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King Henry is married to Katherine of Aragon, but he has been smitten by the charms of the queen's maid of honor, Anne Bullen, and is tempted to divorce his dignified and noble wife.
Meanwhile, the lords of England resent the influence of Henry's trusted advisor, Cardinal Wolsey, who is gradually drawing power into his own hands. As Katherine and Wolsey suffer their tragic falls, new figures rise to fill their places, but they, too, will be brought low by the inexorable sweep of time and fortune.
This colorful history play, possibly written in collaboration with John Fletcher, comes from the very end of Shakespeare's dramatic career.
Paul Jesson plays Henry VIII, and Jane Lapotaire plays Queen Katherine. Timothy West is Cardinal Wolsey.
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- Nicholas O'Brien
Shakespeare the diplomatic historian
Covering the fall of Wolsey and the divorce from Katherine of Aragon to the christening of Elizabeth, this shows Shakespeare carefully portraying the Tudors as thoughtful caring monarchs.
Virtues written in Water
"Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water."
- Shakespeare & Fletcher, Henry VIII
What do you get when you co-write a play and the other guy phones-it-in? What do you do when the other guy is William Shakespeare and his phoned-in stuff is still better than most writing you've seen or your own writing? I guess you just do what you do, write your scenes, work hard, and shut up. Here are my three main knocks against this play:
1. Phoned-in by the Bard (see also Cymbeline).
2. Co-written by John Fletcher (see also The Two Noble Kinsmen)
3. Quasi-propaganda crap for the Tudors see also ("Too soon?, Too soon?").
For those interested, according to Erdman and Fogel in 'Evidence for Authorship: Essays on Problems of Attribution,' the breakdown of authorship for this play is the following:
Shakespeare: Act I, scenes i and ii; II,iii and iv; III,ii, lines 1–203 (to exit of King); V,i.
Fletcher: Prologue; I,iii; II,i and ii; III,i, and ii, 203–458 (after exit of King); IV,i and ii; V ii–v; Epilogue.
Anyway, the play is so bad it basically destroyed the Globe Theatre.* I kid, I kid.
"Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot
That it do singe yourself.” (Act 1, Scene 1)
"I have touched the highest point of all my greatness;
And from that full meridian of my glory
I haste now to my setting: I shall fall
Like a bright exhalation in the evening,
And no man see me more.” (Act 3, Scene 2)
"Press not a falling man too far!” (Act 3, Scene 2)
“We all are men, in our own natures frail, and capable of our flesh; few are angels.” (Act 5, Scene 2).
*Technically, it was a canon shot during the play that caught the thatched roof on fire, but give me a bit of poetic license here.
8 people found this helpful
- John Davies
An exquisite production of a lesser known play
The production and cast rose to the poetry and made this a splendid listening experience.
- Anonymous User
One of Shakespeare's best histories
A top-notch production of a one of the best Shakespeare histories of an endlessly fascinating era of English. history. One can't help wonder about Shakespeare's Catholic sympathies in an Elizabethan moment.