Friday, January 11, 2013

Reader's Diary #933- William Shakespeare: Henry VIII

Besides the Herman's Hermits song, which— awesome though it might be— doesn't count, I've never really been up on King Henry the VIII. I knew he got married a bunch of times, I knew he had desperately wanted sons, and I knew he had Anne Boleyn beheaded. I knew he didn't sound like the nicest of guys.

Yet, in Shakespeare's Henry the VIII, I didn't think he came across as despicable as I'd expected. If anyone is cast as the villain, it seems to be Cardinal Wolsey. He promises the king that he will advocate for his divorce of Katherine in order to wed Anne, but it's later proven that he advised against it in a letter to the pope.

As for Henry the VIII, I thought he got off pretty easy. Sure he's presented as a bit of a spoiled, insensitive clod but certainly not the power-abusing, misogynistic, murderer that I, even in my limited knowledge of history, knew him to be. The biggest reason? The odd cutoff point. Ending with the birth of Elizabeth who will eventually become the Queen of England, it would be a joyous, even hopeful note, if we didn't know what happened it the meantime. It's like telling the story of Nixon, but ending before Watergate. Nirvana without Cobain's suicide. Lance Armstrong before the doping revelations.You get the idea.

1 comment:

Eric P said...

I'm almost certain that Henry VIII was written while Elizabeth was still on the throne, and thus Shakespeare had to tread very, very carefully. This was a time when kings and queens could very easily lock up and even execute those who crossed them.

A good parallel would be the situation of authors/artists under Soviet Russia, particularly during the Stalin era, where they had to balance their artistic urges, their desire for freedom of expression and their desire for survival -- and still try to live with themselves.