798]\

Cressida is no innocent. She is too knowing.

Perchance, my lord, I show more craft than love,
And fell so roundly to a large confession
To angle for your thoughts. But you are wise,
Or else you love not for to be wise and love
Exceeds man's might: that dwells with gods above

      [Troilus 3. 2. 149153]

The Old Lady's accusation all this spice of your hypocrisy may be dismissed as no more than an expression of her general cynicism. Her own hypocrisies have not gone unremarked: before recommending the pursuit of courtly preferment to Anne, she patently lies, Our content / Is our best having. (All Is True 2. 3. 2223). The interpretative crux of the Act Two, Scene Three is the reliability of the Old Lady's witness. Those who see the exchange between Anne and the Old Lady as a gay little scene construe its sexual innuendos as light-hearted. This view is not borne out by its verbal and contextual antecedents. Like Cressida, Anne's naivety is more art than nature15.

The stretching of the capacity of your soft cheveril conscience is a case in point. All Is True is the only Shakespeare play which plainly conflates conscience with genitalia. Some have questioned whether Shakespeare's view of conscience is consonant with Christian teaching. A formulation of Christian doctrine in 1994 reads:

It is by the judgement of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescriptions of the divine law: ...The dignity of the human person implies and requires uprightness of moral conscience... Man has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions16.

The divine law includes the Decalogue.

Shakespeare's negative formulation alludes to that law: (Numbers of the Commandments are added in brackets).

    Second murderer:

I'll not meddle with it [conscience]. It makes a man a coward. A man cannot steal but it accuseth him. (VII) A man cannot swear but it checks him. (II) A man cannot lie with his neighbour's wife but it detects him. (VI and IX) Tis a blushing, shamefaced spirit, that mutinies in a man's bosom. It fills a man full of obstacles. It made me once restore a purse of gold that by chance I found. It beggars any man that keeps it. (Beatitudes) It is turned out of towns and cities for a dangerous thing, (Beatitudes) and every man that means to live well endeavours to trust to himself and live without it

[Richard III 1. 4. 131141]

Or in another context:

Yet for I know thou art religious
And hast a thing within thee called conscience,
With twenty popish tricks and ceremonies
Which I have seen thee careful to observe,
Therefore I urge thy oath...

      [Titus 5. 1. 7478]

There is every indication that Shakespeare was conversant with the notion of conscience and valued it very highly. Supporting evidence lies in the negative appraisal of Richard III which anticipates Nietzsche and Hitler.

Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience; swords, our law.

      [Richard III 5. 6. 3941]

The Old Lady's identification of conscience and pudendum is prefaced just prior to Act Two, Scene Three, when King Henry exclaims, But conscience, conscience / O, tis a tender place, and I must leave her [All Is True 2. 2. 143144]. Act Two, Scene Three's first words, spoken by Anne, Not for that neither are uncannily relevant to these last words of the previous scene17.

Editors of the play have not drawn attention to the conflation of conscience and pudendum as worthy of note. This may be because conscience is regarded as problematical in contemporary thinking, owing to the Freudian super-ego, to post-Victorian reaction against prudery, or to the difficulty of reconciling conscience with the biological mechanisms of evolutionary survival. More plausibly it is because the substance of the Old Lady's ribald turn of phrase is seen merely as a figurative commonplace for a flexible conscience. Fletcher entertained a less scrupulous notion of conscience than Shakespeare18. There is a looseness of tone characteristic of Fletcher which pervades All Is True. Semantic diffuseness is reinforced by editors footnotes. Foakes advises that cheveril is kid-leather, proverbial for its stretching capacity, especially as applied to conscience19. Humphreys reminds one The phrase cheveril conscience was quasi-proverbial20, A minimum of emphasis is placed on sexual metaphor, modestly veiled as quibble21. Schoenbaum clarifies saving your mincing as despite your coyness22. In the process of elucidating the unfamiliar, the scholarly apparatus dilutes the meaning.

Examples of Fletcher's use of conscience illustrate his semantic slackness and studied light-hearted mockery. In The Woman's Prize there are 14 occurrences of conscience, eleven of which are in the form of the stock expression o my conscience, upon my conscience, on my conscience, and so forth. The word conscience has little meaning in these phrases. In two of the remaining occurrences, conscience is something to swear by, comparable to honesty or Heaven. One usage is worth quoting.

