Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe

“You that thus far have come to pity me, hear what I say, and then go home and lose me”

Not having seen Henry VIII before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the second play in the Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe (this was the second preview) and as delightfully coloured cod-pieces and a mightily impressive heaving bosom (bosoms?) emerged in the course of the first act, I suspected we could be in for a right rollicking good time. This play takes place in the middle of Henry’s reign and follows the rise and fall of four important people in his life, the Duke of Buckingham, his first wife Katherine of Aragon, the Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey and Archbishop Cranmer. It mixes up elements of history, tragedy and romance and wraps it all up in the opulent pageantry of the era but it also allows us to see behind the scenes, the gossiping, the politicking and those moments when the mask slips and we see glimpses of the real people behind the public personae.

It is full of stately pomp and circumstance and the set-pieces are visually stunning: Anne Bullen’s procession through the theatre at her coronation, Princess Elizabeth’s christening, even Katherine of Aragon’s trial, all are sumptuously mounted and there are some truly moving moments, especially at the moment of downfall of each of the above-mentioned players. But in truth, Henry VIII plays as a series of episodes rather than a long play and there’s surprisingly little interaction between many of the key characters. This could be to do with the much-debated true authorship of the play, it has been suggested that it was a collaboration between Shakespeare and another playwright John Fletcher, though my knowledge on this is limited to reading the programme notes so I couldn’t possibly come down on one side or the other. Either way, there is much unevenness in this play and as a result it is only fitfully engaging. Continue reading “Review: Henry VIII, Shakespeare’s Globe”