"Their eyes more attentive to the show": Spectacle, tragedy, and the structure of All is True (Henry VIII)

Matthew Woodcock

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4 Citations (Scopus)


This essay endeavours to reconcile two of the major strands of critical opinion on Shakespeare and Fletcher's All is True (Henry VIII): that which views it simply as a pageant play; and that which treats it as a series of individual tragedies. It argues that the playwrights repeatedly use episodes of trjavascript:void(0);agedy, and the falls from greatness of the Duke of Buckingham, Katherine of Aragon and Cardinal Wolsey, to anatomize and deconstruct the artifice of political spectacle at the Henrician court. The play's dramatic structure demonstrates how “mightiness” consistently falls into “misery”, and reveals that spectacle and tragedy are two inseparable and inexorably connected aspects of royal power and its representation. Sir Henry Wotton's account of how the Globe theatre burnt down during a 1613 performance of All is True refers to playgoers being distracted by the spectacles on stage and overlooking the smouldering fire, their eyes being “more attentive to the show”. This essay maintains that the play, and the experience of the 1613 playgoers, offers a lesson in vigilance and discernment when presented with the distractions of courtly spectacle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011

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