An Excerpt from
An Evening with Henry VIII:
One-Man Show & "Pocket Musical" Versions
This play came about in the first instance simply because I became aware that Henry VIII had himself composed a fair amount of music (which I rather liked), and it occurred to me that a one-man show of Henry coming forth to sing his songs and provide his own version of his life and loves could make for a viable evening of theatre. I am deeply indebted to the gifted dramaturg Jaz Dorsey for suggesting that I could take this theme considerably further by introducing his wives onstage as well. This led to my writing "cameo roles" for each of Henry's six wives, in which each one provided her "take" on Henry's version. And it also led to my creating additional cameo roles for five of Henry's ministers, once again at Jaz's suggestion thus providing a total of twelve speaking and singing roles and six dancing partners. At a New York reading all six of the wives were played by a single actress.
This is probably something of a specialist play for university or early music audiences, since not everyone enjoys the music from Henry's time as much as I do. But this music occupies a connecting position between earlier a cappella works and later Elizabethan revelry and ribaldry, and the recent surge in popularity for the earlier Gregorian a cappella work suggests that Henry's time may yet overtake us. A tape of the musical selections comes with the script.
HENRY: I know all the lies you have heard about me, but do not dare to claim that I lacked respect for womenfolk, for I need not have married Catherine at all. She was six years older than myself--did you know that? Indeed, many in the Church advised against it, and in point of fact only when the Pope himself uttered his divine sanction--as we saw it then--was I free to show my respect both for Catherine and for my late brother by making his widow my wife. And by that marriage, by that Pope's unfortunate decree, by that act of respect for the totality of womankind--all of it so well intentioned--we laid the ground for everything evil that ensued.
(slides of Elizabeth Blount and various other court beauties appear on a screen)
HENRY: But think not that everything at court was pomp and politics. We also had time for diversion, and I played a merry part withal. True, I loved and respected Catherine the Queen. True, I availed myself of every means to prove my love and respect. But was I not also Henry the King? And even as the blood courses through the veins of mere mortals, does it not course even more fiercely through the veins of a King? Hunting is the sport of Kings, but do not suppose the hunt is limited only to game. There is other prey afoot. Here's another song I wrote that proves this point:
Blow Thy Horn, Hunter
(King Henry VIII's Manuscript)
Blow thy horn, hunter,
And blow thy horn on high!
There is a doe in yonder wood,
In faith she will not die:
Now blow thy horn, hunter,
Now blow thy horn, jolly hunter!
Sore this deer stricken is,
And yet she bleeds no whit;
She lay so fair, I could not miss,
Lord, I was glad of it:
As I stood under a band,
The deer shoff on the mead;
I struck her so that down she sank
But yet she was not dead.
There she go'th! See ye not,
How she go'th over the plain?
And if ye lust to gave a shot,
I warrant her barrain.
He to go and I to go,
But he ran fast afore;
I bade him shoot and strike the doe,
For I might shoot no more.
To the covert both they went,
For I found where she lay;
An arrow in her haunch she hent,
For faint she might not bray.
I was weary of the game,
I went to tavern to drink;
Now, the construction of the same--
What do you mean or think?
Here I leave and make an end
Now of this hunter's lore:
I think his bow is well unbent,
His bolt may flee no more.
HENRY: And what is life for, if not for the hunt, whatever game may be a-running. Or for jousting--what does it matter if on occasion one may come to harm? How else may one learn the pleasure of the joust? And what would life be without singing and music and dancing? That also, what I just sang you, was my very own song, and I'll sing you more anon, I mean later. I surrounded myself with companions who also took delight in hunting and jousting and music and dance...(sings briefly)
"Pastime with good company
I love and shall until I die...
(Catherine of Aragon leaves the chorus and comes downstage)
CATHERINE: Yes, he'll tell you he was never wed to me, and I'll reply in kind that I never was his wife. Only a cause, an argument, a slap in the face of the Pope. Or else in our earlier times at best a cow, a sow, a broodhen, albeit a damaged one. But I would not have you think him totally hateful. Oh, he could be lithe and loving in those days when he thought my womb was a firing chamber for stoking his precious man-child. And how he relished the repeated libations he poured on me, until at last he sensed their powerlessness to anoint me. I gave him a daughter--was this not enough? Soy mujer de España, soy orgullosa, I am a proud woman of Spain. Must I go through the ages tearing my hair that I could only give him two still-born babes and another one that came too soon and died? Must I forever hear the servants gossiping through the curtains their eternal "she couldn't have a son." Could I help it if all these children died or never lived? And as for the great question of Henry's brother, what do I know of natural or unnatural marriages? The time with Henry was hard enough. Yes, I suppose it was twenty-four years all told. But with each passing year I was less and less his Queen. I'd love to feel the sun of Spain again.
(Catherine returns to the chorus)
HENRY: Yes, well that's enough of that. Now would you please look at this from my point of view?
(he holds up, with some difficulty, all the musty books and manuscripts on the second table)
HENRY: These are copies of the papers submitted to Rome on behalf of my divorce... Just some of the papers, mind you...
Both versions of this playscript are
Copyright © 1996 & 1997 by
Alexander Gross. This excerpt may be
reproduced for individuals and for
educational purposes only. It may
not be performed or used for any
commercial (i.e., money-making)
purpose without written permission
from the author and his agent.
All Rights Reserved for both versions.
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