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Henry VIII

3.53  ·  Rating details ·  6,214 ratings  ·  314 reviews
Henry VIII is a history play generally believed to be a collaboration between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based on the life of Henry VIII of England. An alternative title, All is True, is recorded in contemporary documents, the title Henry VIII not appearing until the play's publication in the First Folio of 1623. Stylistic evidence indicates that individual sce ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published February 6th 2007 by Simon Schuster (first published 1613)
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Average rating 3.53  · 
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 ·  6,214 ratings  ·  314 reviews

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Bill Kerwin

There are lots of things about this play that please and impress me, but somehow I don't think it quite works.

The best things about it are two scenes probably by Fletcher: the sympathetic portrait of Katharine of Aragon's self-defense and the dignified soliloquy of the disgraced Cardinal Wolsey after his fall. The next best thing is the artful, ironic context Shakespeare builds around them, first by creating a magnificent description of the wrestling match staged between Henry VIII and Francis
Book Review
3 of 5 stars to Henry VIII, a play written in 1613 by William Shakespeare. This play originally had a different title and there is also some suspicion that it was co-written with another person at the time. It was towards the end of Shakespeare's career where while his brilliance had grown quite impressive, his fame and fortune was also being thrust more and more into the spotlight to the point of being accused of some level of crimes against the government. Similarly, the
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I did it. I finished Willie's entire body of work within 4 years (August 2016 - July 2020). I didn't even try that hard. I just kept reading. Huh. What a concept.

Henry VIII was a somewhat underwhelming play to end it with but I think it's only fair that the Globe burned down at the end of Act I so that spectators wouldn't have to suffer through the remaining four acts.

Henry VIII is a collaborative play between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, following the story of Henry's forbidden love
Jul 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
“O, how wretched is that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors!”

There is a lot of telling about things in “Henry VIII”, almost no showing, with just a few exceptions. The action happens offstage, we just get to hear about it in some exquisite language. Writer and scholar Harold Bloom has said that “Henry VIII” is a “better dramatic poem than a play” and he may be right. But whatever you call it, I enjoyed it.
I gave "Henry VIII” a 3 star rating compared to other Shakespeare, not to literature as
I can't say that the writing is bad, per-se, more that the topic is unworthy except for being an obligatory propagandist piece to prop up the worthiness of the Anglican church versus the Catholics.

I'm sure no one is surprised on this count.

There's rather less of the real drama that surrounded the King the man and all his travails or misogyny surrounding his six wives or the interesting women surrounding this historic character, rather it's just the focus on the single quasi-divorce still under t
Jan 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: shakespeare, poetry
Henry VIII, the first of two surviving collaborative plays written by Shakespeare and John Fletcher (the third, Cardenio, is lost to us), is an ironic celebration and a historically complicated pageant. It suggests a progressive view of history that moves to a glorious end, and yet that dynamic is undercut by a cyclical rise-and-fall pattern of human history. Buckingham and Wolsey and Katherine fall, while Anne and More and Cranmer rise. Yet, as we know from history, Anne, More, and Cranmer, wou ...more
Aug 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners
Recommended to Bettie by: Laura

Description: A rare chance to hear Shakespeare's last play, starring Matthew Marsh and Patrick Malahide. Originally recorded to mark the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII.

In 1509, the 17-year-old Henry acceded to the throne of England. Shakespeare's play, co-authored with John Fletcher, opens with the arrest for treason of the Duke of Buckingham 12 years later, and tells the story of Henry's struggle to divorce Katherine of Aragon, and the c
“Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water.”
- Shakespeare & Fletcher, Henry VIII


What do you get when you co-write a play and the other guy phones-it-in? What do you do when the other guy is William Shakespeare and his phoned-in stuff is still better than most writing you've seen or your own writing? I guess you just do what you do, write your scenes, work hard, and shut up. Here are my three main knocks against this play:

1. Phoned-in by the Bard (see also Cymbeline).
The core of the play is an allegory as England switches from Catholicism to Protestant, Cranmer is on trial accused of practicing the Protestant religion, he’s found guilty by a court who follows Catholicism, but not for long, Henry VIII steps in and overrules the verdict, makes Cranmer a godfather to his newly born, later to be Queen Elizabeth I, and tells them all to be friends. They do, all is forgiven and it ends on happy note praising Elizabeth at her christening. Whilst all this happening, ...more
Make no mistake, Henry VIII is not a "bad" play. It rates 2 stars only because it doesn't hold up against the 3- and 4-star ratings I've given other Shakespeare plays here on my shelves.

