David M. Bergeron
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Divorce, wedding, and murder
in Shakespeare’s London 1613
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The production of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher's Henry VIII in late June 1613 intersects the narrative in unanticipated ways. This play's performance stands almost precisely between the February and December weddings, offering both retrospective and prospective views. The first movement of the narrative involves knights who had attempted to make their journey to London for this wedding. The play's ending celebrates the birth of Henry's daughter Elizabeth and looks forward to the eventual arrival of the Scottish king. The debate about divorce delineates the king's struggle with his moral conscience; indeed, the word 'conscience' becomes a prominent term in the play. But the poet conveniently overlooks the messy divorce and intrigue that eventually led to the royal wedding. In retrospect, the darkness of Thomas Overbury's death (later revealed to be murder) hangs over the celebration.

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