The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight

Chrzanowski 1623sThe first printing of William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII appeared in the first edition of Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, which was published in large folio format by Isaac Jaggard and associates in 1623. John Heminge and Henry Condell, two of the great playwright’s fellow actors and shareholders in the King’s Men company, led the effort. The First Folio included thirty-six of Shakespeare’s dramas, eighteen of which were new to print.

Henry VIII was perhaps Shakespeare’s last play. Criticism beginning in the 19th century makes the case that two hands were involved, the second likely being John Fletcher. Debate continues as to how much should be attributed to each playwright. It is almost certain that the drama was written for and performed in conjunction with the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I, to Prince Frederick in 1612–13 (the two would later become the King and Queen of Bohemia). The play ends with Anne Boleyn giving birth to a daughter, the baby’s christening in front of enthusiastic well-wishers, and a prediction of the future Queen Elizabeth’s glorious reign. Henry VIII is full of pomp and pageantry, which made it popular in Jacobean England and subsequent festive times in Great Britain, such as the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953.

Henry VIII’s pomp and pageantry had one lasting impact. In the fourth scene of Act I, stage directions call for “Drum and trumpet; chambers discharg’d” at the arrival of the King at Cardinal Wolsey’s banquet. A contemporary account relates that on June 29, 1613, “certain Canons being shot off at his entry, some of the Paper, or other stuff wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the Thatch, where…it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole House to the very grounds.” There was only one reported injury; Heminge, however, suffered a further loss: his tap-house, which adjoined the theater, was also destroyed.

The Globe had been built in 1599 at the expenses of shareholders in the acting company. Due to public outcry, public presentations of plays were banned within city walls, so it was sited in notorious Southwerk near the bear garden. Reputedly, the theater was also used as a brothel and a gambling house. Able to hold thousands, the Globe was the most magnificent theater in London. It was rebuilt soon after the fire (and again in the 1990s).

The present copy of Henry VIII has been extracted from the First Folio and is separately bound. The margins are restored on the first two (of fourteen) leaves with some loss of letters.

Chrzanowski 1623s *

STC 22273

Title List

1479–1550 | 1551–1580 | 1583–1608 | 1609–1675