The biggest problem Henry VIII has is a lack of focus and/or a central character.

In terms of focus, we go from Katherine's divorce to Wolsey's downfall to Cranmer's rise to Elizabeth's baptism. All in five acts. There's too much here to adequately develop in the scope of a single play; even in the hands of a mast
Duffy Pratt
Apr 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classic, play
Imagine doing a history of Henry VIII and ignoring almost everything that he is most famous for. The six wives - two of whom he had beheaded. The executions of Thomas Moore and Thomas Cromwell. The pillaging of the Catholic Church and abbeys in England.

This play ignores all of that, and instead makes a huge deal of Henry and Anne Boleyn because they produced Elizabeth. Other than that, this is an episodic mess. And worse, what we do get are largely the preludes or postludes to events. The events
Roy Lotz
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
This play marks the end of my voyage through the dramas of William Shakespeare. It has taken me years, and even so I am still missing a couple of the lesser-known works, such as the Merry Wives of Windsor and all three parts of Henry VI (which I am sure I will get to—eventually). Shakespeare completed this work in 1613, three years before his death, while he was in the process of removing himself from the London theater scene. He seems even to have been delegating the task of writing to his succ ...more
David Sarkies
Aug 25, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Die hard Shakespeare Fanatics
Recommended to David by: It came with another book
Shelves: history
Shakespeare's Comeback
31 August 2015

You know those directors/authors who go into retirement (or even sporting heroes, but this is book website so I don't think sports stars quite cut it) and then a few years later decided to make a comeback with another movie/book and despite all of the hype it ends out being little more than rubbish? Well, this is one of those books. Yes, I know, it was written by William Shakespeare, and yes, I know, I have given it two stars, so I guess you probably think I
Aug 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie
From BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3:
A rare chance to hear Shakespeare's last play, starring Matthew Marsh and Patrick Malahide. Originally recorded to mark the 500th anniversary of the accession of Henry VIII.

In 1509, the 17-year-old Henry acceded to the throne of England. Shakespeare's play, co-authored with John Fletcher, opens with the arrest for treason of the Duke of Buckingham 12 years later, and tells the story of Henry's struggle to divorce Katherine of Aragon, and the catastrophic fall of the
Dec 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama
Previously, things I've read covering the historically crucial events surrounding Henry VIII's divorce and subsequent break from the Catholic Church have focused on Wolsey, More, Cromwell and Henry himself, ignoring Katherine, whom Henry is dumping in favour of Anne Boleyn. This is different: Thomas More is conspicuous by his absence - he's not even name-dropped - and Katherine is very much front and centre of the middle part of the play.

Katherine and Wolsey are presented as Tragic figures: Kath
Jun 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
This late play, apparently co-authored with John Fletcher, was first produced during the reign of James I and is essentially a praise of Elizabeth I and her successor. Throughout the work all is continually pointing to her birth and illustrious future, this subtext being linear and unchanging. Within this, however, is the presence of roiling politics, including the rise and fall of important political personages such as Buckingham, Wolsey, and (almost) Cranmer. Recurrent pageantry is the order o ...more
Vanessa J.
In the school I went, we studied everything related to Spain: Literature, geography, history, etc. I don't live in Spain, nor I am Spanish, but the school has some kind of “pact” (I don't really know how to call it) with Spain, so they teach those things.

