is a play co-written by William Shakespeare
and John Fletcher. It tells the story of King Henry VIII
of England, focusing on the machinations of Cardinal Wolsey surrounding both the trial and execution of the Duke of Buckingham and the annulment of Henry's marriage with Katherine of Aragon. It ends with Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn
and the subsequent birth of the future Queen Elizabeth I. In real life these events occurred over a 13-year period; here they happen within (at most) a few months' time.
The play is thought to have first been performed privately as part of the celebrations surrounding the marriage of James I's daughter Elizabeth to Frederick, Elector Palatine.note
Its first public performance in June 1613 led to the Globe Theatre burning down. Notwithstanding the disaster, Henry VIII
was one of the few Shakespearean plays to retain its popularity after the Restoration and into the 18th and 19th centuries. The great Georgian actress Sarah Siddons considered the role of Queen Katherine to be Shakespeare's finest female part.
Provides Examples Of:
- Babies Ever After: The play ends with the baptism of Princess Elizabeth. Of course it seems to imply that everything works out just great for Anne and Henry.
- Character Title
- Corrupt Church: The Catholic Church, especially as personified by Cardinal Wolsey.
- Covers Always Lie: The subtitle for this play is "All is True."
- Demoted to Extra: There is a passing reference to Elizabeth's older half-sister Princess Mary but she is not really a character in the play.
- Anne Boleyn (spelled here "Bullen") is also hardly more than an extra; she and Queen Katherine never meet.note
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Henry. Everything bad that happens is Wolsey's fault; Henry is a poor, misunderstood Nice Guy.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: Wolsey, of course.
- Kangaroo Court: Katherine's divorce proceedings.
- Off with His Head!: So much for Buckingham.
- Politically Correct History: Elizabeth's birth is the happy ending of this play, with everyone talking about how wonderful it will be when she's queen. Never mind that, at the time of her birth, there was no reason to believe that Elizabeth would ever become queen; indeed, the fact that Henry and Katherine already had a daughter is carefully omitted.
- The play was written (or at least first performed) in honour of the marriage of James's daughter, also named Elizabeth. It's probably not a bad bet that the praise was meant as much for her as for Queen Bess.
- Spell My Name with an "S": Cardinal Campeggio is "Campeius" here, while Ambassador Chapuys is "Caputius".
- Truth in Television: Queen Katherine's speech is taken directly from the historical record.
- Written by the Winners: Shakespeare is often accused of adding "propaganda" into his historical plays to please the royal family. In reality, the "propaganda" was one remove away; there were no historical reference books in existence that hadn't already been censored to please the royals. Also, although popular opinion had a lot to say about Henry, Anne Boleyn, and Elizabeth that the writers might have used, there was still so much controversy about Henry's reign even among the public that they might have made a conscious choice to toe the party line.