King Henry VIII, or, All Is True

King Henry VIII, or, All Is True

King Henry VIII, or, All Is True

King Henry VIII, or, All Is True

Excerpt

The last of the English history plays printed in the Folio of 1623 (our only text for the play), The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight, to give it its full title there, is also one of the last plays Shakespeare wrote. Like the other play written in his so- called retirement from the stage, The Two Noble Kinsmen (as well as the lost Cardenio), it was written in collaboration with John Fletcher, although some scholars dispute this claim of joint authorship (see below under 'Date, Authorship, and Printing'). But that is only part of the controversy King Henry VIII (as it will be called here) has aroused. Dispute begins with the title, which appears to have been All is True, the title preferred by the editors of the Oxford Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Further and even more vigorous discussion centres on its critical interpretation. Is it a well developed play, adequately unified and coherent, or merely a pageant-play, its scenes strung together loosely but its main interest localized in the big court scenes and processions? These are some of the critical issues that this introductory essay will address, starting with Shakespeare's representation of Henry VIII's break with Rome, the beginnings of the Reformation in England, and his use of various historical sources.

Henry VIII, Shakespeare, and the Reformation in England

When Henry VIII succeeded his father, Henry VII, to the throne of England in 1509, he was already affianced to his brother Arthur's widow, Katherine of Aragon, daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, and aunt to Charles V, soon to become King of Spain and Holy Roman Emperor. In 1503, after Arthur died, Pope Julius II on appeal from both Henry VII and Ferdinand had given dispensation to allow Henry and Katherine to marry, on the assumption that the union between Arthur and Katherine, which occurred when both were only fourteen years old, had not been consummated. Henry and Katherine did not marry, however, until June 1509 . . .

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