Why do I say all this? Because in 2012, I studied the story behind this book... but from Spain's point of view. It was interesting to contrast them. Not that they're any different, but it's not the same to listen to a story told by two people in
Jan 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
I was initially surprised Shakespeare wrote this play; I would’ve thought this a dangerous subject, especially since it was practically current history, Elizabeth having been dead only about 10 years after it was penned. After reading it, there is definitely a noticeable conservative element to the writing. The main focus on the play is pageantry, leading up to the birth and christening of Elizabeth. Most of the action takes place off stage. Instead, we’re offered a summation of the events by si ...more
Cindy Rollins
Henry VIII, Wolsey, Cramner, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, Catherine of Aragorn! So much history makes the politics of this play incredibly interesting.
Moira Russell
Chewed through this mainly because I badly sprained my ankle and am stuck in bed, and saw the BBC production of it but could barely follow it and felt vaguely guilty, like I'd slighted Will or something. After reading it and viewing it once again and focusing on the long, detailed critical introduction by Jay L. Halio (which was quite good and hardly at all stiff), what strikes me is not how it's about Henry VIII -- because it isn't, really, just as King John isn't really about that king and Hen ...more
Diana Long
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the Arkangel audio of the play along with reading the text from the Delphi Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It is a very subdued play indeed considering how this King's reign turned England upside down. Perhaps the Bard wanted to keep his head attached to his shoulders, that would be my guess. The author goes only so far with this play..the birth of the Princess Elizabeth. What I found most interesting that during one of the performances of the play in 1613, a cannon shot ig ...more
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Read this play in a day as well, not because I liked it, but it was kind of boring to be honest. I thought I'd like it because I knew who Henry VIII was before hand. However, like most of Shakespeare's Histories they tend to get boring for me and feels like he was forced to right them in a certain why. I will say I didn't realize the play existed until this looking in my book. Clearly this was written after Elizabeth's death.
Feb 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010
Read this as a companion piece after I finished Wolf Hall. I didn't even know he wrote a play about Henry VIII, and now I know why: it pretty much sucks. And a total whitewash, which makes sense in retrospect. Where's the fucking beheadings, Will?
Laurel Hicks
This play gets better each time I see/read it.
Delaney Felix
The best part of this was the short-lived intro to Doctor Butts.
I'm six years old, but it's fine.
Jazzy Lemon
This play deals with the divorce of Henry from his first wife Queen Katharine, his marriage to Anne Bullen, and the subsequent birth of their daughter who would be the reigning monarch at the time the play was performed - Queen Elizabeth I.
Kailey (BooksforMKs)
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
I enjoyed this play so much! It had a tight plot and delightfully interesting characters. I was especially intrigued with the changes that some characters went through, or the way some of them reacted under extreme circumstances.
This is the story of how Henry VIII got rid of his wife, Katherine, and fell in love with Anne Boleyn, married her instead, and had a daughter, Elizabeth. Of course, there's a ton of political intrigue going on, and people being accused as traitors right and left. The Du
Nov 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature
The Folger Library Edition, as usual, is a fine edition. The play, "Henry VIII", however, is far from one of the most interesting of Shakespeare's plays; it is not terribly intresting, but it IS terribly un-historical. Clearly, it accomplished what it set out to accomplish, which was to curry favor with Queen Elizabeth I, whose birth is described at the end of the play as if it were almost Messianical, and whose father (the title character) is portrayed throughout the play in the kindest light I ...more
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
This was a surprisingly light read, as I anticipated it would cover the grim beheadings of King Henry's wives, but it only covered until the birth of Elizabeth and went out with celebration.
Mariana Huben
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: btrbyd, 2019
Whoo! I'm finally done with the Shakespeare English histories. How exciting!

This one was not my favorite, by any means. It had strange lurches and lulls, which the Notes attributed to the joint authorship of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher. Some scenes were reminiscent of the Falstaff scenes in Henry IV, Part I, and others were more serious, like Richard II. It was interesting trying to get a read on how exactly these authors wished to present Henry VIII as a king - the epilogue states, "t
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William Shakespeare (baptised 26 April 1564) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon" (or simply "The Bard"). His surviving works consist of 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, and several other poems. His plays have been tr ...more

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