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SHAKSPERE ON THE STAGE
FIFTH PAPER: KING HENRY VIII
BY WILLIAM WINTER
CONJECTURE has long been busy, There is no reason to suppose that Eliza
and it will continue to be so, with beth would have resented Queen Kaththe play of “King Henry VIII." That arine's eminently queenlike statement of play was first published in the first Shak- her position or been displeased by a represpere folio, 1623. The date of its compo- sentation of the gallant behavior of King sition is not known; neither is the date of Henry the Eighth, her father, on the occaits first presentment on the stage. Some sion of his meeting with the fair Anne Shakspere editors, among them Theobald, Boleyn. She knew the reason why her Malone, and Dr. Johnson, maintain that father had desired and procured the anit was produced before the death (1603) nulment of his marriage to Catharine of of Queen Elizabeth; other Shaksperean Aragon, and though the demeanor of editors, among them Collier, Dyce, and King Henry toward Anne Boleyn in the Knight, contend that it was not produced masque scene is that of a bold and expeuntil after the accession of King James the ditious wooer, it is not such as Elizabeth First. A favorite belief is that it was per- would have regarded as unseemly. formed, under the title of "All is True," On the other hand, King James had no on June 29, 1613, at the Globe Theater, reason to revere the memory of Queen London, on which occasion the discharge Elizabeth, who is specifically honored in of small cannon,– perhaps in the corona- Shakspere's play, that sovereign having tion scene, Act IV, Scene 1, or, more prob- kept his mother, Queen Mary of Scotland, ably, in the scene of King Henry's en- for eighteen years incarcerated in prison, trance, as a masker, at a festival in the pal- subjected her to indignity, and finally ace of Cardinal Wolsey, Act I, Scene 4,- sent her to death on the block; and it is set fire to the theater and caused its de- known that, in fact, he abhorred her memstruction. Controversy on this subject ory. The speech which is delivered by the hinges mainly on the prologue to the play Archbishop of Canterbury in the scene of and the speech delivered by Cranmer at the christening was well calculated to please the christening of the royal infant.
Queen Elizabeth, but it does not contain Two plays relative to the story of Car- anything, aside from the lines of homage dinal Wolsey, one of them being ascribed to her successor, likely to have gratified to Henry Chettle, a dramatist of Shak- King James. Those lines, seventeen in spere's time, of whose biography scarcely number, beginning, "Nor shall this peace anything is known, were acted in London sleep with her," and ending, “Thou speakin 1601, and Malone assigns Shakspere's est wonders,” break the continuity of the “King Henry VIII” to that year. The address; but they serve the purpose of play is one that would have pleased Queen adulation of a vain monarch, notoriously Elizabeth more than it could be supposed susceptible to flattery. They probably, as likely to please her successor, King James was suggested by Theobald, were interpothe First. That queen delighted in ser- lated into Cranmer's encomium, some time vile adulation, and she exacted abject def- after the first presentment of the play, erence to her authority; but her sense of when Elizabeth had died and James had delicacy was not such as is easily shocked. ascended the English throne. Shakspere himself might have inserted them, or they made to the burning of the Globe Theamight have been inserted by another hand. ter: "No longer since than yesterday,
It has been surmised that the revival of while Bourbage his company were acting the play in the summer of 1613 was at the Globe the play of Henry VIII and prompted by the wish to profit by con- there shooting of certain chambers in way tributing to the general public rejoicing of triumph, the fire catch’d." The impliincident to the marriage of the Princess cation would seem to be that Burbage parElizabeth, daughter of King James, to ticipated in the representation. If so, he Frederick, the Elector Palatine. That would have played one of the principal marriage occurred about the middle of the parts, -either King Henry or Cardinal previous February, and it is hardly rea- Wolsey,- for he was then in the prime of sonable to suppose that the production of
