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INTRODUCTION TO HENRY VIII.
"The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight' was first printed, it is believed, in the folio of 1623. The date of its production is uncertain, and has been the subject of much discussion. The earlier editors, as Theobald and Malone, contended that it was written before the death of Elizabeth, which took place in the March of 1603, and that therefore the complimentary allusion to her successor (Act V. sc. iv. 40-56) was inserted perhaps by Ben Jonson at some later revisal of the play during the reign of James I. Most of the modern editors, however, such as Knight, Collier, Dyce, and White, believe that it was produced after the accession of James. In the registers of the Stationers' Company there is an entry, 12th February 1604–1605, referring to an as yet unprinted interlude, entitled 'King Henry the Eighth,' which some suppose to refer to Shakespeare's play, but others to a play of Samuel Rowley's, When you See me, you Know me, or the Famous Chronicle History of King Henry the Eighth,' which was published in 1605. All that is certain is, that it must have been produced before June 1613, when the Globe Theatre was burned down, owing to the thatch of the roof being fired by the wadding of the chambers or small guns discharged during a performance. Sir Henry Wotton, in a detailed account of the accident given in a letter to his nephew, written on the 6th July 1613, says the calamity occurred during the acting of a new play, called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth. Two other contemporaries give the name of the piece distinctly as Henry VIII., and there can be no doubt that this refers to the present play, in which, according to the original stage direction (I. iv.), we have 'chambers discharged' at the entrance of the king to the mask at the Cardinal's house. The phrase, 'a new play,' may, of course, merely mean that Shakespeare's play was an old play altered and revived with new dresses, new prologue, epilogue, and decorations. Such pieces were always called new. Our play seems at anyrate to have borne originally a double title, but that the All is True' soon dropped, leaving only the more distinctive title corresponding to those in Shakespeare's other historical plays. It will not be forgotten, also, that the truth of the drama is much insisted on in the prologue.*
The internal evidences, such as those from style and versification, go to show that this was one of Shakespeare's latest works. As White observes, the excessively elliptical construction, and the incessant use of verbal contractions, are marks of Shakespeare's latest years those which produced The Tempest and The Winter's Tale.' It will also be found that many lines in this play end with an unaccented eleventh syllable, and this is but seldom found in those of Shakespeare's plays which are known to be the earliest. The ordinary line in Shakespeare's verse, of course, consists of five iambic
* 'May here find truth too' (line 9); 'To rank our chosen truth with such a show' (line 18); and 'To make that only true we now intend' (line 21).
feet, or feet of two syllables each, the second syllable in each foot being accented. The usual variations by which the monotony of a constant repetition of such lines is relieved, are the changing of the position of the accent, and the introduction of trisyllabic and monosyllabic feet. In Shakespeare's usage, the extra syllable is very rarely a monosyllable, still more rarely an emphatic monosyllable, but in Henry VIII., constant exceptions are found to this rule, and this of itself seems to Dr Abbott a sufficient proof that Shakespeare did not write that play. It is, however, a fact that such endings become more and more frequent in the later plays of our dramatist. As Mr Hudson says: "The truth seems to be, that Shakespeare's verse became less and less studious of iambic ending as he advanced in life; the comparative frequency of lines ending with amphibrachs , being one of the most special traits of his later style.' One of the most strongly marked characteristics of Fletcher's verse is the very frequent occurrence of such amphibrachic or double endings,' and on this basis, an attempt has been made to prove that a large portion of our play was written by that dramatist. This theory was first put forward by Mr Spedding in 1850, but has been adopted by most of the more recent Shakespearian scholars. The part which these critics assign to Shakespeare is: Act I. scs. i. and ii.; Act II. scs. iii. and iv.; Act III. sc. ii. (to exit of the king); and Act V. sc. i. The rest of the play is boldly ascribed to Fletcher. The elaborate metrical tests of Mr Fleay, on which, however, too much stress may easily be laid, give the same result.
