Henry VIII (Folger Shakespeare Library Series)
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Henry VIII (Folger Shakespeare Library Series)

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by William Shakespeare
     
 

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In Henry VIII, Shakespeare presents a monarchy in crisis. Noblemen battle with Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey, who taxes the people to the point of rebellion. Witnesses whom Wolsey brings against the Duke of Buckingham claim he is conspiring to take the throne, yet Buckingham seems innocent as he goes to his death.

Henry is also without a male heir. After

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Overview

In Henry VIII, Shakespeare presents a monarchy in crisis. Noblemen battle with Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey, who taxes the people to the point of rebellion. Witnesses whom Wolsey brings against the Duke of Buckingham claim he is conspiring to take the throne, yet Buckingham seems innocent as he goes to his death.

Henry is also without a male heir. After meeting the beautiful Anne Bullen, he says that he suspects his current marriage to Katherine, with whom he has one surviving daughter, is invalid. Katherine, meanwhile, glows with such splendid integrity that actresses have long desired the role. She advocates for the people, suspects the witnesses against Buckingham, and eloquently defends her conduct as Henry’s wife.

The authoritative edition of Henry VIII from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:

-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play
-Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play
-Scene-by-scene plot summaries
-A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases
-An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language
-An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play
-Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books
-An annotated guide to further reading

Essay by Barbara A. Mowat

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, DC, is home to the world’s largest collection of Shakespeare’s printed works, and a magnet for Shakespeare scholars from around the globe. In addition to exhibitions open to the public throughout the year, the Folger offers a full calendar of performances and programs. For more information, visit Folger.edu.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780743273305
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
02/06/2007
Series:
Folger Shakespeare Library Series
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
281,507
Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt


Shakespeare's Henry VIII

In Henry VIII, the last of his plays about English history, Shakespeare presents monarchy in a state of crisis. Noblemen are embattled with the enormously powerful Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey, as both parties level charges of treason against each other almost indiscriminately. Wolsey, without the king's knowledge, has taxed the people to the point of rebellion. Yet the politics of the play are so subtle that the true cause of this crisis is not clear. In the case of the duke of Buckingham, for example, witnesses brought before Henry by Cardinal Wolsey claim that the duke, deceived by the prophecies of an evil monk, is conspiring to usurp Henry's throne. Nonetheless, as Buckingham goes to his death for treason, he seems the innocent victim of suborned testimony. Perhaps, then, the root of the crisis is Henry's failure to recognize Wolsey's exploitation of the king's favor, which, we learn later, has enabled him to amass a huge fortune through extortion and to feed his own pride and spite. Or perhaps the crisis arises from the ambition of noblemen who would strip Henry and his heirs of the throne.

The monarchy also faces a succession crisis, for Henry is without a male heir. Though Henry's queen, Katherine, has been pregnant many times, all but one of the pregnancies have resulted in miscarriages or in infants who died soon after birth. Worse, the single survivor is the girl Mary. After meeting the young and beautiful Anne Bullen, one of Katherine's ladies-in-waiting, Henry says that he is tormented by the suspicion that God has denied him a male heir because his marriage to Katherine -- the widow of his brother -- is invalid. The royal marriage begins to come apart. Again the precise nature of the crisis is put in question. Is Henry indeed experiencing a crisis of conscience about the sanctity of his marriage, or is he experiencing a crisis of desire provoked by the opportunity to take the young and beautiful Anne as a new wife and queen?

Whatever the ethics of Shakespeare's Henry, Katherine's integrity glows so splendidly in the play's action and dialogue that her role has long been coveted by actors. She first takes the stage as the advocate for all the English people crushed by Wolsey's oppressive taxes, and then she is properly suspicious, as Henry is not, of the motives of the witnesses who send Buckingham to his death. Her fierce opposition to Wolsey is repeatedly justified by the play's depiction of the cardinal's vices. When she is summoned to the church court that is deliberating on the propriety of her marriage, her defense of her conduct as Henry's wife is resounding in its eloquence. She has been admired for centuries by readers and playgoers alike.

After you have read the play, we invite you to turn to the essay printed after it, "Henry VIII: A Modern Perspective," by Barbara A. Mowat of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Copyright © 2007 by The Folger Shakespeare Library

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Meet the Author

William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.

Barbara A. Mowat is Director of Research emerita at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Consulting Editor of Shakespeare Quarterly, and author of The Dramaturgy of Shakespeare’s Romances and of essays on Shakespeare’s plays and their editing.

Paul Werstine is Professor of English at the Graduate School and at King’s University College at Western University. He is a general editor of the New Variorum Shakespeare and author of Early Modern Playhouse Manuscripts and the Editing of Shakespeare and of many papers and articles on the printing and editing of Shakespeare’s plays.

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