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1. DATE AND HISTORY OF THE PLAY.
The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eighth, the last in historical order of Shakespeare's Histories, and probably the last in date of composition, was not The Folio published separately in quarto form. It is one of the twenty plays which first appeared in the collected edition of his works issued in 1623 by his fellow-actors John Heminge and Henry Condell, and now known as the First Folio. The text there given is comparatively free from corruptions. The variations in the Second, Third, and Fourth Folios (1632, 1663–64, and 1685) are not always an improvement, while the emendations of modern critics are for the most part of little moment.
The date of the first performance of Henry VIII. is a matter of controversy. There is indisputable evidence that a play dealing with the reign of Henry VIII. was being acted on 29th June, 1613, when the First PerforGlobe Theatre was destroyed by fire. There are at least three contemporary statements of this :
(1) The Rev. Thomas Lorkin, writing to Sir Thomas Puckering on 30th June, 1613, says that “no longer since then yesterday, while Bourbage his companie were acting at the Globe the play of Henry VIII., and there shooting of certayne chambers in way of triumph, the fire catch'd and fastened upon the thatch of the house and there burned so furiously as it consumed the whole house and all in lesse then two houres”.1
i Quoted from Dr. Aldis Wright's Henry VIII. (Clarendon Press), p. vi., in which the passage was first printed fully.
Date of the
(2) Sir Henry Wotton, in a letter to his nephew on 2nd July, 1613, writes: “Now, to let matters of State sleep, I will entertain you at the present with what hath happened this week at the Banks side. The Kings Players had a new Play, called All is True,' representing some principal pieces of the Raign of Henry 8, which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of Pomp and Majesty, even to the matting of the Stage; the Knights of the Order, with their Georges and Garter, the Guards with their embroidered Coats, and the like: sufficient in truth within a while to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now, King Henry making a Masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's House, and certain Canons being shot off at his entry, some of the Paper, or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the Thatch, where being thought at first but an idle smoak, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole House to the very grounds.” 2
(3) Edmond Howes, in his continuation of Stow's Chronicle, states that the burning of the Globe was due to the “negligent discharging of a peale of ordinance...the house being filled with people to behold the play, viz. of Henry the 8”.3
Is the play of Henry VIII. here referred to that which we now have? Everything goes to prove the identity. There is nothing irrelevant in the above descriptions. The pageantry is excessive and sometimes interferes with the more legitimate dramatic effects; and in the fourth scene of the first act, in which ‘King Henry [is] making a masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's house', there is the special stage-direction ‘chambers discharged '.1 To escape the conclusion that the existing play of Henry VIII. is substantially the same as that which brought about the burning of the Globe Theatre, it is necessary to hold, as some do, that there was another play of the same title and nature, and identical in some of its incidents; but there are no facts to justify this view. The only known contemporary play dealing with Henry VIII. is Samuel Rowley's When you see me you know me, and it does not tally at any point with the above descriptions.
1 This was apparently an alternative title of Henry VIII. There seems to be reference to it in the Prologue (see notes). A ballad "upon the pittifull burneing of the Globe Play-House in London", has the refrain:
O sorrow, pittifull sorrow, and yet all this is true; but its authenticity is doubtsul. See Collier, Annals of the Stage (1879), i. pp. 371-3.
2 Reliquiae Wottonianae, third edition, 1672, pp. 425, 426.
3 The Annales, or Generall Chronicle of England, begun first by Maister Iohn Stow, continued unto the ende of this presente yeere 1014 by Edmond Howes, 1615, p. 926, col. 2.
But was Henry VIII. a new play in 1613? The only external evidence that bears directly on this question is the statement of Wotton, who says expressly that the Globe was burnt down during the performance of a new play. The internal evidence of metre and style would likewise point to a date towards the end of Shakespeare's career, but the probability of a joint authorship (see section iii.) affects its value. There remains, however, the internal evidence of allusion to historical events. The closing scene contains a panegyric on James I., and probably a reference to the first settlement of Virginia in 1607, or, according to Malone, to the state lottery granted expressly for the establishment of English colonies in Virginia in 1612. There would thus seem to be every reason for accepting without demur the direct testimony of Wotton that Henry VIII. was 'a new play'in 1613. As it so happens, Malone is one of those 2 who hold that the passage dealing with James I. is an interpolation, and that the play was originally written during the lifetime of Elizabeth. It need only be said that if there are no facts to confute this theory there are none to support it; but it may well be doubted, as Professor Ward 3 points out, whether Queen Elizabeth would have relished the entire picture of her father's and mother's love-making, and the contrast in which it stands to the treatment of the character of Katharine. Others again hold that Henry VIII. was written immediately after the accession of James I., and that the closing scene was intended to show the respect in which Elizabeth's memory was held and the anticipations entertained of her successor.1 There is less to be said against this view, for the allusion to the events of 1607 or 1612 is at the best conjectural; but any theory that urges a date earlier than 1613 for the first performance, if not made expressly to suit preconceived notions, is not supported by any evidence.
1 The origin of the fire is further confirmed by a letter, dated 8th July 1613, from John Chamberlaine to Sir Ralph Winwood : “But the burning of the Globe or Playhouse on the Bankside on St. Peter's Day cannot escape you; which fell out by a Peale of Chambers (that I know not upon what Occasion were to be used in the Play)”. --Winwood's Memorials, 1725, iii. 469.
2 Most of the older Shakespearian critics, e.g. Theobald, Johnson, ns, Collier, as well as Schlegel, Kreyssig, and Elze.
3 History of English Dramatic Literature (1899), ii. 203.
Whatever arguments may be urged against the year for which we have Wotton's testimony, it must be remembered that the trial in Henry VIII. is a companion picture to the trial in the Winter's Tale, that internal evidence would seem to show that they were written about the same time, and that the Winter's Tale cannot be assigned to an earlier date than 1610.
There is every indication that the play was popular at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It was revived in
1663, without undergoing the extensive 'adaptaStage History.
tions' which Shakespearian plays usually met with at the hands of the Restoration dramatists. Langbaine, in his Account of the English Dramatic Poets, says that 'this play frequently appears on the present stage',? and Pepys refers to it as 'the so much cried-up play of Henry the Eighth?3 It appears to have won much of its popularity from its pageantry.
Its coronation ceremony ensured its success in 1727, the year of the coronation of George 11.4 Dr. Johnson, writing in 1755, says that 'the play of Henry
1 Hunter, New Illustrations of Shakespeare, ii. 101. 2 Langbaine, p. 457 (ed. 1691). 3 Diary, ist January, 1663–64. On 27th January he speaks of a play 'which for show, they say, exceeds Henry the Eighth'. 4 See Genest, English Stage, iii. pp. 197-209.
Professor Ward appears to be wrong in stating (Eng. Dram. Literature, ii. p. 209) that Henry VIII. was then ‘represented forty times in succession! The coronation ceremony, which was ultimately separated from Henry VIII. and tacked on to other plays, alone had this long run.