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Henry VIII /

An Introduction to This Text: Henry VIII

By Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine
Editors of the Folger Shakespeare Library Editions

Henry VIII was first printed in the 1623 collection of Shakespeare’s plays now known as the First Folio. The present edition is based directly upon that printing.1 For the convenience of the reader, we have modernized the punctuation and the spelling of the Folio. Sometimes, in this play as in all our editions, we go so far as to modernize certain old forms of words; for example, when a means “he,” we usually change it to he; we change mo to more, and ye to you. (We are aware that scholars engaged in dividing up authorship of Henry VIII between Shakespeare and John Fletcher have taken the presence of the form ye as evidence of Fletcher’s hand. In modernizing ye to you, we seek not to conceal evidence of collaboration but only to render the play in this respect as readable for a contemporary audience as the rest of the plays in this series. For our decision to set aside questions of authorship in this edition, see the Appendix on Authorship.) It is not our practice in editing any of the plays to modernize words that sound distinctly different from modern forms. For example, when the early printed texts read sith or apricocks or porpentine, we have not modernized to since, apricots, porcupine. When the forms an, and, or and if appear instead of the modern form if, we have reduced and to an but have not changed any of these forms to their modern equivalent, if. We also modernize and, where necessary, correct passages in foreign languages, unless an error in the early printed text can be reasonably explained as a joke.

Whenever we change the wording of the First Folio or add anything to its stage directions, we mark the change by enclosing it in superior half-brackets ( ). We want our readers to be immediately aware when we have intervened. (Only when we correct an obvious typographical error in the First Folio does the change not get marked.) Whenever we change either the First Folio’s wording or its punctuation so that meaning changes, we list the change in the textual notes, even if all we have done is fix an obvious error.

We regularize spellings of a number of the proper names in the dialogue and stage directions, as is the usual practice in editions of the play. For example, the First Folio occasionally uses the forms “Sandys” and “Campian,” but our edition uses only the more usual Folio spellings “Sands” and “Campeius.”

However, in another respect our treatment of certain names in this play differs from that in many other editions. A number of historical figures are named but do not appear as characters on stage and are given different names or titles in different places in the Folio text. For example, the monk who is alleged to have prophesied to the duke of Buckingham is named three different ways in the Folio: “Michaell Hopkins” (1.1.262), “Nicholas Henton” (1.2.169), and “Hopkins” (2.1.28). Many editors have interpreted some or all of these differences to have arisen through scribal or printing error. These editors point out that in the principal source for the play, Ralph Holinshed’s Chronicles, this figure’s name is Nicholas Hopkins. These editors also observe how closely many of the play’s speeches follow Holinshed’s language and thus conclude that the dramatist would have intended to reproduce the name from Holinshed. Such editors also reasonably observe that Nicholas may have been misnamed “Michaell” because his name had been abbreviated to “Nic.,” the abbreviation then misread by a scribe or printer as “Mic.” and wrongly expanded to “Michaell.” When Hopkins is called “Henton,” all editors properly note that Henton was the name of the monk’s monastery, and some also presume a scribe’s or printer’s confusion of place-name for person’s name. Thus these editors impose the consistent designation “Nicholas Hopkins” on the play’s text. A slightly different example involves Buckingham’s chancellor or secretary. This figure is called both “Gilbert Pecke, his Councellour” (1.1.258) and “Sir Gilbert Pecke his Chancellour” (2.1.26). Noticing how graphically similar “Councellour” is to “Chancellour,” many editors, again suspecting a scribe’s or printer’s error, have changed “Councellour” to “Chancellour,” not taking into consideration that a chancellor—that is, an official secretary—and particularly one with the rank of knight, might well be expected to advise his master and thus also be a counselor.