Shall I have liberty of conscience
Which by interpretation, is ten kisses?
Hang me if I affect her: yet it may be,
This whoreson manners will require a struggling,
Of two and twenty, or by'r Lady thirty.

The tenor is swashbuckling and debonair. The tone may seem to resemble that of the Old Lady's remarks, but it is verbal buckshot rather than well-aimed rifle fire. Another example is found in The Island Princess.

Take a good draught or two of wine to settle ye,
'Tis an excellent armour for an ill conscience, Uncle.

The expression the capacity of your soft cheveril conscience is Shakespearian in its boldness of juxtaposition of a non-trivial conscience with the earthiness of capacity, soft cheveril, and stretch, contextually belonging to the female pudendum23. The Old Lady's words are neither diffuse nor charming; hers is the voice of unrelieved, if not unadulterated, experience.

The verbal antecedents of cheveril illustrate its sexual meaning.

But the latter image stretching in order to receive appears elsewhere in Shakespeare in an explicitly sexual sense, for the opening up or the stretching of female sexuality to fit whatever it receives in the image of the chevril glove (Here's a wit of cheverel, that stretches from an inch narrow to an ell broad! I stretch it out for that word "broad") in Romeo and Juliet [II. iv. 8385] and in the old lady's reference, in Henry VIII, to the ambivalent capacity of Ann Bullen (The capacity / Of your soft cheveril conscience would receive, / If you might please to stretch it, [II. iii. 3133]. The image of the chevril glove is linked to female wantonness in the scene in Twelfth Night where Feste invokes it in lines that refer to making his sister wanton. But it is also explicitly summoned for Diana's duplicitous angling, in the final scene of All's Well when, in her riddling double entendres, she begins to look perilously close to the prostitute or common customer [V. iii. 276] Bertram seeks to portray her as [This woman's an easy glove, my lord, she goes off and at pleasure [V. iii. 277278]24.

Even the word capacity has a sexual connotation:

spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou
That, notwithstanding thy capacity
Receiveth as the sea, naught enters there,
Of what validity and pitch25 so e'er,
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute!

      [Twelfth Night 1. 1. 914]

Act Two, Scene Three is not the gay little scene overflowing with high spirits of Foakes's reading. Anne swears three times that she does not wish to be queen. First By my troth and maidenhead, secondly good troth26, and thirdly I swear again. Directly following the third denial, the lord Chamberlain arrives and offers her a thousand pounds a year to be Marchioness of Pembroke27. She accepts28. The writing makes clear the connection between becoming a queen and a prostitute for hire.

    Old Lady:
'Tis strange. A threepence bowed29 would hire me,
Old as I am, to queen it.

      [All Is True 2. 3. 3637]

The Old Lady's How tastes it? Is it bitter? Forty pence, no [2. 3. 90] spoken after Anne's acceptance of the King's favour suggests the price of another betrayal for a sum between forty pence and a thousand pounds. Bitter taste evokes vinegar mingled with gall.

There are echoes of Christ's second temptation in the Old Lady's urging that eminence, wealth, sovereignty, the kingdoms of the world (for all the world / pour tout le monde), ...to say sooth, are blessings [2. 3. 2930]. The nomenclature Old Lady, is reminiscent of another character, the old mole of Hamlet [1. 5. 164] or my old lad of the castle, [1 Henry IV 1. 2. 41], Oldcastle, that white-bearded Satan, jester and devil.

The Lord Chamberlain as a substitute Archangel Gabriel creates a vignette of the Annunciation. He speaks of heaven blessings. Anne's response to the King's favour reflects the Virgin's Fiat: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word30.

Beseech your lordship,
Vouchsafe to speak my thanks and my obedience,
As from a blushing handmaid to his highness

      [All Is True 2. 3. 7073]

Mary's the low estate of his handmaiden31 is echoed and gone several better by Anne's More than my all is nothing; nor my prayers / Are not words duly hallow'd, [2. 3. 6768].

