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Theatre / Henry VIII

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As the play is Older Than Steam and based on historical events, and as most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
Henry VIII (initially known as All Is True) 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  One of its first performances, 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: The play is named after Henry VIII himself, the focal character of the play, though not what one would call its protagonist.
  • Heel–Face Turn: As he faces death, Wolsey regrets serving his own interests instead of God's, though this is mainly due to the bad end it earned him.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Henry. Everything bad that happens is Wolsey's fault; Henry is a poor, misunderstood Nice Guy.
  • 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. Why? Well, 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.
  • Royal Favorite: Cardinal Wolsey is Henry VIII's favorite, something most of the nobles despise. Wolsey is portrayed as a bit of a machiavellian character who tries to run Henry's kingdom behind his back, even plotting to get him married to the king of France's daughter without his knowing in order to secure a treaty. He tries to sabotage both Henry's marriage to Katherine and turn him away from Anne Boleyn and his constant machinations eventually lead to his fall from the king's grace.
  • Sinister Minister: Wolsey is a cardinal of high reputation and low morals.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): All Is True