Contemporary reference to an "historical masque or show play” “All is True" sometimes calls it by that (Coleridge) intended as a spectacle appo- name and sometimes by the name of site to that occasion would be deferred till "Henry VIII.” the end of June, a period of more than No mention is made of any presentment four months. The conjecture put forth of this drama in the interval between 1613 in 1850 by that respected scholar Sped- and 1663, the interval, roughly speaking, ding, to the effect that, in writing his play between the period of Burbage and that of of “King Henry VIII," Shakspere had pro- Betterton. Shakspere's manuscript receeded "as far, perhaps, as the third act, mained in possession of the managers, who when, finding that his fellows of the owned it from the time when the play was Globe were in distress for a new play, first performed (whatever time that may with which to honor the marriage of the have been) till the time of its first publiLady Elizabeth, he handed them his manu- cation. To what extent or by what hand script,” and that they intrusted it to John it may have been altered after the death Fletcher, "already a popular and expedi- of Shakspere in 1616, and before it was tious playwright,” to be completed, is in- published in 1623, investigation has failed genious, but also it is unwarranted. “Ex- to discover. Modern scholarship assumes peditious” Fletcher may have been, but that, because of certain peculiarities of the there is abundant reason to believe that versification, notably the use of “double Shakspere was at least quite as energetic, endings,” much of the play must have and could himself have finished his play been written by some hand other than that with equal despatch.
of Shakspere, possibly or probably that of In the absence of definite, decisive in- Fletcher, whose use of “double endings" formation, it seems, on the whole, proba- was habitual. That theory, however, like ble that Shakspere's “King Henry VIII” other theories which, resting on surmise was first presented toward the end of the and not on evidence, would discredit Shakreign of Queen Elizabeth, and that the spere's authorship of his writings, is merely play called “All is True," acted in 1613, conjectural. It would be amusing, if it with disaster to the Globe Theater, was were not painful, to observe the assurance Shakspere's play, revived for an with which theories about Shakspere are sion, and altered in such a way as to make adopted and proclaimed as fact, sometimes it acceptable to the time of King James. by thoughtful commentators, from whom The compliment to that royal person, sup- a larger measure of discretion might reaposing it to have been then first inserted sonably be expected. in the text, miscarried, because the The first positively recorded representheater caught fire before the perform- tative of King Henry the Eighth was John ance had reached the christening scene, Lowin, one of the best actors of Shakand Cranmer's honeyed words, occurring spere's time, and, in contemporary favor, in the last act, were not spoken. No second only to Richard Burbage. Aurecord has been discovered of the cast thentic assurance is furnished by Downes of “All is True," but among the Har- that Lowin was instructed by Shakspere leian Manuscripts there is a letter, ad- himself as to the performance of this part. dressed by the Rev. Thomas Lorkin to Lowin, born in 1576, lived to be eightySir Thomas Puckering, dated “this last two years old, became very poor in his of June, 1613,” in which a reference is latter days, kept an inn, called The Three
Pigeons, at Brentford, and died there in carded the usual wig when playing that 1658. Sir William Davenant ( 1605-68)
Davies declares that King Richard was acquainted with the acting of Lowin, the Third and King Henry the Eighth and when, in 1663, he cast the part of were garbed in something like appropriate King Henry the Eighth to Thomas Better- costume, while suitability of attire, in preton, he instructed that actor relative to the sentment of the coöperative characters, method of his admired predecessor. Bet- was for the most part disregarded.