This Anne-nunciation is an intentional parody of its scriptural archetype. To the Lord Chamberlain's, What were't worth to know / The secret of your conference? Anne divulges only, Our mistress sorrows we were pitying. a matter, by her own admission, not worth the asking. The Lord Chancellor commends the women for their apparent virtue: It was a gentle business, and becoming / The action of good women [2. 3. 5455]. In light of his embassy, his earnest, There is hope / All will be well joins ambiguously in the pretence of concern for the queen.

Anne does not reveal her previous banter about queenship; she warns the Old Lady to conceal her ennoblement from Katherine. Candour is not the keynote.

Interpretation of Act Two, Scene Three is baffled by two things: first, the forceful bawdiness of the Old Lady's double entendres is confusingly importunate; Shakespeare used the technique in Henry V with Catherine and Alice as a smokescreen in French to conceal doubts about the marriage of Henry and Catherine32. Second, the intervention of the Lord Chamberlain alters the focus of the scene. The irony of the dialogue between the women is interrupted by his courtly formality.

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 high opinion of you...

      [All Is True 2. 3. 5861]

His personal commendation is in the major key.

I have perused 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.

      [All Is True 2. 3. 7579]

The importance of this speech lies in its prophetic allusion to the birth of Elizabeth, whose christening is the culmination of the play. As the celebration [5. 4] is free of irony, the Lord's Chamberlain's reference to Elizabeth's birth can only be read in like vein. The quality of Anne's honour (beauty and honour in her are so mingled) lies at the root of the exchange between the two women. Having been misinformed that the women were solely engaged in pitying Katherine, the Lord Chamberlain is unaware of the Old Lady's probing of Anne's honesty, and so judges the young woman's honour by what he has gathered from her own lips. Foakes comments, It is notable that this reference to Elizabeth, foreshadowing V. iv, appears in a scene generally allowed to Shakespeare33. Fletcher is generally agreed to be the author of 5. 4; Shakespeare is generally agreed to be the author of 2. 334. Researches of mine confirm this to be the case, excepting lines 2. 3. 5081, which, in light of the evidence, were apparently written by Fletcher under Shakespeare's guidance.

The discrepancy between 2. 3. 149 and 2. 3. 82109 on the one hand, and lines 5081 on the other, is a key to the play's collaborative strategy. There is no trace in the Lord Chamberlain's four speeches in 2. 3 of the mordant word-play which characterizes the dialogue before and after his appearance. While he is present, the Old Lady is silent. To regard the Lord Chamberlain's intervention as seamlessly integral with the rest of Act Tliree, Scene Two, even allowing for difference in characterization and for the situation of feminine dialogue exclusive of a male presence, is to limit the scene and the play to a superficial level35. The Lord Chamberlain's gem / To lighten all this isle is not ironic, and yet is situated deliberately within an ironic framework. This incongruity is fundamental to the play's conception.

Logometric analysis, employing the relative frequencies of all, are, dare, did, em, find, for, hath, in, it is, -ly, little, must, no, the, them, these, they, too, to the, sure, wherelthere, which, and ye statistically combined, suggests that Fletcher wrote the prologue [TLN 133], Shakespeare the first two scenes, 1. 1 and 1. 2 [TLN 34568], and Fletcher 1. 3, 1. 4, 2. 1 and most of 2. 2 [TLN 5691114]. Shakespeare wrote 2. 2. 74144 [TLN 11151199], 2. 3. 149 and 2. 3. 82108 [TLN 12001261 and 12991330]. Fletcher wrote 2. 3. 5081 [TLN 12621298]. Shakespeare then completed the second act, 2. 4. 1238 [TLN 13311613]36.

The Lord Chamberlain's intervention was composed by Fletcher within an envelope of Shakespeare's writing, under Shakespeare's direction. The collaboration of the two playwrights at this juncture was pivotal. Shakespeare created the context of Lucianic irony within which the Lord Chamberlain's bland words and Anne's protests of modesty articulate themselves. The parody of the Annunciation would be clear to those who regularly prayed the Angelus (Domini nuntiavit Mariae. Et concepit de Spiritu sancto)37 thrice daily, and would have alerted them to the transition from Shakespeare's biting irony to the compliant hypocrisy distinctive of Fletcher's off-hand sense of irony. The reference to Elizabeth in the gem / To lighten all this isle is delivered as straight discourse within a framework which is either satirical, or is nothing. That nothing has beset interpreters of the play.