Our conception of the play’s relation to its sources and of its treatment of proper names and titles of offices is somewhat different. While we are aware of how closely in particular places the language of the play follows that of its sources, we are also aware of how widely the play often departs from its sources and from history. For example, the first act presents Henry’s meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold as happening just before the arrest of Buckingham, which itself takes place just before Henry meets Anne Bullen at Wolsey’s supper. In Holinshed and in history, the meeting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold took place in May–June 1520, Buckingham’s arrest almost a year later in April 1521, and Henry’s meeting Anne at Wolsey’s in 1527—six years before Buckingham’s execution, an event that comes after it in the play. Therefore we felt we could not presume that the dramatist, in creating the play as fiction, would be careful to follow sources on every possible occasion. We have also considered the variation evident in the play’s naming of the character Sands—a speaking role in the play and thus of much greater prominence than Hopkins and Peck, who are merely mentioned. When Sands appears in the first act in connection with the supper at Wolsey’s, he is called “Lord Sands(1.3.57, 1.4.51). However, when he reappears in the following scene, he is “Sir Walter Sands” (2.1.70 SD). The inconsistency is easily explained, and it does, we freely admit, derive from the play’s historical sources. In 1521, the year of Buckingham’s execution, which is the subject of 2.1, Sands was only a knight (Sir William Sands, according to Holinshed). Before 1527, the year of the supper at Wolsey’s, Sands was ennobled, becoming Lord Sands, as he is called in the scenes associated with that occasion (1.3, 1.4). However, the inconsistency in the presentation of Sands’s rank, which cannot be either a scribe’s or a printer’s error, indicates a remarkable indifference on the part of the dramatist to consistency of naming. Therefore we fear that if we were to make consistent the names of such minor figures as Hopkins and Henton, we might not necessarily be recovering the play’s text from the errors of scribes and printers; instead we might be imposing much later standards of consistency and historical accuracy on a work of fiction created in a period during which such standards were foreign to dramatists’ practice.

This edition differs from many earlier ones in its efforts to aid the reader in imagining the play as a performance. Thus stage directions and speech prefixes are written and arranged with reference to the stage. For example, when one goes to a modern production of Henry VIII, early in the fourth act one simultaneously watches the procession returning from Anne Bullen’s coronation and listens to the commentary on it provided by the two gentlemen onstage. Like the audience in the theater, these gentlemen watch it, but they also identify by name those who walk in it, and admire it to each other. However, in the First Folio and in the subsequent editorial tradition, the elaborate stage direction describing the procession appears en masse before the gentlemen’s commentary on it. By dividing up this stage direction and associating the particular figures who are named in it with the dialogue’s commentary specifically related to them, we hope to help our readers stage this sequence in the play in their own imaginations in a way that more closely approximates an experience in the theater.

Whenever it is reasonably certain, in our view, that a speech is accompanied by a particular action, we provide a stage direction describing the action, setting the added direction in brackets to signal that it is not found in the Folio. (Occasional exceptions to this rule occur when the action is so obvious that to add a stage direction would insult the reader). Stage directions for the entrance of a character in mid-scene are, with rare exceptions, placed so that they immediately precede the character’s participation in the scene, even though these entrances may appear somewhat earlier in the early printed texts. Whenever we move a stage direction, we record this change in the textual notes. Latin stage directions (e.g., Exeunt) are translated into English (e.g., They exit).

We expand the often severely abbreviated forms of names used as speech headings in early printed texts into the full names of the characters. We also regularize the speakers’ names in speech headings, using only a single designation for each character, even though the early printed texts sometimes use a variety of designations. An exception occurs with Katherine, who is a queen for the play’s first three acts but no longer one when she appears in the fourth act. Thus we call her “QUEEN KATHERINE” in speech prefixes until Act 4, when she becomes simply “KATHERINE.” Variations in the speech headings of the early printed texts are recorded in the textual notes.

In the present edition, as well, we mark with a dash any change of address within a speech, unless a stage direction intervenes. When the -ed ending of a word is to be pronounced, we mark it with an accent. Like editors for the past two centuries, we display metrically linked lines in the following way:

 Is he in person ready?
SECRETARY  Ay, please your Grace.


However, when there are a number of short verse-lines that can be linked in more than one way, we do not, with rare exceptions, indent any of them.

  1. We have also consulted the computerized text of the First Folio provided by the Text Archive of the Oxford University Computing Centre, to which we are grateful.