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“This is one of the most celebrated of our author's performances; yet I know not whether it has not happened to him as to others, to be praised most when praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But some parts are trifling, others shocking, and some improbable.”—Johnson.
Malone says, he “ agrees with Dr. Johnson in thinking that this play, from its first exhibition to the present hour, has been estimated greatly beyond its merits.” He attributes its popularity to the detestation in which Richard's character was held at the time that Shakspeare wrote, and to the patronage of queen Elizabeth, “ who was pleased at seeing king Henry VII. placed in the only favorable light in which he could be placed on the scene.” Steevens, in the following note, has stated the true grounds of the perpetual popularity of the play, which can only be attributed to one cause—the wonderful dramatic effect produced by the character of Richard.
“I most cordially join with Dr. Johnson and Mr. Malone in their opinions; and yet, perhaps, they have overlooked one cause of the success of this tragedy. The part of Richard is, perhaps beyond all others, variegated, and consequently favorable to a judicious performer. It comprehends, indeed, a trait of almost every species of character on the stage. The hero, the lover, the statesman, the buffoon, the hypocrite, the hardened and repenting sinner, &c., are to be found within its compass. No wonder, therefore, that the discriminating powers of a Burbage, a Garrick, and a Henderson, should at different periods have given it a popularity beyond other dramas of the same author."-STEEVENS.
KING HENRY THE EIGHTH.
It is the opinion of Johnson, Steevens, and Malone, that this play was written a short time before the death of queen Elizabeth, which happened on the 24th of March, 1602–3. The eulogium on king James, which is blended with the panegyric of Elizabeth, in the last scene, was evidently a subsequent insertion, after the succession of the Scottish monarch to the throne; for Shakspeare was too well acquainted with courts, to compliment, in the lifetime of queen Elizabeth, her presumptive successor ; of whom, history informs us, she was not a little jealous. That the prediction concerning king James was added after the death of the queen, is still more clearly evinced, as Dr. Johnson has remarked, by the awkward manner in which it is connected with the foregoing and subsequent lines.
After having lain by some years, unacted, probably on account of the costliness of its exhibition, it was revived in 1613, under the title of “ AU is True," with new decorations, and a new Prologue and Epilogue; and this revival took place on the very day, being St. Peter's, on which the Globe Theatre was burnt down. The fire was occasioned, as it is said, by the discharge of some small pieces of ordnance called chambers, in the scene where king Henry is represented as arriving at cardinal Wolsey's gate at Whitehall, one of which, being injudiciously managed, set fire to the thatched roof of the theatre.* Dr. Johnson first suggested that Ben
* The circumstance is recorded by the continuator of Stowe; and in a Ms. letter of Thomas Lorkin to sir Thomas Puckering, dated London, this last of June, 1613, it is thus mentioned :—"No longer since than yesterday, while Bourbage his company were acting at the Globe the play of Henry VIII., and there, shooting of certayne chambers in way of triumph, the fire catched,” &c.-MS. Harl. 7002.
So in a letter from John Chamberlaine to sir Ralph Winwood, dated London, 8th July, 1613:—“But the burning of the Globe, or Playhouse, on the Bankside, on St. Peter's day, cannot escape you ; which fell out by a peale of chambers (that I know not upon what occasion were to be used in the play), the tampin or stopple of one of them lighting in the thatch that covered the house, burned it to the ground in less than two hours, with a dwelling-house adjoining; and it was a great marvaile and faire grace of God that the people had so little harm, having but iwo narrow doors to get out at.”-Winwood's Memorials, vol. iii. p. 469.
The event is also recorded by sir Henry Wotton, in his letter of the 2d of July, 1613, where Jonson might have supplied the Prologue and Epilogue to the play upon the occasion of its revival. Dr. Farmer, Steevens, and Malone, support his opinion; and even attribute to him some of the passages of the play.
Mr. Gifford has controverted this opinion of Jonson having been the author of the Prologue and Epilogue of this play, and thinks the play which was performed under the title of All is True was a distinct performance, and not Shakspeare's Henry the Eighth. To this it has been answered,—“That the Prologue, which has always accompanied Shakspeare's drama from its first publication in 1623, manifestly and repeatedly alludes to the title of the play which was represented on the 29th of June, 1613, and which we know to have been founded on the history of king Ilenry the Eighth, affords a strong proof of their identity, as appears by the following passages :
Such as give
Gentle readers know
And though sir Henry Wotton mentions it as a new play, we have Stowe and Lorkin who call it . The play of Henry the Eighth.'”
“ That the Prologue and Epilogue were not written by Shakspeare, is, I think, clear from internal evidence,” says Mr. Boswell; but it does not follow that they were the production of Ben Jonson's pen. That gentleman has clearly shown that there was no intention of covertly sneering at Shakspeare's other works in this Prologue; but that this play is opposed to a rude kind of farcical representation on the same subject by Samuel Rowley. This play, or interlude, which was printed in 1605, is probably referred to in the following entry on the books of the Stationers' Company :-“ Nathaniel Butter, Feb. 12, 1604, That he get good allowance for the Enterlude of King Henry VIII. before he begin to print it; and with the warden's hand to yt, he is to have the same for his copy.” Stowe has observed that “ Robert Greene had written somewhat on the same story ;” but there is no evidence that it was in a dramatic form: it may have been something historical, and not by the dramatic poet of that name; as Stowe cites the authority of Robert Greene, with Robert Brun, Fabian, &c., in other places of his Chronicle.
This historical drama comprises a period of twelve years, commencing in the twelfth year of king Henry VIII. (1521), and ending with the
he says, it was at “ a new play, acted by the king's players at the Bank's Side, called All is True, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry the Eighth."--Reliquiæ Wilton, p. 425, Ed. 20.
christening of Elizabeth in 1533. The Poet has deviated from history in placing the death of queen Katharine before the birth of Elizabeth, for in fact Katharine did not die till 1536. In constructing his scenes he has availed himself largely of the eloquent narrative of Wolsey's faithful servant and biographer, George Cavendish, as copied by the Chronicles ; and, indeed, the pathos of the cardinal's dying scene is almost as effective in the simple narrative of Cavendish as in the play. The fine picture which the Poet has drawn of the suffering and defenceless virtue of queen Katharine, and the just and spirited, though softened, portrait he has exhibited of the impetuous and sensual character of Henry, are above all praise. It has been justly said that “this play contains little action or violence of passion; yet it has considerable interest of a more mild and thoughtful cast, and some of the most striking passages that are to be found in the Poet's works."
King HENRY THE Eighty.
Queen KATHARINE, Wife to King Henry, afterwards divorced.
Several Lords and Ladies in the Dumb Shows ; Women attending
upon the Queen; Spirits, which appear to her; Scribes, Officers, Guards, and other Attendants.
SCENE, chiefly in London and Westminster; once, at Kimbolton.