Without this division of labour, interpretation of All Is True is constrained by an unconvincing tameness of conviction over which editors have expressed unease38. The play has two contrapuntal ironies. The first (Shakespeare's) is the injustice of Henry's divorce of Katherine and her replacement by Anne39; the second (Fletcher's) is the paradox of the wheel of fortune, encompassing the fall of Buckingham, Katherine, and Wolsey, and the rise of Cranmer, Cromwell, and Anne40. The second and more superficial of the two ironies carries sufficient weight to obscure the skillful counterpoint and allow the play to assume its place as pageant among the lower rank of Shakespeare plays41. The first and second ironies mesh in Act Two, Scene Three. What editors for the most part have done is interpret the exchange between Anne and the Old Lady from the Lord Chamberlain's point of view (the second irony); that is the only way in which to maintain an instinctive sense or Gestalt of the play's unity, congruent with its triumphal finale. But the authors of All Is True have left the choice of counterpoint melody to the audience.

R.A. Foakes follows Frank Kermode42 in seeing in All Is True an embodiment of the eternal cycle of rise and fall, suffering and joy. His interpretation further elevates the irony of fortune's wheel to the plane of natural religion. Foakes finds a naturalistic appreciation of the alternating seasons of humanity in late Shakespeare.

All moreover suggest something of the cycle of suffering and joy which is found in Henry VIII. It is embodied in the masque of Ceres in The Tempest and in the allusions to the Ceres-Proserpine myth in The Winter's Tale, the legend of the daughter of the com-goddess who is forced to spend six months of the year in the underworld, and is restored to earth for the other six; these correspond to the seasons, winter and summer, which reflect in their interchange her mother's endless alternation between grief and joy, and relate also to the sowing of the seed, placing it in the ground, and the rising of the crop to harvest. In The Winter's Tale the cycle relies on a break of sixteen years, in The Tempest it is compressed to a day, and in Henry VIII the action oscillates from pole to pole, joy gradually predominating through a historical sequence of events43.

Although Schoenbaum largely agrees with Foakes's idea of the structure of the play44, he draws attention to places at which the unifying scheme breaks down45. Injustice is seen as a part of Nature's recurrence that transcends human morality, and it is difficult to see how conscience fits within Foakes's naturalistic theme46. Foakes proposes the notion of patience in adversity as a bridge between morality and the cycle of nature47.

* * *

Shortly before the arrival of the Lord Chamberlain the Old Lady says to Anne,

      If your back
Cannot vouchsafe this burden, tis too weak
Ever to get a boy.

      [All Is True 2. 3. 4214]

The chance remark to get a boy is underlined in the following scene in which Henry makes clear to the ecclesiastical court that his conscience was primarily troubled that he stood not in the smile of heaven owing to the fact that Katherine's sons died in infancy. This seeming judgment of heaven made him doubt the legitimacy of his marriage to Katherine.

The Old Lady returns in Act Five to bear tidings of the birth of a royal child. The Biblical allusion is to the angels announcing the Nativity of Christ.

      The tidings that I bring
Will make my boldness manners. (To the King) Now good angels
Fly o'er thy royal head, and shade thy person
Under their blessed wings.

      [All Is True 5. 1. 159162]

When Henry urges her to say the news is that of a birth and the birth of a boy, Say, Ay, and of a boy, the Old Lady enigmatically obliges,

      Ay, ay, my liege,
And of a lovely boy. The God of heaven
Both now and ever bless her! tis a girl
Promises boys hereafter.

      [All Is True 5. 1. 164167]

The irony is as pointed as in Act Two, Scene Three. The Annunciation of the earlier scene is followed by a Nativity whose angel of glad tidings is the same Old Lady present at the conception48. She tells the King what he wants to hear, modulates her words to urge a blessing on the mother (or daughter), and then says that the birth of a girl promises boys to follow. The playwright assumes the audience's shared knowledge that Anne produced no male children, nor her daughter Elizabeth. The Old Lady's prophecy of future sons is false. Her stated motive for misleading the King is earning a larger reward for bearing good news.

