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THE FABLE AND COMPOSITION
KING HENRY VIII.
WE are unacquainted with any dramatic piece on the subject of Henry VIII. that preceded this of Shakspeare; and yet on the books of the Stationers' Company appears the following entry : "Nathaniel Butter] (who was one of our author's printers) Feb. 12, 1604. That he get good allowance for the enterlude of K. Henry VIII. before he begin to print it; and with the wardens hand to yt, he is to have the same for his copy." Dr. Farmer in a note on the epilogue to this play, observes from Stowe, that Robert Greene had written somewhat on the same story. STEEVENS.
This historical drama comprizes a period of twelve years, commencing in the twelfth year of King Henry's reign, (1521,) and ending with the christening of Elizabeth in 1533. Shakspeare has deviated from history in placing the death of Queen Katharine before the birth of Elizabeth, for in fact Katharine did not die till 1536.
King Henry VIII. was written, I believe, in 1601. See An Attempt to ascertain the Order of Shakspeare's Plays, vol. ix.
Dr. Farmer in a note on the epilogue observes from Stowe, that "Robert Greene had written something on this story;" but this, I apprehend, was not a play, but some historical account of Henry's reign, written not by Robert Greene, the dramatick poet, but by some other person. In the list of "authors out of whom Stowe's Annals were compiled," prefixed to the last edition printed in his b
life time, quarto, 1605, Robert Greene is enumerated with Robert de Brun, Robert Fabian, &c. and he is often quoted as an authority for facts in the margin of the history of that reign. MALONE.
The play of Henry the Eighth is one of those which still keeps possession of the stage, by the splendour of its pageantry. The coronation, (in act 4.) some years ago, drew the people together in multitudes for a great part of the winter. Yet pomp is not the only merit of this play. The meek sorrows and virtuous distress of Katharine have furnished some scenes, which may be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of tragedy. But the genius of Shakspeare comes in and goes out with Katharine. Every other part may be justly conceived and easily written. JOHNSON.
The historical dramas are now concluded, of which the two parts of Henry the Fourth, and Henry the Fifth, are among the happiest of our author's compositions; and King John, Richard the Third, and Henry the Eighth, deservedly stand in the second class. Those whose curiosity would refer the historical scenes to their original, may consult Holinshed, and sometimes Hall: from Holinshed Shakspeare has often inserted whole speeches with no more alteration than was necessary to the numbers of his verse. JOHNSON.
I come no more to make you laugh; things now, That bear a weighty and a serious brow, Sad, high, and working, full of state and woe, Such noble scenes as draw the eye to flow, We now present. Those, that can pity, here May, if they think it well, let fall a tear; The subject will deserve it. Such, as give Their money out of hope they may believe, May here find truth too. Those, that come to see
Only a show or two, and so agree,
The play may pass; if they be still, and willing,
Our own brains, and the opinion that we bring,
As they were living; think, you see them great,
KING HENRY VIII.
ACT I. SCENE I.
LONDON. AN ANTECHAMBER IN THE PALACE.
Enter the Duke of Norfolk, at one door; at the other, the Duke of Buckingham, and the Lord Abergavenny.
Buck. Good morrow, and well met. How have you done,
Since last we saw in France?
Nor. I thank your grace: Healthful; and ever since, a fresh admirer Of what I saw there.
Nor. 'Twixt Guynes and Arde: I was then present, saw them salute on horseback; Beheld them, when they lighted, how they clung In their embracement, as they grew together; Which had they, what four thron'd ones could have weigh'd
Such a compounded one?