Henry Viii Shakespeare Essay Introduction

The Life of King Henry the Eighth (a History)

Buckingham complains to Norfolk of Cardinal Wolsey's controlling hand in recent peace negotiations with France. Abergavenny (Buckingham's son-in-law), accompanying them, agrees with Buckingham. Shortly later, Buckingham and Abergavenny are arrested for high treason and taken to the Tower of London. At the royal court, Queen Katherine informed King Henry VIII that a 1/6th tax had been levied on the subjects, without his approval, but with Cardinal Wolsey's approval. Henry VIII instructed the Cardinal to revoke the tax and pardon non- paying subjects. The cardinal does, but takes credit himself for informing the king of the tax. Duke Buckingham's ex-surveyor testifies to Henry VIII that Buckingham (who's father, Henry, opposed Richard III), wants to be king, either by Henry dying of sickness or murder; either way, since Henry VIII has no son, Buckingham would take the crown. Outside the palace, three nobles complain of the sly whoresons (Frenchmen) recently inhabitating England's court. At a gala held by Wolsey, Lord Sands is wooing the ladies when the King and others, disguised as foreign travelers, crash the banquet. Henry VIII dances with Anne Bullen, daughter of Thomas Bullen and lady-in-waiting to the queen. Two gentleman discuss how Buckingham was found guilty and conjecture that the Cardinal, whom many commoners hate, is behind the false accusations. Buckingham is led to his death and the gentleman discuss how the Cardinal is now plotting to get rid of Queen Katherine. Norfolk tells Suffolk and lord Chamberlain that Wolsey is trying to convince Henry VIII to end his 20 year marriage to Katherine. Cardinal Campeius arrives from Rome as Gardiner (loyal to Wolsey) is appointed Henry's new secretary. Anne Bullen laments on the virtuous Queen Katherine's imminent divorce, and vows to herself to never be Henry's queen. (Katherine is daughter of Ferdinand, king of Spain and was initially Henry VIII's brothers wife.) Chamberlain informs Bullen that he has made her Marcioness of Pembroke, but she fears this may lead to her marriage to Henry VIII.

At Blackfriars, the divorce trial is begun, but Katherine derides Wolsey and walks out. Henry VIII explains that he wants divorce since Katherine has given him no male children. Wolsey and Campeius visit Katherine and warn her to beg forgiveness of the King; she obeys. Norfolk, Surrey, Suffolk, and Chamberlain discuss that King Henry now suspects Wolsey of wrongdoing, yet plants to marry Anne Bullen. Wolsey wants Henry VIII to marry Mary the French King's sister. Henry VIII discovers incriminating evidence of disloyalty against Wolsey and confronts him with it. Norfolk and others arrive to reclaim the Great Seal from Wolsey for his illegal activities, but he refuses to hand it over. Cromwell visits Wolsey at a monastery and informs of recent news, most importantly that Henry VIII has revealed his secret marriage to Anne Bullen. Cromwell pledges his allegiance to Wolsey. Anne Bullen is crowned queen, while Katherine grows sick while under house arrest. Griffith informs her of Wolsey's recent death. Katherine, on her death bed, is comforted by Lord Capucius, with whom she sends a letter to the king. Lovell informs Gardiner that Anne Bullen is in labor and failing in health, to which Gardiner replies that only after Anne Bullen, Cranmer (Archbishop of Canterbury), and Cromwell are dead will all be well. Henry VIII warns Cranmer that the council will try to imprison him, but that he (Henry) will try to support him. Bullen has a baby girl while Gardiner (Lord of Winchester) convinces the council to send Cranmer to the Tower; however, Henry VIII intercedes, revoking all charges. Henry VIII's new daughter, Elizabeth, is baptized by Cranmer. Cranmer predicts (correctly) that Elizabeth will be a great Queen, though will die a virgin, afterwhich all will mourn her.

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Recent Forum Posts on King Henry VIII

Passions, politics, and the church

Apparently there is a new make of the play about the "bearded bedder and beheader" made for tv The Tudors. The new version limits the story to the "most sexually charged part of Henry's reign, when a still-vibrant pre-fat Hnery was just tiring of his first marriage and considering his second". I have not seen it nor am I likely to. I don't watch too much tv. But may be an excuse to post something here. :) Maybe someone will like to discuss the real Shakepearean version, again.

Posted By A MM at Mon 9 Apr 2007, 6:42 PM in King Henry VIII || 0 Replies

if you please

I want the main idea or the theme in this play in essay

Posted By needing at Fri 28 Oct 2005, 7:43 AM in King Henry VIII || 4 Replies

thank you

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is it true that in the thrid act that the globe Theater burned dwn from a cannon used for specail effects???

