Monday, June 13, 2016

Henry VIII - Shakespeare

Henry VIII is a History play in the episodic form.  The play covers the highlights of the early part of Henry VIII's reign.  We open with the fall of Buckingham, one of the king's close advisors.  It's not clear if Buckingham was guilty or framed but he handles everything with grace.  Even as he is lead off to execution, he preaches piety and faith to the king.
Then we move on to the divorce with Katherine of Aragon.  This is preceded by a trial in which the legitimacy of the marriage is questioned.  The chief complaint is the lack of a male son, which seems to point to general disapproval on the union.  Katherine is shattered but she also is gracious.  She later dies in an aura of holiness.
Another king's advisor, this one named Wolsey, is caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  He is arrested and shamed.  He also dies with grace and humility. 
The king remarries, this time to Anne Bullen (Boleyn).  Everyone hopes for the best.  A daughter is born, the to-be Elizabeth I.  Much praise is heaped on her for she is the hope for a better future.

Henry VIII is an odd play.  It was written (we think) more than ten years after the previous history play, Henry V.  It probably was written as a collaboration.  It feels disjointed.  I'm glad I read it for completest reasons but I wouldn't really recommend it.
It's also interesting because of the timing of the play.  The last scene takes place in 1533.  The play was probably written about 1613, so the time span is much closer than in the other history plays.  This undoubtedly overshadows how the play is set up.  King Henry VIII is not a nice guy and his court was not a nice place.  But everyone accepts their fate and goes off to death or abandon without much difficulty.  It's not hard to see the censor's hands at work there.  (Or perhaps, that really was the prevailing feeling at the time and only later do we see the rougher spots?)  Whichever it is, this play feels like propaganda in the same way that Henry V does. 
There is a bit of trivia that brings the play to the forefront.  It was during a performance of this play that the Globe caught fire and burned down.  The performance was on June 29, 1613.  This is one of the most exact dates of Shakespearian performance available.  We don't know if the play was in its first run or if the script we have was rewritten at some point or not.  But this is more info than we have for many other plays.

No comments:

Post a Comment