May Books 18) Henry VIII, by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher

Here we are, practically at the end of Shakespeare’s writing career, and he goes right back to the beginning with a play about an English King called Henry.

It’s an odd one. To get the worst out of the way, the last three scenes are all about the birth of Elizabeth I and how she and her successor will obviously be wonderful. Total rubbish. But we’ve built up to this with the poisonous interactions of her father, Henry VIII, with a succession of key advisers: the Duke of Buckingham, his own wife Queen Catherine, Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Cranmer. The separate falls of Wolsey and the Queen are both carefully and credibly sketched out, and both get good speeches as their farewells to the action.

The other two are a bit less integrated, however. Cranmer in particular seems to be brought in just for the sake of arguing with King Henry’s counsellors; and then it turns out it was all a misunderstanding. Thus does Shakespeare portray the founding of the Church of England.

The scholarly consensus splits the authorship of the scenes a bit randomly between Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Myself, I felt the first three acts had a certain internal logic which is dissipated by the fourth and not really regained by the last. But what do I know?

The Arkangel version is rather good, and makes the best of the less than fabtastic source material. In particular, Timothy West as Wolsey and Jane Lapotaire as Catherine of Aragon carry all but the last parts of the play. I was less convinced by Paul Jessup in the title role, but it held together better than I expected from reading the script.

Henry VI, Part I | Henry VI, Part II | Henry VI, Part III | Richard III | Comedy of Errors | Titus Andronicus | Taming of the Shrew | Two Gentlemen of Verona | Love’s Labour’s Lost | Romeo and Juliet | Richard II | A Midsummer Night’s Dream | King John | The Merchant of Venice | Henry IV, Part I | Henry IV, Part II | Henry V | Julius Caesar | Much Ado About Nothing | As You Like It | Merry Wives of Windsor | Hamlet | Twelfth Night | Troilus and Cressida | All’s Well That Ends Well | Measure for Measure | Othello | King Lear | Macbeth | Antony and Cleopatra | Coriolanus | Timon of Athens | Pericles | Cymbeline | The Winter’s Tale | The Tempest | Henry VIII | The Two Noble Kinsmen | Edward III | Sir Thomas More (fragment)

One thought on “May Books 18) Henry VIII, by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher

  1. I only left there because I couldn’t find full time employment and clearly was never going to be treated seriously by the incumbents when I could be more straightforwardly exploited. If they’d given me those jobs I could well still be there, and loving every moment of it.

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