Teaching Shakespeare!

A Folger Education Blog

Henry VIII: All is True?

After an incredible summer with the Teaching Shakespeare Institute, the Folger has been overtaken by Tudor-mania! The current exhibition, Vivat Rex!, commemorates the 500th anniversary of Henry’s ascension to the throne of England, and the Theatre is rehearsing Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, also known as All is True.

With all the pop-culture fervor for the polygamist king, it seems fitting that Shakespeare, too, made a contribution to the dramatic life of Henry VIII – what would have been fairly recent history to his audience. Why, though, is the original title of the play All is True?

The play covers events which took place between 1521 (with the arrest of the Duke of Buckingham) and 1536 (the death of Katherine of Aragon), but condenses the timeline so it all happens almost at once, with most of the action taking place off-stage and being described by courtly gentlemen. The characters in the play appear differently than we’re used to history portraying them. For example, Anne Boleyn (Bullen, in the play) declares vehemently that she would never want to be queen, though she marries Henry a few short scenes later.

We can’t argue with the outcomes of the events in the play – Buckingham was executed as a traitor, Katherine was disposed as Henry’s first wife, Anne did marry Henry – but we can re-imagine how they could have happened, if only for one play. If we were to write a play about recent history today, how would we tell it? What sort of politics or events would we gloss over to tell the story?

For more about the production, or activities for this play, visit the Study Guide!