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Henry VIII

Often characterized as one of Shakespeare's inferior history plays because of its perceived stylistic and thematic anomalies, Henry VIII has long been the subject of scholarly debate that focuses almost exclusively on its composition date and on issues of authorship. Many critics have speculated that Shakespeare composed Henry VIII as early as 1593, but more recent studies indicate that it was composed circa 1612. Stylistic and thematic similarities between Henry VIII and Shakespeare's later romances, as well as several topical allusions to the reign of James I (1603-1625), have helped make the case for a later composition date. A more enduring controversy regarding Henry VIII, however, has been the question surrounding its authorship. Prior to the twentieth century many critics characterized the play as disjointed and lacking cohesion, leading to speculation that playwright John Fletcher collaborated with Shakespeare on the play. Because of the authorship question, Henry VIII has often been excluded from discussions on Shakespeare's history plays in general. In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, scholarship shifted from authorship questions to thematic, stylistic, and dramaturgical issues, and even though the specifics of authorship continue to inspire critical interest, the play has now been acknowledged as one of Shakespeare's most mature and cohesive visions of politics and history. In recent years, many critics have acknowledged that the play's concluding vision reveals Shakespeare's hope for the future of England as well as his view of history in the context of the political, cultural, and religious issues that were paramount during the Stuart era.

Henry VIII is primarily a history play, and as such, it draws heavily on chronicle, biographical and historical sources for its plot. It differs vastly from Shakespeare's earlier histories, however, because it does not concentrate on pageantry and historicity. As Jay L. Halio (see Further Reading) notes, it instead focuses on England and indigenous ideas, from both a political and a religious point of view. Even Shakespeare's depiction of the Reformation, according to Halio, does not so much defend reform as it supports English ideas and independence. Shakespeare's alteration of several chronological facts is seen as evidence of his intent to present a vision for the future of England that concentrated deliberately on the use and abuse of power. In his essay examining the historical sources that inspired Shakespeare to write Henry VIII, William M. Baillie (1979) makes a similar point, noting that this play was a theatrical anomaly compared to the other Henry plays—the action does not focus on “fool and fight,” but rather the text purports to tell the truth. In this regard, Baillie points to the alternative title of the play, All Is True, as evidence that Shakespeare intended this play to present his ideal of political rule. Through an examination of Shakespeare's historical sources, Baillie believes that the truth presented in the play consists not so much of literal historicity as psychological realism that probes the personal motivations and conflicts underlying the Reformation. Similarly, in an essay discussing the relationship between history and romance, Paul Dean (1986) argues that debate on Henry VIII should not focus on whether it is a history play, but rather on the type of history play it is. According to Dean, although Henry VIII can be characterized as a romance, its close reliance on chronicle sources also suggests it is a history, albeit an atypical one since it lacks pageantry or a comic sub-plot. Shakespeare was able to keep the audience at a distance, according to Dean, in order to make the thematic point that we apprehend history largely through other people's interpretations of it. In this sense, the critic contends, Henry VIII is less a chronicle play than one that reflects a deliberate, dialectical movement from romance to history in order to showcase political reality, personal ambition, power, and religion.

The personification of power, as well as the dangers surrounding its use and abuse, is most clearly represented by the character of King Henry, especially in his dealings with Katherine, and to a lesser extent, with Anne Boleyn. Critical interest in Shakespeare's female characters in general has prompted many studies of Katherine and Anne. Kim H. Noling (1988) cautions that these powerful and sympathetic characterizations should not be misconstrued as a sign of Shakespeare's feminism. Rather, the play, by making the future Queen Elizabeth a virgin who would die a “most unspotted lily,” ultimately authorizes Henry's will to obtain a male successor for his throne. Ironically, however, while the work reflects Henry's anxiety regarding his dependence on women for a male heir, it also allows Katherine, both by physical placement and dramaturgy, to challenge, at least for a short while, the patriarchal ideology that dominates the play. In contrast, the character of Anne Boleyn receives approval and acceptance entirely from the male characters. Regardless, contends Noling, Henry VIII ultimately defines its queens by a dramaturgy that fully supports kingly power.

This focus on power and politics in the context of the Reformation was an issue of great interest to Jacobean audiences and has led many critics to analyze Shakespeare's use of Christian elements in Henry VIII. For example, Albert Cook (see Further Reading) claims that Shakespeare juxtaposed politics and Christianity within the play's action. The critic contends that in the end, although there is a strong Christian note, the play resolves itself via a paean of national affirmation—a combination of ideas that includes both politics and Christianity, ultimately defeating the sinister or Machiavellian powers that threaten the realm. In contrast, Roy Battenhouse (1994) proposes that in Henry VIII Shakespeare was presenting a clearly Christian vision of reality, where the theme of the vanity of worldly ambition resonates at the climax. According to Battenhouse, the earthly glory exhibited by the characters of King Henry and later prophesied for Elizabeth and James has led many readers and critics to assume that Shakespeare endorsed this success. Instead, contends Battenhouse, this play is centered very clearly on the Christian belief in God and providence, and should lead us to re-examine Shakespeare's stance toward Tudor and Stuart politics in the context of deeply-held Christian beliefs.

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