One critic has read the Old Lady's announcement of the birth of a boy as evidence of obtuseness49. This interpretation is understandable in light of the incorrect assumption that she is a semi-historical character apposite to the genre of chronicle plays All Is True. The Old Lady, jester, fool, superannuated court wanton, is the voice of the playwright Shakespeare subverting the play's celebration of the Tudor (and Stuart) monarchies. The Old Lady's false announcement of the birth of a boy and her false prophecy of boys to come contradict the proposition that All Is True, and are to be seen in light of her earlier observation regarding Anne's back, tis too weak / ever to get a boy. The tender place of the Tudor monarchy was its inability, despite the lengths to which Henry went to alter the fact, to ensure a lasting male dynasty. The Old Lady rubs in the salt most calculated to sting Tudor wounds. Having done so, she departs in the guise of perverse venality, inviting the audience or reader to dismiss her barbs as cantankerousness.

There is confirmation of this view in Paulina's announcement of the birth of a female child to Leontes in The Winter's Tale. Foakes remarks, There is a remarkable similarity between the trials of Hermione and Katherine, who defend themselves in similar terms, and both appeal finally to an external religious authority, Hermione to Apollo, Katherine to the Pope50. The parallel between Leontes and Henry, and Hermione and Katherine, is more extensive than Foakes suggests51. Act Two, Scene Two of The Winter's Tale shows Paulina volunteering to inform Leontes of the birth of his daughter, Perdita. But first she is informed of the birth:

On her frights and griefs,
Which never tender lady hath borne greater,
She is, something before her time, delivered.

A boy?

A daughter, and a goodly babe.
Lusty, and like to live

      [The Winter's Tale 2. 2. 2630]

Paulina's A boy? hits the same nerve as Henry's Is the Queen delivered? / Say, "Ay, and of a boy" [All Is True 5. 1. 163164]. There is no paramount rationale for underscoring the child's sex in The Winter's Tale; Leontes already has a son Mamillius. The reason lies rather in the underlying connection with the issue of a Tudor male heir. Paulina's determination to inform the king presupposes Leontes negative reaction.

He must be told on't, and he shall. The office
Becomes a woman best. I'll take't upon me.
If I prove honey-mouthed, let my tongue blister,
And never to my red-looked anger be The trumpet any more

      [The Winter s Tale 2. 2. 3438]

Paulina's resolve not to be honey-mouthed is echoed by the Old Lady's The tidings that I bring / Will make my boldness manners. The Old Lady says of the baby Elizabeth, 'Tis as like you / as cherry is to cherry. Paulina expatiates,

Behold, my lords,
Although the print be little, the whole matter
And copy of the father; eye, nose, lip,
The trick of s frown, his forehead, nay, the valley,
The pretty dimples of his chin and cheek, his smiles,
The very mound and frame of hand, nail, finger52

      [The Winter's Tale 2. 3. 98103]

The Old Lady in All Is True is an extra-historical invention, subversive of the play's chronicle genre and its triumphal climax. She emerges from and retires into the margins of nowhere53, threatening to undo her report of the baby's likeness to Henry. Part-Falstaff, part-Sycorax, she is an image of self-reflecting, retrospective Shakespeare mirrors. Of all the characters in the play based on Holinshed or Foxe, the Old Lady is not a naturalistic historical person. All is not true (faithful) in All Is True, and the Old Lady bears eloquent witness to the fact, not least by her own faithless intensity. The final word remains her own, What do you think me [2. 3. 108].

1. King Henry VIII / Ed. by R.A. Foakes. L., 1957. P. 5051.

2. Her professions of concern for Katherine ring sincere, but her insistence that she would not change places with her does not. Henry VIII, or All Is True / Ed. Jay L. Halio. Oxford, 1999. P. 30. This discrepant observation should have alerted the reader to the trenchancy of the Old Lady's accusation.

3. See Othello [4. 1. 56]. Naked in bed, and not to mean harm? / It is hypocrisy against the devil. Shakespeare references are to the Oxford Complete Works.

