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नी The Text used is the Neilson Text copyrighted in 1906

by William Allan Neilson

Copyright, 1912

By The Macmillan Company First edition of this issue of “The Life of Henry the Eighth."

printed February, 1912


Text. — The play of Henry the Eighth was never printed in Quarto. It made its appearance in the collected edition of Shakespeare known as the First Folio, in 1623, bearing the title of The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight. It was printed with considerable care, and as a result, there are few textual difficulties in the play. The stage directions are given very fully and explicitly; and in those places where great ceremony is to be observed, as in the trial scene of Queen Katharine, II. iv., in the coronation scene, IV. i., or in the baptism scene, V. V., there is a surprising fullness of detail.

Date of Composition. It is known that a play Henry VIII was being acted when the Globe Theater was burned to the ground, June 29, 1613. This conflagration is alluded to by many contemporaries, some of whom give information concerning the play. Sir Henry Wotton in a letter to his nephew, July 6, 1613, writes: “ The King's players had a new play, called Al is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth,

hich 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 garters, 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 chambers 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 smoke, 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.” On the last day of June, 1613, a letter by Thomas Lorkin to Sir Thomas Puckering says that the fire started " while Burbage his companie were acting at the Globe the play of Henry VIII.Howes in his continuation of Stowe's Chronicle (1615) also gives Henry the Eighth as the title of the play.

That this play was identical with Shakespeare's has been doubted by some critics, but the evidence seems convincing. Three passages in the Prologue suggest the second title " All True," and it is hardly possible that another play than Shakespeare's could have been acted by his company in 1613. There seems little doubt that the play was written shortly before that date. It has been urged that the glorification of Elizabeth indicates a date of composition within her reign or shortly after her death, but praise of the great queen was not uncommon or unpopular during the reign of her successor. The description of the elaborate performance confirms Wotton's characterization of the play as new, and the undoubted Shakespearean portions are written in the poet's maturest style. We cannot, therefore, be far wrong in assuming that the play was written in 1613 or shortly before that

Source of the Plot. Shakespeare found the sourcematerial for this play in Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles. The first edition of this remarkable book appeared in 1577. The second, which was probably that used by Shakespeare, appeared in 1587. In his treatment of the reign of Henry the Eighth Holinshed incorporated material from Cavendish's Life of Wolsey. For the fifth act of the play, Shakespeare used Foxe's Acts and Monuments. In his treatment of the reign of Henry the Eighth, Holinshed writes from full knowledge, as the period was not far remote from him, and he makes ample use of contemporary authorities. His account of the reign is graphic, interesting, and in many places spectacular, so that portions of it read like the description of a pageant. Henry is described as dignified, statesmanlike, kingly; Wolsey as shrewd, strong, masterful. The queen is represented as a pathetic figure, exciting our pity. These characterizations Shakespeare accepts tacitly and without question. He is dependent on the chronicle for his main incidents and many of his details; and he incorporates bodily many of Holinshed's sentences, phrases, and words. It might almost be said that Shakespeare's Henry the Eighth is a versified version of Holinshed. In no place is Shakespeare more dependent upon his sources than in this play.

Authorship. - It is now generally conceded that Henry the Eighth is the work of Shakespeare and Fletcher. The

1 The matter used by the poet can be found in convenient form in Shakespeare's Holinshed, the Chronicle and the Historical Plays Compared, by W. G. Boswell-Stone, London and New York, 1896.

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