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Holinshed hastily, the authors transformed his phrase 'bottom of my conscience' into 'bosom of my conscience' (II. iv. 180) and his noun chattels, which he spells 'cattels,' into 'castles' (III. ii. 344). Slips like these all favor the assumption that for some reason a new play was required and authors set to work at full speed to produce one. It was written to be played, not to be read, and such errors as the foregoing, are, from the point of view of the audience, immaterial. The wonder is, not that the play is so poor, but that it is so good. The authors have succeeded in constructing a drama with pageant-like scenes and a few opportunities for good actors. These were the characteristics of it from the very beginning. According to contemporary accounts Burbage himself played in it, and Wotton stresses the elaborateness of the costumes. And these are the characteristics that have caused it to be revived over and over again. Pepys saw the great production in 1664, when Betterton played the King; Harris, Wolsey; Smith, Buckingham; and Mrs. Betterton, Queen Katharine. His comment is unfavorable:
‘But my wife and I rose from table, pretending business, and went to the Duke's house (Lincoln's Inn Fields), the first play I have been at these six months, according to my last vowe, and here saw the so much cried-up play of “Henry the Eighth"; which, though I went with resolution to like it, is so simple a thing made up of a great many patches, that, besides the shows and procession in it, there is nothing in the world good or well done. Thence mightily dissatisfied back at night to my uncle Wight's.
Four years later, however, he is not so fastidious:
‘After dinner, my wife and I to the Duke's playhouse, and there did see “King Harry the Eighth”; and was mightily pleased, better than I ever expected, with the history and the shows of it.'
There were at least twelve revivals in the eighteenth century. In 1727 was the famous one at Drury Lane, at which the management spent £1000 on the coronation scene alone. Most of the great actors and actresses are associated with it, and theatrical anecdote concerning the business used by them is still current. When Colley Cibber declaimed the lines
This candle burns not clear; 'tis I must snuff it;
Then out it goes . . . (III. ii. 97) he imitated snuffing a candle with a pair of snuffers!
The same popularity continued in the nineteenth century; Kemble, Kean and Macready starred in it, and Mrs. Siddons made a traditionally great Queen Katharine. In more recent times Irving gave a great production of it in 1892 at the Lyceum; he himself played Wolsey; Ellen Terry, Katharine; and Forbes Robertson, Buckingham. And it was Henry VIII that Beerbohm Tree brought to New York to celebrate Shakespeare's tercentenary in 1916, a choice that must have made Shakespeare turn in his grave! This production, also, stressed the scenic values of the play, more than the acting.
AUTHORSHIP OF THE PLAY
The question of the authorship of Henry VIII is still partly unsolved. It is assigned to Shakespeare chiefly because it appears in the First Folio of 1623. That was edited by Heminges and Condell, two actors who had been in Shakespeare's company and who, by contemporary reports, had had parts in this particular play. The assumption is that when it is classed by them among Shakespeare's plays, they knew what they were talking about. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that the publication of the First Folio was a commercial venture, involving separate copyrights, and that, while the play, Henry VIII, was undoubtedly played by Shakespeare's company, it does not necessarily follow that he wrote the whole of it, the major part of it, or even any of it at all. As early as 1758 it was remarked that certain parts of the play have metrical peculiarities unlike Shakespeare's style. But it was not until a hundred years later that James Spedding, led by a remark of the poet Tennyson, made a careful investigation, and published his results in the Gentleman's Magasine, in 1850. Aside from subtler criteria, the great test is the proportionately large use of the eleven syllable line, the so-called feminine ending. As an example chosen at random, take the Chamberlain's speech in I. iii. The extra syllables are italicized. 'As far as I can see, all the good our English Have got by the late voyage is but merely A fit or two o'the face; but they are shrewd ones; For when they hold 'em, you would swear directly Their very noses had been counsellors To Pepin or Clotharius, they keep state so.'
It is easy to rewrite this without many such endings.
It is not the question whether one type of verse is better than the other,-in the passage selected, neither is particularly good,—the point is that whereas Shakespeare in his known works uses this extra syllable comparatively rarely, such frequent use of the extra syllable is the characteristic of the style of Shakespeare's great contemporary dramatist, John Fletcher. The reader can amuse himself by testing the lines. Spedding drew up the following table: Act Scene Lines Red. Syll. Proportion Author 1 1
225 63 1 to 3.5 Shakespeare 2
215 74 1 to 2.9 Shakespeare 3 & 4 172 100 I to 1.7 Fletcher 1
164 97 1 to 1.6 Fletcher 2
129 77 1 to 1.6 Fletcher 3
107 41 1 to 2.6 Shakespeare 4
230 72 1 to 3.1 Shakespeare 3 1
166 119 1 to 1.3 Fletcher 2 (to King's
exit) 193 62 1 to 3 Shakespeare 3
257 152 1 to 1.6 Fletcher 1
116 57 1 to 2 Fletcher 2
80 51 1 to 1.5 Fletcher 3
93 51 1 to 1.8 Fletcher 5 1 176 68 1 to 2.5 Shakespeare
217 115 1 to 1.8 Fletcher 3 almost all prose
73 44 1 to 1.6 Fletcher
To account for the conditions as shown in the table above there are only three possible explanations. (1) Shakespeare wrote the whole play but for some un
accountable reason in many of the scenes imitated the style of Fletcher. This is the explanation given by Sir Sidney Lee. (2) Shakespeare and Fletcher collaborated. Collaboration between two or more playwrights was very common in the Elizabethan age. But here almost every great scene is written by Fletcher. If Henry VIII was a 'new' play in 1618, Shakespeare had already written Macbeth, Hamlet, and Lear; he was a veteran dramatist with an established reputation. The question consequently arises why under these circumstances the younger writer should take all the great opportunities and the older do merely the filling in. (3) Shakespeare had no hand in the play whatever; it was merely played under his direction. The non-Fletcherian scenes are not by Shakespeare, but by Massinger. This explanation was suggested in the eighties of the last century by Mr. Robert Boyle. It has recently been argued by Mr. H. Dugdale Sykes, largely on the ground of coincidences of phrasing between Henry VIII and Massinger's known plays. It may be interesting to compare the table made by Mr. Sykes with the table of Spedding. Prologue
Fletcher Act 1, Sc. 1
Massinger & Fletcher
Massinger & Fletcher Act 2, Sc. 1
Massinger & Fletcher 2
Massinger Act 3, Sc. 1
Massinger & Fletcher 2 (to exit of King)
Massinger (from exit of King) Fletcher Act 4, Sc. 1
Massinger & Fletcher Act 5, Sc. 1
Massinger & Fletcher