4. Catherine is later addressed in 5. 2 as Kate, a name associated with promiscuous women; Henry V / Ed. by G. Taylor. Oxford, 1982. P. 270. N 107.

5. The First Folio spells the word count [3. 4. 47, 48, 52, 55], thus making the connection with cunt less ambiguous.

6. Words of evil sound, corrupting, gross, and immodest, and not for ladies of honour to use.

7. The old gentlewoman was as aware of the double entendres as Catherine.

8. I would not wish to pronounce these words in the company of the lords of France for all the world! Fie! De foot and de count! Nonetheless I shall recite once again my whole lesson...

9. Luke [9. 25].

10. The expression was also abbreviated to sir-reverence and by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries came popularly to be used as synonymous simply with turd.

11. See Henry V [5. 2. 137140] If I could win a lady at leap-frog, or by vaulting into my saddle with my armour on my back, under the correction of bragging be it spoken, I should quickly leap into a wife.

12. The following occur in Much Ado 3. 4: troth used by the bawdy Margaret [6, 8, 17, 74], gown's/gown [14, 17], Twill be heavier soon by the weight of a man [25], Saving your reverence [30], gloves and Count [57].

13. Merry Wives [4. 2. 158].

14. I am indebted to Dr. Leo Daugherty for this perception.

15. By contrast to Wolsey's machiavellianism, Anne's behaviour in the next scene is utterly naive [Halio. P. 30].

16. Catechism of the Catholic Church. L., 1994. P. 396397.

17. Conscience may be pronounced cunt-science. McMullan has suggested that if, in performance, the dialogue with which 2. 3 begins follows directly after the last words of 2. 2, Anne's words Not for that neither can sound as if they apply not to an unheard remark by her interlocutor in 2. 3, but rather to Henry's hypocritical explanations in 2. 2. See Henry VIII / Ed. Gordon McMullan. London, 2000.

18. There is no evidence that Fletcher would have concurred with Newman in regarding conscience as the aboriginal Vicar of Christ. Shakespeare's agreement, on the other hand, is more likely.

19. Foakes. P. 71. N 32.

20. King Henry the Eighth / Ed. by A.R. Humphreys. Harmondsworth, 1971. P. 216. N 32.

21. See, for example, Foakes, 72. N 47, ...with a quibble carrying on from the puns in 11. 37, 41, 45. The ordinary sense of quibble, evasion, pun, or gibe, is used by Foakes and Humphreys as well.

22. The Famous History of the Life of King Henry Eighth / Ed. by S. Schoenbaum. N.Y., 1967. P. 89. N 31.

23. See Sonnet 151 for a parallel juxtaposition, involving the other sex.

24. Parker P. Shakespeare From the Margins: Language, Culture, Context. Chicago, 1996. P. 342. N 35. Shakespeare's father was a glover, and a wealth of gloving images in the plays suggest that William knew his father's craft well. Honan P. Shakespeare: a Life. Oxford, 1998. P. 289.

25. For pitch in this context, see 1 Henry IV, 2. 5. 410 ff. There is a thing, Harry which thou hast often heard of, and it is known to many in our land by the name of pitch. This pitch, as ancient writers do report, doth defile.

26. The word troth combines meanings of truth as veracity, and truth as faithful promise, both of which are present in the title All Is True.

27. £1,000 a year would be equivalent to between £80,000 and £100,000 in present day terms.

28. The parallel with Peter's questioning by the serving maid and servants of the High Priest and his three denials of his master is implicit in a scene in which Anne betrays her mistress.

29. Bowed pronounced bawd, one who lives off the earnings of prostitution.

30. Lute [1. 38].

31. Luke [1. 46].

32. Catherine was the great-grandmother of Henry VIII by her second marriage to Owen Tudor. The connection was not as far-fetched to Shakespeare's contemporaries as to modem readers.

33. Foakes. P. 74. N79.

34. See Hope J. The authorship of Shakespeare's plays: a socio-linguistic study. Cambridge, 1994. P. 7083 and: Table A5. 1 on p. 163. See also Horton T.B. The Effectiveness of the Stylometry of Function Words in Discriminating between Shakespeare and Fletcher. Edinburgh, 1987. P. 344. Horton assigns the final scene to Fletcher but leaves 2. 3 unassigned, as does Hoy.

