Henry VIII - Arkangel Cast, William Shakespeare Make no mistake, Henry VIII is not a "bad" play. It rates 2 stars only because it doesn't hold up against the 3- and 4-star ratings I've given other Shakespeare plays here on my shelves.

The biggest problem Henry VIII has is a lack of focus and/or a central character.

In terms of focus, we go from Katherine's divorce to Wolsey's downfall to Cranmer's rise to Elizabeth's baptism. All in five acts. There's too much here to adequately develop in the scope of a single play; even in the hands of a master like the Bard.

In terms of characters, there a several good potentials here, Katherine and Wolsey standing out above all others. Both get some good scenes and some good monologues like their confrontation in Act 3, scene 1: Katherine protests that she is a "mere woman" and Wolsey pretends to be her friend with only her best interests at heart:

Wolsey: Noble lady,/ I am sorry my integrity should breed,/ and service to his majesty and you,/ so deep suspicion, where all faith was meant./ We come not by the way of accusation,/ to taint that honour every good tongue blesses,/ nor to betray you any way to sorrow - / you have too much, good lady - / but to know/ how you stand minded in the weighty difference/ between the king and you, and to deliver,/ like free and honest men, our just opinions/ and comforts to your cause....

Katherine: (aside) To betray me. - / My lords, I thank you both for your good wills;/ ye speak like honest men: pray God, ye prove so!/ But how to make ye suddenly an answer,/ in such a point of weight, so near mine honour,/ more near my life, I fear, with my weak wit,/ and to such men of gravity and learning,/ in truth, I know not..../ Alas, I am a woman, friendless, hopeless!


And there's Wolsey's leave-taking of Cromwell in scene 2 of that act.

The overall effect of the play, though, is diluted and weak even if there are good parts to be found.