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King Henry VIII (Arden Shakespeare)
ISBN 0416104509 / 9780416104509 / 0-416-10450-9
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Believed to be Shakespeare's very last play, Henry VIII is probably best remembered as the play which, when performed in June 1613, led to the Globe Theatre burning down due to the fireworks and cannon fire listed in the stage directions. However, otherwise the play has puzzled critics, who can see little more in it than a nostalgic account of Henry's reign, and the prophetic birth and christening of Elizabeth, Shakespeare's Queen, which takes place at the end of the play.
Henry VIII deals with the intrigue which surrounds Henry's court, and in particular the controversial figure of Cardinal Wolsey, and Henry's separation from his wife Katherine, and infatuation with Anne Bullen. However, there is little sense of the psychological complexity created by Shakespeare in earlier history plays like Henry V. Henry VIII himself is a grand but distant figure, and the virulent anti-Catholicism lacks complexity. Within an increasingly troubled political period, the final hopeful invocation of "Peace, plenty, love, truth" seems rather flat, as does the play as a whole. This has led many critics to argue that Shakespeare was just one of many collaborators in the writing of the play. --Jerry Brotton [via]