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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Shakespeare's Henry VIII, A Review

I had the opportunity to view Shakespeare's play Henry VIII this past weekend at the Folger theatre in downtown D.C.  While I enjoyed the play itself, it was historically an atrocity.  I suppose it was written to appease Elisabeth I by making her parents look good, but she was dead by the time it was performed so I am not sure what the point of that was really.  The program says that during one of the first performances cannons were fired to signal Henry's entrance and that the cannons caught the roof of the Globe theatre on fire.  Perhaps the Globe could not stand for such a historical travesty to be performed within it's walls.

The play covers a period of 16 years during which Henry executes the duke of Buckingham, divorces Catharine of Aragon, marries Anne Boleyn, and ends with the baptism of the princess Elisabeth.  Henry is portrayed as an innocent victim of his conscience and has no choice but to divorce his first wife so that he can beget an heir.  Anne Boleyn is seen as a mincing innocent who is soooo surprised that Henry has bestowed honors on her and wants to marry her.  Catharine of Aragon is the real showstopper however, she is portrayed as I think she really was.  A kind, intelligent, sensible woman with a backbone of steel.  A capable queen steadfast in her beliefs. 

When Elisabeth is born everyone is thrilled, just thrilled and what celebrations are had to honor the tiny princess.  No mention is made except in passing at the disappointment that she is a girl.  Hmmmm, something is lacking there I think.

Henry was no innocent victim, though he wanted everyone to think he was, and in real life he played his part well, especially at the trial at Blackfriars where the validity of his first marriage was being judged.  He was an intelligent, conniving, lustful man who was in love with another woman.  I truly believe he loved Catharine, just no longer in the way of a wife.  I think it hurt him to be cruel to her, but all too often Henry's pain seems to have turned to anger and she was sent from court to drafty Kimbolton castle and forbidden to see her daughter.  Never mind that he himself caused the whole situation.

Anne Boleyn was no innocent bystander either.  She had had her heart broken when she was forbidden to marry Henry Percy.  Like many young girls who are desperately in love and are forbidden to see the objects of their affection Anne's parents had to resort to changing her bedroom in Hever castle to one that she could not escape from so that she would not run off and find him.  This story repeats even today.  Who has not been grounded and devastated and angry and tried to sneak out?

I think Anne lived life with her whole heart and because of this she was greatly broken when she was not allowed to marry Percy.  Out of this came her love for Henry?  Maybe not at first, maybe not for years, but I think she grew to love him passionately.  Passionately enough to be humiliated when he had affairs, passionately enough to put her whole heart on display for him everyday, be it happiness, anger, or sadness.  She let him have it.  Henry complained that Catharine had never spoken to him thus.  Oh well, you wanted her brilliant light, but brilliant light cannot be contained.  It is said that the candle that burns the shortest time burns the brightest, and her candle burned so very brightly.  At least her candle was not snuffed out at the end of that awful play.  I am sure some kind of propaganda spin would have been put on it.  Blegh.  Viva la Reine!