Henry VIII Background

Henry VIII Background

Although Henry VIII is attributed to the Shakespeare canon and found in nearly every single collection of his plays, the general consensus has long been that the play which brings into the cycle of Shakespeare’s histories the most drama-worthy of the kings of England merits only a co-written credit for the Bard at best. The general lack of cohesiveness tying what is essentially a loose collection of regal pageantry and domestic squabbling has always troubled those who do not accept that Shakespeare was the guiding hand.

Typically, that honor—or lack therefore—is conferred upon the figure of John Fletcher as part of series of collaborations that also produced The Two Noble Kinsman and Cardeno. That neither of those two nor Henry VIII has been performed as often (especially of late) or is as quotable as even the least of Shakespeare’s plays perhaps says all that is needed to be said about Fletcher. Especially in light of the fact that the actual performance history of Henry VIII makes for a much more exciting story.

It was the mounting of an unusually elaborate production featuring excessively ill-conceived design to enhance a scene by bringing cannons right directly onto the stage during a performance Henry VIII on June 29, 1613 that burned London’s Globe Theater down to the ground. If nothing else, Henry VIII—regardless of who wrote what—taught future theater managers a very valuable lesson: either don’t use so much wadding in the charges or don’t state the play in a theater with roof made of thatch. A year and 1400 pound sterling later, the Globe was newly rebuilt and became one of the few victims of the bloated King Henry VIII to survive his reign.

Perhaps ironically or perhaps in a case of karma taking its sweet time coming around, the real victim here seems to be the drama itself. Certainly—as a number of different approaches undertaken by writers for the big and small screen in the 20th and 21st century can attest—there is more than enough great drama in the story of the monarch who changed England more than any other to make an evening at the theater at least as enticing as the Henry VI trilogy in its entirety. That what bears Shakespeare’s name has been pronounced by the march of time as not being so is yet another strong indication that somewhere along the way, Shakespeare’s hand in crafting this royal history got cut off just as surely as Anne Boelyn's head.

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