Henry VIII

April 30

June 16, 2013

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by William Shakespeare
directed by Barbara Gaines

Playgoer's Guide

The St​ory

Lord Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, now perhaps the richest man in the kingdom, is hated by England’s nobility. The low-born Wolsey remains the power behind the throne, and he wields it for his own gain. The Duke of Buckingham attempts to warn the king of Wolsey’s trespasses, but the Lord Cardinal strikes first, accusing Buckingham of placing himself as the rightful successor to the throne if Henry produces no heir; Buckingham is charged with high treason.

Queen Katherine is the first of the king’s six wives—and widow to Henry’s elder brother, who died in his adolescence. Through eight pregnancies, Katherine has given birth to only one child still living, Princess Mary. Henry fears that this marriage to a brother’s widow must exist against the will of heaven and, with Wolsey’s help, he looks to Rome to annul his twenty-year marriage. With his eye on the papacy for himself, Wolsey handpicks England’s future queen from France’s Catholic royal family, but Henry’s eye strays elsewhere—to the beauty of the English, and decidedly Protestant, Anne Boleyn, whom he first meets at Wolsey’s palace.

It appears that Wolsey’s power is limitless, until evidence of his unbounded ambition and double-dealings land back in Henry’s hands. The dissolution of a marriage—and a revolution within the Church—follow, along with a new bride and the birth of a princess named Elizabeth. Here, before an audience that knows well the story’s “real” ending, Henry VIII: All Is True draws to a close, revealing the nuances of history and myth—and the refusal of our experiences, memories and imaginative powers to be neatly categorized for long.

A Play Tur​ns 400

In 1613 with “All Is True” (titled “The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight” ten years later when the play is first published in the First Folio), Shakespeare returns to the subject of England’s history—a form that that he had re-imagined and virtually invented early in his career but had abandoned fourteen years earlier after writing Henry V. And while Shakespeare’s name alone appears in the First Folio edition, scholars are certain that this late play was a collaboration with the younger John Fletcher, who would succeed Shakespeare as the principal playwright for the King’s Men. Theater is always a collaborative art, but in early modern England, it is understood by scholars that perhaps as many as two-thirds of the plays being created in this prolific period were written by multiple authors. It was the last play to be staged in the original Globe—burnt to the ground on June 29, 1613, by a five-word stage direction in Act 1: “Drum and trumpet, chambers discharg’d.”

Timeline of Ev​ents

Henry VII dies; Henry, Prince of Wales (age 18) succeeds his father as King Henry VIII
Henry VIII marries his brother’s widow, Katherine of Aragon
Eldest child of Henry VIII born, the future Queen Mary
Riots in London; 60 rioters hanged by Cardinal Wolsey’s orders
Sir Thomas More elected Speaker of the House of Commons
Henry VIII explains to nobles and citizens of London his motives for seeking divorce from 
Cardinal Wolsey falls from power; Sir Thomas More made Lord Chancellor
Wolsey dies after being arrested as traitor
Henry VIII recognized as Supreme Head of the Church of England
Henry VIII secretly marries Anne Boleyn
Thomas Cranmer becomes Archibishop of Canterbury, declaring marriage between Henry and Catherine void
Henry VIII excommunicated by Pope
Future Queen Elizabeth 1, daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, born
Catherine of Aragon dies
Queen Anne Boleyn sent to Tower of London and executed
Henry VIII marries his third wife, Jane Seymour
Queen Jane Seymour dies after birth of Prince Edward (later Edward VI)
Henry VIII marries fourth wife, Anne of Cleves; marriage annulled
Henry marries his fifth wife, Catherine Howard
Thomas Cromwell executed
Queen Catherine sent to the Tower; her alleged lovers are executed
Queen Catherine executed
Henry VIII marries sixth wife, Catherine Parr, who survives him
Henry VIII dies; succeeded by son with Jane Seymour, Edward VI (age 9)
Edward VI dies (age 17)
Lady Jane Grey proclaimed Queen; deposed nine days later
Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon, crowned Queen
Lady Jane Grey executed
Princess Elizabeth sent to the Tower
Queen Mary dies; succeeded by Elizabeth I.


Back to Henry VIII

Additional Pages