Henry VIII, Globe Theatre, London, May 2010Posted on 17 May 2010
This is one of Shakespeare’s last works, written in collaboration with John Fletcher, who later became his successor as chief playwright to the King’s Men. It was originally known under the title All is True, rather than Henry VIII, perhaps because the King does not have the main role, appearing in only nine of the seventeen scenes. The principal role is for Cardinal Wolsey, who has some memorable lines, particularly during his final speech, “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”.
The play deals partly with the national crisis of the Reformation, starting with events following a ceremonial treaty with France engineered by Wolsey, to the gradual dismissal and divorce of Queen Katherine, the advent of Anne Boleyn, the downfall of Wolsey, the attempted plot against Archbishop Cranmer, and his subsequent christening of Anne’s daughter Elizabeth — the queen who would later become a patron of Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre. Cranmer gives a speech predicting a glorious reign for her, and the audience at the time would remember Elizabeth’s funeral, and have known very well that Cranmer was burned as one of the three Oxford martyrs under her predecessor Queen Mary.
In the meantime this play contains plenty of scheming, including interesting scenes between Wolsey and Katherine of Aragon. She distrusts him, though he makes every effort to persuade her he is sympathetic to her cause, “Why should we, good lady, upon what cause, wrong you? … The way of our profession is against it. We are to cure such sorrows, not to sow ’em”. When news of Wolsey’s death reaches her she forgives him, and then dies herself, blessed with a vision of peace.
This production by Mark Rosenblatt, with designs by Angela Davies, clothes the players in magnificent Tudor costumes, and allows the audience to see the characters before and after they meet the king. This is cleverly done by having them come out of one door, in through another and out again, or something like that — it works very well. The costumes are truly beautiful and the occasional use of puppets is brilliant. Ian McNeice is a very strong Wolsey, with excellent stage presence, Kate Duchêne is entirely convincing as Queen Katherine, and Sam Cox is very striking as the Lord Chamberlain, and as First Citizen. Henry is portrayed as a lively, handsome man, well played by Dominic Rowan, and the relatively small part of Anne Bullen (Boleyn) is very attractively played by Miranda Raison, who will appear again as the eponymous heroine in Howard Brenton’s new play Anne Boleyn, later in the Globe’s season.
Anne Boleyn starts on July 24, and both it and Henry VIII continue until August 21— for more details click here.