Henry VIII

April 30

June 16, 2013

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by William Shakespeare
directed by Barbara Gaines

The Globe's Own Fiery Ending

In 1599 Shakespeare's Henry V heralded the auspicious opening of a new playhouse on the south bank of the Thames called the Globe. It was followed by Shakespeare's great tragedies, mature comedies, and late romances—but not another history play until three years into his retirement to Stratford, when Shakespeare collaborated again in writing Henry VIII with the successful young playwright, John Fletcher.

In June 1613, this evidently popular play was staged on three consecutive days, filled with pageantry, pomp and gunpowder. And on the third day, June 29, 1613, precisely in Act 1, scene iv, line 49, the small canon once again celebrated Henry VIII's visit to Wolsey's house. The canon fire "…did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds." Though the audience first ignored the smoke, assuming it to be cannon smoke, the only reported incident was a pair of pants set ablaze — extinguished with ale and without injury to the wearer.

In 1614, the Globe would reopen, this time with a roof of tile. The rebuilt Globe was demolished in 1644 as a casualty of the English Civil War. In 1647 even stricter rules were passed outlawing plays and theaters, and in 1648 all playhouses were ordered to be pulled down. Actors were to be seized and whipped, and anyone caught attending a play to be fined. With the Restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, the theaters opened again but the Globe was never re–built until its reconstruction in the 1990s.

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