Although he had not written a history play since completing Henry V (pr. c. 1598-1599, pb. 1600), near the end of his career William Shakespeare wrote one more history play, this time in collaboration with John Fletcher. Henry VIII is thus the last of Shakespeare’s histories not only in the date of its setting but also in its time of composition. The events of the play are much closer to Shakespeare’s own time than those of his other histories: Henry VIII died about eighteen years before Shakespeare was born. Moreover, Henry’s daughter Elizabeth, whose birth is hailed at the end of the play and who died in 1603, was queen of England during most of Shakespeare’s lifetime. Accordingly, Shakespeare had to treat certain political themes that might still have had current relevance more gingerly than he did events that had occurred two or three centuries before.
Another difference between Henry VIII and the rest of the history plays is its genre. By the time of the play’s composition, Shakespeare had written several of his most successful late romances, including Cymbeline (pr. c. 1609-1610, pb. 1623), The Winter’s Tale (pr. c. 1610-1611, pb. 1623), and The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623). The modes of treatment used by Shakespeare in these plays were also applied to Henry VIII. This is particularly demonstrated by the way the play ends not tragically, but amid joy and reconciliation—as...
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