Study Guide

Henry VIII Tough-o-Meter

By William Shakespeare

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(9) Mount Everest

We'll admit it: Henry VIII is known to be one of Shakespeare's most difficult plays. There are a lot of different trials going on that make the play hard to follow. First, Buckingham is arrested and executed; then Wolsey is fired (and dies); Katherine is divorced (and dies); and Cranmer is tried and saved.

There's a sense of mystery behind the play when we watch it: we might have a feeling about who's good and who's bad, but we're never told upfront, beyond a shadow of a doubt, just how guilty each character is. Our suspicions are left just as they are, as suspicions.

The end of the play is no different. Cranmer has been saved, but why? We're left with more questions than answers. It's worth the climb, though: Henry VIII is super dark and twisty, but it asks us some big questions that still seem relevant today: What is true and false when it comes things like history? Can people really be innocent or guilty, or is everyone always in between? How does Fate control our lives?

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