Henry VIII

The Torrington Diaries

Source: C. Bruyn Andrews (ed., abridged into one by volume by Fanny Andrews), The Torrington Diaries: A selection from the tours of the Hon. John Byng (later Fifth Viscount Torrington) between the years 1781 and 1794 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode), pp. 479-480

Production: John Fletcher/William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Drury Lane, London, 14 May 1794

Text: May 14th. My next morning was employ’d in walking about my detestation, London; waiting upon my lawyer; and lounging about till what I thought a good hour of dining: When I put in at the Piazza Coffee House Covent Garden and had the room to myself at such an unatural hour: Thence like an old country put, I adjourned to Drury Lane Playhouse where I enjoy’d the highly wrought exhibition of Mrs Siddons’s performance in Catherine in Henry 8th, altho’ lost and sent to waste in this wild wide theatre, where close observation cannot be maintain’d, nor quick applause received!

Restore me, ye overuling powers to the drama, to the warm close, observant, seats of Old Drury where I may comfortably criticise and enjoy the delights of scenic fancy: These now are past! The nice discriminations, of the actors face, and of the actors feeling, are now all lost in the vast void of the new theatre of Drury Lane.

Garrick – thou didst retire at the proper time – for wer’t thou restor’d to the stage, in vain, would now thy finesse, thy bye play, thy whisper, thy aside, and even thine eye, assist thee.

Thus do I crawl about in London I Where are my old friends? All gone before me!!! Where are thy new ones? Why, they understand me not; they speak a new language, they prescribe fashions, I think they do not understand comforts. ‘Why here is a fine theatre,’ say they? ‘Aye, it may be fine, it may be magnificent; but I neither hear, nor see in it! !’ ‘Thats your misfortune.’ ‘So it is I allow; but not yet my failing.’

‘Does it proceed from the narrowness of my faculties; or the width of your new stage? Answer me that? Is my decrease equal to your increase?’ No; No; fill your stage with monsters – gigantic cars, and long train’d processions – whilst the air vibrates with the sound of trumpets, and kettle drums: These will beat all your actors, and actresses out of the field. Who will listen to, or who can hear the soliloquies of Shakespeare, the inward terrors of the mind-perturbed imaginations and the strugglings of a guilty conscience?

To see a fellow hunting a dagger about the stage; or an old princess wasting in a great chair?

Who will go hereafter to see their tiresome attitudes? To hear them none will attempt, so let us have the battlements, the combat, the sulphur, the torches, the town in flames, and the chorus.

The countryman came home; and went early to bed.

Comments: John Byng, Fifth Viscount Torrington (1743-1813) produced several volumes of diaries covering the period 1781–1794, during which he travelled all over England and Wales. The production of Henry VIII was a redaction of Shakespeare and Fletcher’s original, undertaken by Charles Kemble, who played Cromwell. His sister, Sarah Siddons, played Katherine. Byng saw it at Drury Lane Theatre, London on 14 May 1794. The third theatre on the Drury Lane site had opened on 12 March 1794, having replaced the previous Theatre Royal which closed in 1791. The new theatre could seat 3,611 people, as opposed to the 2,000 offered by its previous incarnation.

The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton

Source: Sir Henry Wotton to Sir Edmund Bacon, letter dated 2 July 1613, reproduced in Logan Pearsall Smith (ed.), The Life and Letters of Sir Henry Wotton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), vol. II, pp. 32-33

Production: John Fletcher/William Shakespare, Henry VIII, Globe theatre, London, 29 June 1613

Text: Sir,

Whereas I wrote unto you, that I would be at Cambridge as on Saturday next, I am now cast off again till the King’s return to London, which will be about the middle of the week following. The delay grows from a desire of seeing Albertus his business settled before we come unto you, where we mean to forget all the world besides. Of this we shall bring you the account.

Now, to let matters of state sleep, I will entertain you at the present with what hath happened this week at the Bank’s side. The King’s players had a new play, called All is true, representing some principal pieces of the reign of Henry VIII, which was set forth with many extraordinary circumstances of pomp and majesty, even to the matting of the stage; the Knights of the Order with their Georges and garters, the Guards with their embroidered coats, and the like: sufficient in truth within a while to make greatness very familiar, if not ridiculous. Now, King Henry making a masque at the Cardinal Wolsey’s house, and certain chambers being shot off at his entry, some of the paper, or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the thatch, where being thought at first but an idle smoke, and their eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds.

