Henry VIII - All is True

“If people know anything at all about Henry VIII [the play] they are most likely to know that it caused the destruction of the Globe Theatre, or that it has been the source of arguments over Shakespearean authorship more than they are likely to have a close acquaintance with the actual text. But this would not have been the case a century ago, at the height of Henry VIII's popularity on the stage. It strikes me as a great pity that the play should be so under-appreciated now, because (and I may as well state this right away) I think it a splendid play and one that richly rewards close attention.”

–Gordon McMullan, Lecturer, Department of English, Kings College, London.
King Henry VIII (All Is True), The Arden Shakespeare


Sir Henry Wotton, a spectator at the first recorded performance of Henry VIII, then known as All Is True, said:

"... I will entertain you at the present with what happened this week at the Banks side. The King's players had a new play called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth, which set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty: sufficient in truth within awhile to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now King Henry making a Masque at the Cardinal Wolsey's house, and certain cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the paper or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but idle smoak, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground. This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabrick, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broyled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit, put it out with a bottle of ale."

It was not until the publication in the First Folio in 1623 that this play was referred to as Henry VIII.
The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton, ed. Logan Pearsall Smith (Oxford, 1907)


"The play is filled with stories of positions won and lost, with rumors, with intrigues, with factions forming and breaking, with attempts to secure that which can never be truly secured— that is, favor. Behind all of the play's reminders of Fortune and of the guiding hand of Providence, we are repeatedly faced with the realities of life in a world where gold buys subversion and false witness, and where treachery and self-serving are the rule. In this world, one survives through constant vigilance— with an eye on the person above on the ladder and an eye on the person below. Both are equally dangerous."

–Barbara A. Mowat
Henry VIII: A Modern Perspective



How The Tudor's Came to Power

For over thirty years, England was engaged in civil war between the royal houses of Lancaster and York. This became known as The War of the Roses. The house of York reigned supreme with the rise of King Edward IV. However, after his death, the claim to the English throne would be fought for once again. The Throne was then usurped by the infamous spider Richard III, Edward IV’s youngest brother. With the kingdom in disarray, support for the Lancaster cause grew once more; this time led by Henry Tudor.

If Henry proved to be victorious, he pledged to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, to unite the two houses. At the Battle of Bosworth, Richard III was defeated and Henry was crowned king— King Henry VII. This began a new start for England, no longer divided, but now under one name, the Tudors.

To strengthen foreign affairs, Henry VII married off his daughter, Margaret Tudor, to James IV of Scotland and his son, Arthur, to Katherine of Aragon. These marriages would ensure peace between England, Scotland, and Spain. However, Arthur died shortly after his marriage. Henry VII then proposed that his second son, Henry, should marry Katherine. That Henry would soon become known as Henry VIII.

"Henry VIII was first published, together with thirty-five other plays, in 1623 in the book we now call The Shakespeare First Folio. Until Edmond Malone did so in 1790, no one suggested that the play was the work of anyone else but Shakespeare; and until James Spedding made the argument in 1850, no one attempted to attribute parts of it to John Fletcher, Shakespeare's successor as principal dramatist of the King's Men. Since Spedding, a number of different scholars, using different methods, have attempted to discriminate between those parts of the play to be credited to Fletcher. These scholars have arrived at no consensus, although all who see the play as jointly authored have agreed that the collaborators who wrote the play included Shakespeare and Fletcher. Opinion has continued to fluctuate about whether the play is a work of collaboration or is solely Fletcher's or is solely Shakespeare's, with belief in collaborative authorship currently in the ascendant."

–Paul Werstine and Barbara A. Mowat
Henry VIII, The Folger Shakespeare Library