In Henry VIII, Shakespeare presents a monarchy in crisis. Noblemen battle with Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey, who taxes the people to the point of rebellion. Witnesses whom Wolsey brings against the Duke of Buckingham claim he is conspiring to take the throne, yet Buckingham seems innocent as he goes to his death.
Henry is also without a male heir. After meeting the beautiful Anne Bullen, he says that he suspects his current marriage to Katherine, with whom he has one surviving daughter, is invalid. Katherine, meanwhile, glows with such splendid integrity that actresses have long desired the role. She advocates for the people, suspects the witnesses against Buckingham, and eloquently defends her conduct as Henry’s wife.
The authoritative edition of Henry VIII from The Folger Shakespeare Library, the trusted and widely used Shakespeare series for students and general readers, includes:
-Freshly edited text based on the best early printed version of the play -Full explanatory notes conveniently placed on pages facing the text of the play -Scene-by-scene plot summaries -A key to the play’s famous lines and phrases -An introduction to reading Shakespeare’s language -An essay by a leading Shakespeare scholar providing a modern perspective on the play -Fresh images from the Folger Shakespeare Library’s vast holdings of rare books -An annotated guide to further reading
Essay by Barbara A. Mowat
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William Shakespeare was born in April 1564 in the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, on England’s Avon River. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway. The couple had three children—an older daughter Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died in childhood. The bulk of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in the theater world of London, where he established himself professionally by the early 1590s. He enjoyed success not only as a playwright and poet, but also as an actor and shareholder in an acting company. Although some think that sometime between 1610 and 1613 Shakespeare retired from the theater and returned home to Stratford, where he died in 1616, others believe that he may have continued to work in London until close to his death.