35. Schoenbaum. P. 39, The contrastingly intimate scenes, in which a young maid of honor is shown royal favor while her defeated elders confront isolation and imminent death, appeal more directly to the emotions, if on no very profound level.

36. 94. 4 percent of these ascriptions agree with the consensus concerning the authorship of Act One and Two of All Is True. The discrepancies are TLN 11151199 and TLN 12621298.

37. The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary. And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.

38. It is as though the dramatists, having set out to extol Henry and, through him, England, were nevertheless unable or unwilling entirely to suppress undercurrents of motive and policy inconsistent with so simplified a view of him. The effect is of a disturbing ambiguity of character. Schoenbaum, p. 38. My own opinion is that this is a collaborative play and that Fletcher is one of the collaborators, but that the authors worked closely enough together to achieve at least a superficial unity of tone for most of the play. Wells S. Shakespeare: A Dramatic Life. L., 1994. P. 381.

39. The most searching modem legal analysis of the injustice is probably that of Kelly H.A. The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII. Stanford, 1976.

40. Fortune, the blind goddess, raises her favorites high upon her wheel, then capriciously flings them to earth. It is an old theme; Schoenbaum. P. 33.

41. A prejudice against Katherine was enshrined constitutionally by the 1533 Act of Restraint of Appeals, which rendered the Queen's appeal to Rome illegal, and was overruled only in living memory with Britain's recognition of the European Court of Justice as court of final appeal. By according the solemnity of the law to prejudice against Katherine, Thomas Cromwell ensured that judging her to have been a victim of injustice was tantamount to contempt of Crown and Parliament.

42. Kermode F. What is Shakespeare's Henry VIII About? // Durham University Journal. 1948. NS 9. P. 4855.

43. Foakes. P. 6364.

44. Foakes's unifying scheme is his rejoinder to the major adverse criticism of the play, that Henry VIII has no controlling and unifying plan, but is only a series of loosely connected scenes strung together to offer an attractive stage spectacle. Foakes. P. 48.

45. Schoenbaum. P. 3739.

46. Conscience occurs more often (24 times) in All Is True than in any other Shakespeare play.

47. See Foakes's extended discussion of patience. P. 5860.

48. 'I shall not fail t'approve the fair conceit (conception) / The King hath of you [All Is True 2. 3. 7475]. The Magnificat [Luke 1. 4655] is based on the song of Hannah (Anne) in thanksgiving for the granting of her prayer for the gift of a male child [7 Samuel 2. 110]. I suggest that the chances of Shakespeare being aware of the parallel are greater than the chances that he intended obtuseness as a characteristic of the Old Lady, see below.

49. Wells. P. 379. ...The Old Lady who brings him the news (and obtusely says at first that the child is a boy).

50. Foakes. P. 60. N 1. Rome is sometimes compared by Protestant controversialists to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. Milward P. The Catholicism of Shakespeare's Plays. Southampton, 1997. P. 96.

51. In All Is True, the king uses the characteristic expletive, Ha? nine times. In The Winter's Tale, Leontes uses Ha? in a circumstance similar to those in All Is True [The Winter's Tale, 1. 2. 231]. This is one detail among a number of parallels.

52. The Winter's Tale / Ed. by J.H.F. Pafford. L., 1966. P. 49. N 9899: Paulina is, of course, here paying the usual flattery to a parent. Cf. All Is True, 5. 1. 168175: "as like you / As a cherry is to cherry.../ Said I for this girl was like to him?" The usual flattery to a parent misses the tone of Paulina's red-looked anger, a sharpness made apparent by the concluding lines of her speech in which she expresses the hope that the child will not inherit her father's paranoia. Furthermore, her care in pointing out the likeness of the child to the father must be related to the lines in Rowley's previously performed play, When You See Me You Know Me, in which the King says, Who first brings word that Henry hath a son / Shall be rewarded well' Upon which his jester adds, Ay, I'll be his surety, but do you hear, wenches, she that brings the first tidings, however it fall out, let her be sure to say the child's like the father, or else she shall have nothing [286290].

53. See Parker. Edification from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context. P. 119.