Henry VIII

Definition

Theater

  • A play about the English king, written by William Shakespeareand John Fletcher; the full title is All is True orThe Famous History of the Life of King Henry VIII. Apart fromhis contribution to The Two Noble Kinsmen, it was Shakespeare'slast work for the stage. It was first produced in 1613 at London'sGlobe Theatre, which was destroyed during the performancewhen a cannon shot announcing Henry's arrival set fire to the thatchedroof. The theater burned down in less than an hour. According to SirHenry Wotton, "only one man had his breeches set on fire, thatwould perhaps have boiled him, if he had not by the benefit of a providentwit put it out with Bottle-Ale."

    At a party thrown by Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry falls forAnne Boleyn, one of Queen Katherine's ladies-in-waiting. Wolsey persuadesthe Pope to declare Henry's marriage invalid, but secretly asks himto delay the annulment to prevent Henry from marrying the unworthyAnne. Having discovered Wolsey's machinations, Henry marries Anneat a private ceremony. Princess Elizabeth is born, and ArchbishopCranmer predicts she will have a glorious reign.

    Despite its somewhat undramatic quality, the play's majorroles have always attracted star actors. Sarah Siddons oncegave a terrifyingly powerful performance as Queen Katherine in Edinburgh.In 1892 Henry Irving played Cardinal Wolsey at the Lyceum Theatre,in his own extremely expensive production which ran for six monthsbut still lost money. Charles Laughton played Henry in 1933 just afterfilming The Private Life of Henry VIII.

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