In terton's performance was accounted essen- England, the chronicle of notable pertially royal, and the example of stalwart formers of King Henry the Eighth inpredominance, regal dignity, and bluff cludes the names of Mathew Clarke, John humor thus set has ever since been fol- Palmer, Joseph George Holman, Alexlowed. Barton Booth imitated Betterton, ander Pope, Francis Aickin, Thomas Aband when Quin assumed King Henry, he thorpe Cooper, George Frederick Cooke, avowedly, but not successfully, imitated George Barrett, John Ryder, Walter Booth. In this part, Quin is described as Lacy, William Terriss, and Arthur Bourhaving been ungraceful in manner, de- chier. ficient of the requisite facial expression, On the occasion (1663) when for the and vocally weak. Booth seems to have first time Betterton acted King Henry satisfied every requirement of it. There the Eighth, his associate and competitor was grandeur in his personality, vigor in Henry Harris acted Cardinal Wolsey, his action, and at times a menace in his doing it,” says Downes, "with such just look which inspired terror. In life, King state, port, and mien that I dare affirm Henry, as the reader of the excellent none hitherto has equaled him.” The word memoir of Wolsey by George Cavendish "hitherto" refers to the period of about clearly perceives, was essentially selfish, sixty years immediately prior to 1663, as despotic, tyrannical, capricious, and capa- to which period theatrical history affords ble of cruelty. In Shakspere's delineation comparatively little exact and particular of him, the rigor of his character and the information. Harris was a painter and a harshness of his temper have been much singer as well as an actor. He led a proflisoftened; and while he is shown as ego- gate life, but he is accredited with postistical, haughty, arbitrary, impetuous, session of dramatic talent of a high order, self-willed, and sternly regal, he is accred- and it is certain that his ability was versaited with a certain amiability, a sense of tile, for he excelled equally as Romeo and justice, good humor, and geniality of dis- Sir Andrew Aguecheek. He was one of position. It appears that he was thus the intimate friends of Samuel Pepys, the represented, with admirable fidelity and quaint diarist, and a portrait of him as effect, by Barton Booth. That actor's Wolsey is in the Pepys Library at Camenunciation of "Go thy ways, Kate," after bridge, England. Detailed description of the Queen's majestic exit from the trial his performance of the Cardinal has not scene, is mentioned as exceptionally ex- been found. He was prominently sucpressive of the King's character and hu- ceeded on the old London stage by John
Verbruggen, 1706; Colley Cibber, 1723; Specific information as to details of the Anthony Boheme, 1725; Lacy Ryan, dressing of King Henry the Eighth by the 1743; West Digges, 1772; Robert Bensactors of old cannot be obtained. Kings, ley, 1772; John Henderson, 1780; Alexon the stage, wore scarlet cloth ornamented ander Pope, 1786; John Philip Kemble, with gold lace. Sometimes an opulent 1805; Charles Mayne Young, 1844; nobleman, patron of the drama, would William Charles Macready, 1823; and give to a favorite actor the costume that Samuel Phelps, 1844. On the Dublin he had worn at the coronation of the stage Wolsey was acted by Henry Mosreigning monarch, and that was consid- sop in 1751. ered and used as an appropriate garb for Opinion as to the diversified representheatrical majesty. Burbage, if he acted tations of Wolsey that were given by King Henry, wore robes of red and gold. those actors, long past away, must necesBetterton and his followers continued the sarily be somewhat vague. Such records custom; but as it was well known that of them as exist are in almost every case King Henry wore his hair short, they dis- meager. Authorities are often misleading. Adjectives, sometimes laudatory, some- A superb portrait of Phelps as Wolsey, times condemnatory, are freely employed; by Johnston Forbes-Robertson, adorns a but at the best they seldom do more wall in the Garrick Club, London, and than convey general impressions. Few de- will preserve to a distant posterity the extails are furnished showing precisely what pressive lineaments of an authentic image the actor did and how he did it. Ver- of passionate grief commingled with desobruggen is commended as fine in Cassius, late submission. but is scarcely more than mentioned in The expedient employed by Shakspere Wolsey. He was a pleasing actor, appar- to precipitate the downfall of Wolsey, ently exuberant, lawless, and defective in that of causing the