Gervinus thinks that Shakespeare prepared a mere sketch of the play, and gave it to Fletcher to be finished. The former was the only poet of the time who could have sketched the psychological outlines of the main characters with so much sharpness; but Fletcher's rhythmic manner is strikingly conspicuous throughout.' Mr Spedding's conjecture as to the plan on which the joint labours of Shakespeare and Fletcher were conducted is as follows: 'It was not unusual in those days, when a play was wanted in a hurry, to set two or three, or even four hands, at work upon it; and the occasion of the Princess Elizabeth's marriage (February 1612-1613) may very likely have suggested the production of a play representing the marriage of Henry VIII. and Anne Bullen. Shakespeare had conceived
the idea of a great historical drama on the subject of Henry VIII., which should have included the divorce of Katharine, the fall of Wolsey, the rise of Cranmer, the coronation of Anne Bullen, and the final separation of the English from the Romish Church, which being the one great historical event of the reign, would naturally be chosen as the focus of poetic interest; that he had proceeded in the execution of this idea as far, perhaps, as the third act when finding that his fellows of the Globe were in distress for a new play to honour the marriage of the Lady Elizabeth with, he thought that his half-finished work might help them, and accordingly handed them his manuscript to make what they could of it; that they put it into the hands of Fletcher (already in high repute as a popular and expeditious playwright), who, finding the original design not very suitable to the occasion, and utterly beyond his capacity, expanded the three acts into five, by interspersing scenes of show and magnificence, and passages of description and long poetical conversations, in which his strength lay. and so turned out a splendid "historical masque or show-play," which was, no doubt,
very popular then, as it has been ever since.' Apart altogether from evidence based on the slippery ground of the peculiarities of metre, it is certain that the play differs in many respects from Shakespeare's other historical dramas. It is much more spectacular; a reference needs only to be made to the procession to the Court in Blackfriars (Act II. sc. iv.), that at the coronation of Anne Boleyn (Act IV. sc. i.), the vision of Queen Katharine (Act IV. sc. ii.), and the procession at the baptism of the young Princess Elizabeth (Act V. sc. iv.). Again, it has less dramatic unity than the other historical dramas. There is no great single figure as an artistic centre round which the minor figures group themselves. As Gervinus says: "The interest first clings to Buckingham and his designs against Wolsey; but with the second act he leaves the stage; then Wolsey draws the attention increasingly, and he, too, disappears in the third act; meanwhile our sympathies are drawn more and more to Katharine, who also leaves the stage in the fourth act; then, after being thus shattered through four acts by circumstances of a tragic character, we have the fifth act closing with a merry festivity, for which we are not prepared, and crowning the king's base passion with victory, in which we take no warm interest.' However the vexed question of its authorship may affect that of the defective dramatic unity of the piece, it is certain that the three principal figures are described with tran scendant power. These are the King, Queen Katharine, and Cardinal Wolsey. The queen,' says Professor Dowden, 'is one of the noble, long-enduring sufferers, just-minded, disinterested, truly charitable, who give their moral gravity and grandeur to Shakespeare's last plays. She has clear-sighted penetration to see through the Cardinal's cunning practice, and a lofty indignation against what is base, but no unworthy personal resentment. Henry, if we judge him sternly, is cruel and selfindulgent; but Shakespeare will hardly allow us to judge Henry sternly. He is a lordly figure, with a full, abounding strength of nature, a selfconfidence, an ease and mastery of life, a power of effortless sway, and seems born to pass on in triumph over those who have fallen and are afflicted. Wolsey is drawn with superb power: ambition, fraud, vindictiveness, have made him their own, yet cannot quite ruin a nature possessed of noble qualities.'
Shakespeare's historical authorities for this play were, as usual, Hall's Union of the Families of Lancaster and York, of which the first edition appeared in 1548, and Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland, published in 1577. These writers had borrowed largely from Cavendish's Life of Cardinal Wolsey, of which there were many manuscript copies in Shakespeare's day, though the work was not printed until 1641. For the fifth act, his materials were taken from Foxe's Acts and Monuments of the Church, published in 1563. A great part is merely a versification of what he found in his authorities. Events, however, are not always given in chronological order; these discrepancies from the facts of history are pointed out in the notes. The action of the play commences with the eleventh year of the reign of Henry in 1520, and closes at the christening of Elizabeth in 1533, thus covering a period of thirteen years. The death of Queen Katharine, however, actually took place in 1536, and the accusation against Cranmer in 1543, thus separating the historical events treated in the play by an interval of twenty-three years, or from 1520 to 1543.