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Book Review: Henry VIII by William Shakespeare (3/5)

15 Jan

I only picked this one because I needed a book for the time period. I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan though I’ve enjoyed his plays when performed. Reading them is never as fun. However, I’ve got my time period now and completed the 2018 When Are You Reading? Challenge so this was an overall win.

Cover image via Goodreads

Henry VIII by William Shakespeare

Other books by Shakespeare reviewed on this blog:

The Tempest

Summary from Goodreads:

Henry VIII is a history play generally believed to be a collaboration between William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, based on the life of Henry VIII of England. An alternative title, All is True, is recorded in contemporary documents, the title Henry VIII not appearing until the play’s publication in the First Folio of 1623. Stylistic evidence indicates that individual scenes were written by either Shakespeare or his collaborator and successor, John Fletcher. It is also somewhat characteristic of the late romances in its structure. It is noted for having more stage directions than any of Shakespeare’s other plays.

I didn’t know what to expect from this play. I was fairly certain that Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare were contemporaries so I wondered how he’d portray the father of the monarch. Rather favorably, it would seem. And of course, words on Anne Boylen were very favorable, as she’s the mother of the queen. The play cut off before her beheading. I tried to think what Elizabeth I would think about this play and Shakespeare’s motivation for writing it while I was reading.

Based on what I’ve read, the representation of Henry VIII was surprisingly complementary. He seems to be one who was inclined to satisfy every whim and who was quick to anger. That wasn’t his character in the story who came across as benevolent and understanding. We don’t see much of Anne Boylen so it’s hard to say if I felt she was accurate. Queen Katherine seemed in line with what I remember of her in history, pious and punished for nothing more than being old. I was surprised she was so favorably portrayed because of the drama between her and Queen Anne as they competed for Henry VIII’s affections.

I didn’t have a favorite character, really. We didn’t get very deep into anyone. This is a history play, after all. Some of the duke’s had personalities more than the historical characters I focused on because of my interest, but even then, it was minimal.

The characters in this one weren’t very relatable to me.  There wasn’t much of a personality to connect with. Again, I blame the history format.

William Shakespeare
Image via Wikipedia

I like Katherine of Aragon as a historical figure so I was intrigued by her portrayal and specifically her final scene. I felt it was well done and written in a very respectful way. I knew it was coming so it was no surprise. It made me sad for her and that was what I expected so it felt right to me.

There wasn’t a part that I particularly disliked. The scenes with all the Dukes talking was hard to follow when written but that would be easily solved with a production. Nothing struck me as annoying or poorly done, it was just that overall, it wasn’t very dramatic and it wasn’t very engaging as such.

Loyalty was very important to Henry VIII and he would punish those he felt betrayed him or committed treason in any sense. I felt this was well showcased in the book and I was glad Shakespeare touched on that. Loyalty can mean different things and be rewarded or punished in different ways. Katherine felt she was loyal but her inability to produce a male heir was punished. The Duke of Buckingham criticizes Wolsey and is punished. I saw this as a bit of a cautionary tale for anyone in contact with the royal family. Even the high can fall.

Writer’s Takeaway: As I said at the beginning, you have to keep in mind why Shakespeare wrote this play. He was educating the people about things that had happened during the reign of Henry VIII. He’s also keeping in mind that the man’s daughter was recently queen. There was an agenda in this play. That doesn’t mean it has to be devoid of characters and plot, but it can mean it’s not as strong there as other works by Shakespeare. I appreciated this for what it was and I see why Shakespeare wrote it in the light he did.

I enjoyed this play, but it would have probably been better on stage. Three out of Five Stars

This book fulfilled the final time period of 2018 When Are You Reading? Challenge, 1600-1699. I’ve now started on the 2019 challenge and I hope you’ll all join me!

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
“Henry VIII” by William Shakespeare (1613) | Fell From Fiction
Shakespeare (and Fletcher’s) Henry VIII | ConradBurnstrom
“My Drops of Tears I’ll Turn to Sparks of Fire” | What’s in a Play?