Possible Pasts: Historiography and Legitimation in Henry VIII
Ivo Kamps, University of Mississippi
The methods and politics of history writing intrigued Shakespeare throughout his career as a dramatist. Among his earliest plays, Shakespeare's first tetralogy already offers a full-blown conception of the shape of English history, interlacing Machiavellian ideas, providentialism, and Tudor ideology (see Rackin 27-9). The second tetralogy, culminating in Henry V, successfully dramatized a more complex grasp of the past, tarnishing the popular Elizabethan notion of the "great man" who bends history to his will (see Kamps 94-104). Even in a late romance such as The Tempest we discover that Shakespeare frames the basic conflict between Prospero and Caliban in terms of Prospero's "history" of his tenure on the island and Caliban's account of the same events (see Barker and Hulme). Other examples of Shakespeare's fascination with things historiographical are plentiful in the Roman plays and througout his oeuvre, but nowhere is his interst in the nuances of the production of historical accounts more pronounced and more thoughtfully treated than in Henry VIII (1613), a dramatic collaboration with John Fletcher. Deeply steeped in the historiographical developments that occurred in sixteenthand early seventeenth-century England, this play appropriates and dramatizes various contradictory historiographical methods and bespeaks a decisive break with official Tudor ways of thinking about the English past.