This was the fatal period of that virtuous fabric, wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks; only one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit put it out with bottle ale. The rest when we meet; till when, I protest every minute is the siege of Troy. God’s dear blessings till then and ever be with you.

Your poor uncle and faithful servant,

Henry Wotton

Comments: Henry Wotton (1568-1639) was an English poet and diplomat. Edmund Bacon was his nephew. The Globe theatre was built in 1599 for Shakespeare’s company, the Lord Chamberlain’s men, and burned down during a performance of Henry VIII on 29 June 1613. Wotton gives the title of the play as All is True, which was adopted as its title by the Oxford edition of the plays in 1986. The Globe was rebuilt in 1614, closed down in 1642 and pulled down around 1644-45.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive

Pepys’ Diary

Source: Diary of Samuel Pepys, 1 January 1664

Production: John Fletcher/William Shakespeare (adap. William Davenant), Henry VIII, Lincoln’s Fields theatre, London, 1 January 1664

Text: Thence to my uncle Wight’s, where Dr. of ——, among others, dined, and his wife, a seeming proud conceited woman, I know not what to make of her, but the Dr’s. discourse did please me very well about the disease of the stone, above all things extolling Turpentine, which he told me how it may be taken in pills with great ease. There was brought to table a hot pie made of a swan I sent them yesterday, given me by Mr. Howe, but we did not eat any of it. But my wife and I rose from table, pretending business, and went to the Duke’s house, the first play I have been at these six months, according to my last vowe, and here saw the so much cried-up play of “Henry the Eighth;” which, though I went with resolution to like it, is so simple a thing made up of a great many patches, that, besides the shows and processions in it, there is nothing in the world good or well done. Thence mightily dissatisfied back at night to my uncle Wight’s, and supped with them, but against my stomach out of the offence the sight of my aunt’s hands gives me, and ending supper with a mighty laugh, the greatest I have had these many months, at my uncle’s being out in his grace after meat, we rose and broke up, and my wife and I home and to bed, being sleepy since last night.

Comments: Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was a British naval administrator and diarist. He saw Shakespeare and Fletcher‘s Henry VIII, presumably in William Davenant‘s adaptation, at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre, London on 1 January 1664. Thomas Betterton played Henry.

Links: http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1664/01/01

Roscius Anglicanus

Source: John Downes, Roscius Anglicanus, or, An historical review of the stage (London: H. Playford, 1708), p. 24

Production: John Fletcher/William Shakespeare (adap. William Davenant), Henry VIII, Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, London, December 1663

Text: King Henry the 8th, This Play, by Order of Sir William Davenant, was all new Cloath’d in proper Habits: The King’s was new, all the Lords, the Cardinals, the Bishops, the Doctors, Proctors, Lawyers, Tip-staves, new Scenes: The part of the King was so right and justly done by Mr. Betterton, he being Instructed in it by Sir William, who had it from Old Mr. Lowen, that had his Instructions from Mr. Shakespear himself, that I dare and will aver, none can, or will come near him in this Age, in the performance of that part: Mr. Harris‘s performance of Cardinal Wolsey, was little Inferior to that, he doing it with such just State, Port and Mein, that I dare affirm, none hitherto has Equall’d him: The Duke of Buckingham by Mr. Smith; Norfolk, by Mr. Nokes; Suffolk, by Mr. Lilliston; Cardinal Campeius and Cramnur, by Mr. Medburn; Bishop Gardiner, by Mr. Underhill; Earl of Surry, by Mr. Young; Lord Sands by Mr. Price; Mrs. Betterton, Queen Catherine: Every part by the great Care of Sir William, being exactly perform’d; t being all new Cloath’d and new Scenes; it continu’d Acting 15 Days together with general Applause.

Comments: John Downes (?-1719) was an author and theatre prompter at the Duke’s Theatre, the United Company and Thomas Betterton‘s King’s Company. He wrote a history of the English stage 1660-1706, Roscius Anglicanus, a mixture of notes, anecdotes and cast lists which is a major source of information on the Restoration theatre. The production of Henry VIII at Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, London, was presumably adapted by William Davenant, the supposed illegitimate son of William Shakespeare and certainly a major advocate and adapter of Shakespeare’s works. He was manager of the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre. John Lowin was an actor for Shakespeare in the King’s Men. Thomas Betterton (1635-1710) was the leading actor of the Restoration period. Among the other actors named are Mary Saunderson (Mrs Betterton), Henry Harris, William Smith and James Nokes. The production opened on 22 December 1663.

Links: Copy at the Internet Archive (1886 facsimile edition, edited by Joseph Knight)