Sources for Henry VIII

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Shakespeare’s primary source for Henry VIII was Holinshed’s Chronicles (second edition, 1587). He also used The Union of the two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and York (third edition, 1550), written by the English historian Edward Hall and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (fourth edition). Holinshed and Hall provided the material for the first four acts of the play and Foxe provided material for Act V. Henry VIII is the most controversial of Shakespeare’s history plays because it seems to be utterly devoid of any dramatic alterations to the sources. It lacks the creativity of Shakespeare’s other works and one is left with a sense of confusion when reading the compressed and mixed-up chronology of the events of Henry’s reign. Some scholars believe that, since the play is virtually an exact duplicate of Holinshed’s Chronicles and that there are no real exciting literary touches as found in the other history plays, Shakespeare did not write Henry VIII. Others believe that he had a co-writer, and this would explain why the scenes seem so disjointed. These theories, however, can in no way be substantiated by historical facts.