Monday, July 25, 2011

Henry VII

(originally asked on Twitter, so my followers there who are about to click into the story and possibly see no new content...)

My daughter asked me this weekend about the Henry plays. I think she's fascinated by the Roman numerals, especially given how I say "Henry the fourth" but then I say "Henry vee".

She'd like to know why there was a 4, 5, 6 and 8 ... but no 7.  So, I asked on Twitter.  Here's the responses I've gotten so far, in no particular order:

  • "He was boring?"
  • "Richard III could, if you squint just right, be called Henry VII..."
  • "perhaps b/c the latter part of his reign was characterised by a financial rapacity which stretched the bounds of legality."
  • "Maybe he just didn't get to it-- not so safe while Elizabeth lived, judging from R3, and once James was on the throne, Henry VIII was more useful for praising both James and Elizabeth."
  • "most likely since HVII was politically "tricky". Even HVIII was tricky to do with AB's daughter on throne. He was savvy."
  • "Some ppl thought HVII not "regal" or "noble" enough for throne & he stole it. best avoid topic. Earlier Hs no prob so long."
I've often said that I'm weak in the histories - not to mention, the *actual* history.  Feel free to expand on any of the above ideas, or contribute new ones.  I don't think that his having stolen the throne, or stretched the bounds of legality, would necessarily have meant that there was no good story there to tell.  But from my limited understanding of the political families, I can understand the idea of Shakespeare simply not being allowed to tell a story that was anything less than positive.


Cass said...

Henry VII's life, after becoming king, wasn't particularly dramatic. He wasn't a flashy personality, but he was actually a pretty good king. He improved the English economy. He restored political stability. He made good foreign alliances (though not always happy personal unions) through his children's marriages. The only thing that happened during his reign with any dramatic potential was the Perkin Warbeck pretender to the throne (and my grad program's director actually wrote an early-modern-style play, The Brats of Clarence, based on that incident). H7's reign was kind of the denouement of the Wars of the Roses -- good for England, not great for the stage.

Also, to whoever on Twitter guessed about political appropriateness -- Henry VIII wasn't written until after Elizabeth's death. You couldn't get anything involving a living monarch past the Master of the Revels -- unless you cloaked it in Faerie-Queene-esque allegory, of course -- and involving immediate relations was frowned upon as well.

Shakespeare also didn't write H8 by himself -- it was a collaboration with John Fletcher, and written after Shakespeare's probable "retirement". So, it's not too surprising that it doesn't fit the mold of his other history plays, or that he chose to skip over H7 in favour of H8. It doesn't seem that it was ever really intended to be "in sequence" the way the tetralogies are.

kj said...

I'd just like to clarify my comment (and then comment on Cass' excellent comment).

At the end of Richard III—I hope I'm not giving away any spoilers here—the character called Richmond comes to the throne as King Henry VII. The play is usually called The Tragedy of Richard III, but it might, in a sense, also go under the title The Famous Victory of Henry VII.

Cass has some marvelous things to say. I'd just like to add that there was a terrific play (in two parts, no less) printed only a couple of years after Queen Elizabeth I's death: If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody by Thomas Heywood. It's amazing that such a work could have been published so soon after a reigning monarch's death—but even that was after, not before, her reign came to an end.

Of course, Elizabeth found herself in plays that were ostensibly about other monarchs: "I am Richard the Second; know ye not that?"

Great question, Shakespeare Geek! Keep 'em comin'!


Duane said...

"Great question, Shakespeare Geek! Keep 'em comin'!"

That one came straight from my 9yr old, seriously. Good ideas can come from anywhere!

kj said...

Great Question, Geeklet! Keep 'em comin'!


Alexi said...

The future Henry VII appears briefly in a scene of Henry VI, Part 3, during which Henry VI prophecies over "Young Richmond" that he will bring happy days of prosperity to England. After introducing Richmond in Henry VI, Part 3, and bringing about his victory in Richard III, I don't think Shakespeare felt the need to dramatize the peaceful and fairly smooth reign of this monarch. He certainly didn't give him enough personality in his previous appearances to warrant a play of his own.