« PreviousContinue »
DURATION OF TIME
I. Dramatic Time.-Seven days represented on the stage, with indeterminable intervals.
II. Historic Time. -From June 1520 to September 1533 (the christening of Elizabeth). But two later events are included, the death of Katharine, January 1536, and the summons of Cranmer before the Council, in 1544. The following table (from Daniel's Time Analysis, p. 346) gives the historic dates, arranged in the order of the play :
1520, June. -Field of the Cloth of Gold
1522, Mar. War declared with France
May-July. Visit of the Emperor to the English Court. 1521, April 16.-Buckingham brought to the Tower. 1527.-Henry becomes acquainted with Ann Bullen 1521, May.
Arraignment and execution (May 17) of
1527, Aug.-Commencement of proceedings for divorce. 1528, Oct.-Campeius arrives in London.
1532, Sept.-Ann Bullen created Marchioness of Pembroke.
1529, May.-Assembly of Court at Blackfriars.
1529-33.-Cranmer abroad working for the divorce.
1530, Nov. 29.-Death of Wolsey.
1533, June 1.-Coronation of Ann.
1536, June. -Death of Katharine.
1533, Sept. 7.-Birth of Elizabeth.
1544. Cranmer called before the Council.
1533, Sept.-Christening of Elizabeth.
THE Famous History of the Life of Henry VIII. Early was first published in the Folio of 1623. The text History. is unusually accurate, and was printed from a MS. prepared with equally unusual care for the press. As became a drama in which ceremony plays so large a part, the stage directions are full and accurate. In two of them (the coronation-scene, iv. 1., and the baptism, v. 5.) the elaborate and precise historical realism of the modern stage seems to be more nearly anticipated than in any other play of Shakespeare's time. The costly and magnificent masques of Whitehall had stimulated kindred tendencies in the regular drama; and the Globe Company now controlled stage-resources very different from the 'four or five most vile and ragged foils' that had done duty for Agincourt in its early days. The spectacular elaboration of Henry VIII. was, however, evidently extraordinary and unprecedented. It involved, incidentally, the destruction of the first Globe Theatre.
On June 29, 1613, the Globe was burnt down Date of Comduring the performance of a play which a series of contemporary descriptions enable us with practical certainty to identify as Henry VIII The most salient of these are as follows:
(i) A MS. letter from Thomas Lorkin, dated 'this
last of June' 1613, relates: 'No longer since than yesterday, while Bourbege his companie were acting at the Globe the play of Hen. 8, and there shooting of certain chambers in way of triumph; the fire catch'd and fasten'd upon the thatch of the house and there burn'd so furiously as it consumed the whole house and all in less than two hours (the people having enough to do to save themselves).'
(ii) Sir Henry Wotton, writing to his nephew on July 2, gives a more detailed account of the fire and adds important particulars of the play. The king's players had a new play, called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth, 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 mask at the Cardinal Wolsey's House, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper, or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch,' etc.
(iii) A third allusion, in a letter from John Chamberlain to Ralph Winwood, July 12, 1613, simply confirms these reports. But the mention of the event by Howes, the continuator of Stowe's Chronicle (1615), adds an important detail. The house,' he writes, 'being filled with people to behold the play, viz. Henry the 8.'
In June 1613, then, a play variously known as Henry VIII. and All is True, and corresponding in every particular, so far as described, to the Henry VIII. afterwards published by Shakespeare's Company, was acted, as a new piece, by that company, on their
own stage. The inclusion of the play in the Folio must be held to prove that Shakespeare had at least some connexion with it; its qualities of metre and style forbid us to place that connexion earlier than 1610. To hold that Shakespeare's Company, having a Shakespearean Henry VIII. in their repertory, were acting, some two years later, a totally distinct Henry VIII. by some other writer, is an unwarrantable violation of economy.
The grounds hitherto adduced for rejecting the identification are extremely slight. A contemporary ballad on the fire declares that 'the riprobates . . prayed for the Foole and Henrie Condye,' whereas there is no Fool in Henry VIII. But the Fool may have been in the playhouse (and thus in need of the riprobates' prayers) without being in the play. Mr. Fleay relies on the absence of the title All is True. But the Prologue, with its reiterated references to 'truth' (cf. vv. 9, 18, 21), reads like an expanded commentary on a vanished text.1
The date 1610-12 is now therefore generally accepted.
of the Plot.
The Prologue seems, however, to have had a more The Sources specific and militant purpose than that of enforcing the title. It conveys a thinly veiled allusion to some less authentic version on the same noble story; and warns the audience that any who took Henry VIII. to be 'a merry bawdy play,' or 'a noise of targets,' or 'such a show as fool and fight is,' 'will be deceived.' 3
1 Boyle's theory that Our Henry VIII. was written as late as 1617 depends upon the hypothesis which he has not made plausible, that it was the joint work of Massinger and Fletcher.
The apparent allusion in
The Epilogue similarly
V. 5. 52 to the colonisation of
3 The Prologue has been
warns off those who came merely to hear the City abused extremely.' The previous dozen years had been prolific of plays upon Henry's reign: Chettle's Cardinal Wolsey; The Rising of Cardinal Wolsey, by Munday, Drayton, and Chettle, 1602 (both known only from Henslowe's Diary); The Chronicle History of Thomas Lord Cromwell (printed 1602, 1613); and finally, Rowley's Chronicle History of Henry VIII.: When you see me you know me, published in 1605, and no doubt identical with the Enterlude of King Henry VIII. entered (by the same publisher, N. Butter) in the Sta. Reg. in the previous Feb. 12th.1 There is little doubt that the writer of the Prologue had one or more of these productions in view, and the phrases above quoted fasten with peculiar aptness upon Rowley's rollicking travesty of history, with its 'bluff King Hal,' its unredeemed Wolsey, its London ruffians and watchmen, and its robust Protestantism acting as a solvent upon all Catholic virtue.
Whether written or not with a deliberate design of vindicating history from these dramatic traducers, there is no question that the Shakespearean Henry VIII. is far more true to the letter of history than any of his earlier Histories. No other preserves so much of the recorded detail of history. Its speeches are often little more than Holinshed transcribed in blank verse; its pageantries punctiliously reproduce his detailed and picturesque narrative. Holinshed was indeed for this reign unusually full and unusually authentic. It lay but a generation behind him, and
its motive undoubtedly recalls
1 Edited by K. Elze (1874). Elze held that the Shakespearean play was written during Elizabeth's reign-with subsequent interpolation of the allusions to James. This is absolutely negatived by the style.