Cardinal, through art. Cibber is credited with a suave de haste and inadvertence, to inclose to King meanor and a clever assumption of crafty Henry a private letter, respecting the dideference in the trial scene; but he lacked vorce of Queen Katharine, which he had dignity, and he was incapable of a con- intended to send to the pope at Rome, vincing show of serious feeling. One re- together with an inventory of his wealth, corder thinks it worth while to mention —was drawn from Holinshed's "Chronithat when, in Wolsey's soliloquy about cle.” No such mistake was ever made by the king's marriage, he said, “This candle Wolsey, but such a mistake actually was burns not clear; 't is I must snuff it,” he made by Thomas Ruthall, who held the made a gesture with his fingers, as though office of Bishop of Durham from 1509 till he were using a candle-snuffer. Boheme 1522. That ecclesiastic had been ordered had been a sailor, and he walked with a to prepare a record of the estates of the straddle; but he was tall and of good kingdom, to be delivered to Wolsey. He presence, and he excelled in pathetic pas- told his servant to bring from his study a sages, so that his delivery of Wolsey's book bound in white vellum. The servant farewell must have been touching. Ryan obeyed, bringing, by mischance, a book, was a judicious actor, of respectable abil- bound in white vellum, which contained ities, and his performance of Wolsey was an account of Ruthall's private possescreditable. Digges marred by extrava- sions, and that volume was despatched to gance of gesture a performance which the cardinal. It appears to have shown otherwise would have been perfect. Mos- that some of the bishop's gains had been sop could express the pomp and severity of ill-gotten. Ruthall, dismayed by that unthe part, and he is praised for energetic lucky exposure of his secret affairs, soon delivery of the text. Bensley, who had afterward died of humiliation and shame. been an officer in the British army (he Expert use of that mishap is made in the served in America at one time), was a drama (Act III, Scene 2), providing one formal, correct,
conscientious actor,-a of the best pieces of the action, and, for good Malvolio,- but he did not make a the actor of Wolsey, one of the most tellspecial mark as Wolsey. Henderson, great ing passagesthe soliloquy which ends: as Shylock, Iago, and Falstaff, was only
“I shall fall notable in Wolsey for his correct elocution. Pope possessed a fine voice, but an
Like a bright exhalation in the evening, inexpressive face; he excelled, neverthe
And no man see me more." less, in pathos, and his Wolsey was effective in the scene of the great minister's Later representatives of Wolsey were fall. Kemble, Young, and Macready Charles Kean and Henry Irving, both of could not have been otherwise than im- whom acted it in America as well as in posing as the Cardinal, for each of them England. Herbert Beerbohm Tree also possessed innate dignity, ample scholar- acted it in England, but his performance ship, stately presence, and facile com- has not yet been seen in America. Kean mand of the resources of expressive art. produced “King Henry VIII” with much Phelps gave a highly intellectual, noble, splendor at the Princess's Theater, Lonaustere, touching performance of Wolsey, don, in 1855. Irving produced it at the invariable in its dignity, singularly expres- London Lyceum in 1892. When Kean, sive of a politic character, and in the in the spring of 1865, made his last proparting scene with Cromwell profoundly fessional visit to America, he began his affecting.
engagement at the theater which had been Wallack's (in Broadway, near Broome tual character, grim power, and an austere Street, New York), then called the Broad- refinement which, more than ecclesiastical, way, long ago demolished, with "King was spiritual. His aspect was noble, his Henry VIII," appearing as Wolsey, with demeanor majestic. His pale face, dark, Mrs. Kean (Ellen Tree) as Queen Kath- bright eyes, massive brow, and iron
arine, and presented, the same night, "The gray hair suited well the part. He Jealous Wife.” Irving presented "King wore robes of scarlet cloth adorned with Henry VIII" at Abbey's Theater, now lace. His manner at first was that of the Knickerbocker, New York, on Decem- repose, but it was lofty and predomber 4, 1893.
inant. The glance that he directed toCharles Kean's impersonation of Wol- ward the defiant Buckingham as he sey, which it was my privilege several paused, after partly crossing the scene, on times to see, was remarkable for intellec- his first entrance, seemed literally to pierce