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Henry VIII

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Henry VIII

The mirror of all courtesy.
Act 2, scene 1, line 68

Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, He would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.

Act 3, scene 2, line 535–537

She shall be—
But few now living shall behold that goodness—
A pattern to all princes living with her

Act 5, scene 4, lines 27–29

In Henry VIII, Shakespeare presents a monarchy in crisis. Noblemen battle with Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey, who taxes the people to the point of rebellion. Witnesses whom Wolsey brings against the Duke of Buckingham claim he is conspiring to take the throne, yet Buckingham seems innocent as he goes to his death.

Henry is also without a male heir. After meeting the beautiful Anne Bullen, he says that he suspects his current marriage to Katherine, with whom he has one surviving daughter, is invalid. Katherine, meanwhile, glows with such splendid integrity that actresses have long desired the role. She advocates for the people, suspects the witnesses against Buckingham, and eloquently defends her conduct as Henry's wife.

Henry VIII was first performed in 1613. During a performance on June 29, a cannon fired from the stage started a fire, burning down the Globe; no lives were reported lost, and a new Globe was constructed. The play was printed in the 1623 First Folio. The primary source is Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles.

Adapted from the Folger Library Shakespeare edition, edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. © 2007 Folger Shakespeare Library


Further reading
Jean E. Howard and Phyllis Rackin. Engendering a Nation: A Feminist Account of Shakespeare’s English Histories. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Peter Saccio. Shakespeare's English Kings: History, Chronicle, and Drama. 2nd edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

John Julius Norwich. Shakespeare’s Kings: The Great Plays and the History of England in the Middle Ages, 1337–1485. New York: Scribner, 1999.

Arthur L. Schwartz. Vivat Rex! An Exhibition Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII. New York: Grolier Club, 2009.

Frances A. Shirley, ed. King John and Henry VIII: Critical Essays. New York: Garland Press, 1988.

David Starkey and Susan Doran. Henry VIII: Man and Monarch. London: British Library, 2009.

David Starkey. Henry: Virtuous Prince. London: HarperPress, 2008.

Related movie
A Man For All Seasons (1966, Highland Films). Directed by Fred Zimmerman. Cast includes Paul Scofield, Leo McKern, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, Susannah York, John Hurt, Corin Redgrave, and Vanessa Redgrave.
Henry VIII


A Censored Second Folio

Past Exhibitions: Vivat Rex!

"Thys Boke is Myne"

Folger Theatre

On Stage: Henry VIII

Inside the Collection

Folios from the Collection: Henry VIII

Teacher Resources

Study Guide: Henry VIII

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