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Undiscovered Shakespeare: Henry VIII

February 21 @ 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm  |  Virtual Event


Join Santa Cruz Shakespeare, the UCSC Shakespeare Workshop, and The Humanities Institute, as we launch Undiscovered Shakespeare: Henry VIII, the fourth installment of our annual virtual Shakespeare program.

Register for all sessions here:


About Henry VIII:
Early in its first run in 1613, Henry VIII (1613) set the world on fire – if by “world” we mean The Globe, the theater in which Shakespeare’s company had performed since 1599. A stage canon set alight the building’s thatch roof and supporting timbers.

The play focuses on the fall of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s closest advisor, on Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, and on the first stirrings of the English Reformation under Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury who gave us the Book of Common Prayer, before it culminates in the birth of Elizabeth I. In part, this play is about Henry’s effort to emerge from the shadow of his courtiers and determine his own fate as a king. In part, it is about the way that it feels to be on the losing end of history’s epoch-making struggles and how the theater might help us to acknowledge and commemorate those losses so that they don’t come back to haunt the future.

This is a most unusual play, unlike Shakespeare’s earlier meditations on the history of the English monarchy. Despite being very popular through the nineteenth century, Henry VIII is rarely seen in performance today, despite the current interest in television programs, films, and novels about the Tudor dynasty. This three-part, virtual reading, (February 21 and 28 and March 6) which is the fourth installment Undiscovered Shakespeare, a collaboration between Santa Cruz Shakespeare, The Humanities Institute, and UCSC Shakespeare Workshop, brings Shakespeare’s last history play alive again.

Come one, come all, for live theater and for lively conversation with actors, scholars, and each other!

Undiscovered Shakespeare is a public arts and humanities series co-produced by Santa Cruz Shakespeare, UCSC Shakespeare Workshop, and The Humanities Institute. It brings professional actors and scholars together with the public for a staged reading and discussion of works by Shakespeare that are rarely produced.

Episode 1: February 21, 2024, 7:00pm-9:00pm
Buckingham (Prologue through Act 2, Scene 1)
The play opens in the summer of 1520. Henry VIII has just returned from France, where he was attending The Field of the Cloth of Gold: a diplomatic summit and extravagant display of wealth, organized by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey to make peace between Henry and the French king, Francois I. The Duke of Buckingham and other English nobles resent the favor that Henry bestows on Wolsey, a commoner. Among themselves, they accuse the Cardinal of usurping the King’s sovereign powers, but soon it is Buckingham who finds himself on trial for treason. Queen Katherine warns Henry that excessive taxes, attributed to Wolsey’s influence at court, have brought his subjects to the brink of rebellion.

Episode 2: February 28, 2024, 7:00pm-9:00pm
Katharine and Wolsey (Act 2, Scene 2 through Act 3, Scene 2)
When Anne Boleyn enters King Henry’s life, he begins to search for valid reasons to annul his marriage to Queen Katherine, who has been his wife for twenty-four years. The Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk blame Henry’s change of heart on Wolsey. The Queen defends her marriage before the Pope’s legate, but the union is dissolved. Norfolk and Suffolk reveal the Cardinal’s enormous private wealth to the King. Wolsey understands his goose is cooked and reflects philosophically on his impending fall from grace with Thomas Cromwell, his loyal servant.

Episode 3: March 6, 2024, 7:00pm-9:00pm
Cranmer (Act 4, Scene 1 through Epilogue)
After Wolsey’s fall and death, King Henry finds a new spiritual advisor in Thomas Cranmer, the reformist Archbishop of Canterbury. He also appoints Thomas Cromwell, Wolsey’s servant, as his personal secretary and member of the Privy Council. Off stage, Anne Boleyn is crowned Queen, while Katherine dies of a broken heart before our eyes. Stephen Gardiner, the Bishop of Winchester and the enemy of Queen Anne, plots the downfall Cranmer and Cromwell, her allies, but King Henry outmaneuvers him, foiling the plot and demonstrating his superiority to his advisors. As the play ends, the year must be 1533, because the Queen gives birth to a daughter, Elizabeth. Cranmer prophesies a golden future for England that, by the time Shakespeare wrote this play, already belonged to England’s past.


February 21
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm