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Buckingham Does the Globe: Henry VIII and the Politics of Popularity in the 1620s


Scholars have long been fascinated with the performance of Richard II on the eve of the Essex "rising"—an episode where the interface between drama and politics is particularly broad and responsive. Yet scholars need to accord at least as much attention to another occasion when the fate and intentions of the most powerful man in England under the throne intersected with a public theatrical performance. The incident is intriguing because we only know about it from the chance survival of three newsletters reporting that, in early August 1628, a performance of Shakespeare's play Henry VIII was "bespoken of purpose" at the Globe by the duke of Buckingham. Having set the stage, as it were, the duke attended the performance with an entourage that included two of his intimates—the earl of Holland and the Abbé Scaglia, the Savoyard ambassador—as well as several other great lords. Yet at a key moment in the performance, Buckingham and his guests abruptly got up at and left the theater. These three contemporary accounts make this evening's entertainment one of the best recorded performances in early modern stage history. The episode also tells us much about the intersection of elite and popular politics in the commercial theater, the cultural dynamics of the duke of Buckingham's career and the early Stuart regime, and the reception and appropriation of Shakespeare's plays immediately after his death.

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