WHAT HENRY VIII LEAVES OUT. Professor Herschel Baker in the Riverside edition of Shakespeare summarizes sympathetically arguments that the allegedly weak structure of Henry VIII casts doubt on whether Shakespeare alone wrote the play. I think that the potential danger of the subject matter answers some of these arguments. Thus, Baker says that: “…it is surely easier to believe that Shakespeare had assistance in the composition of the play than that he, at the summit of his art,…would skirt the most compelling issues in a play about the English Reformation….” I can see why Shakespeare might have avoided those “compelling issues” as a matter of prudence. Baker also notes claims that the structure of the play is episodic and that the play has weak characterization. Again, avoiding conflict and character analysis would avoid dangerous territory.
The “slackness” of the plot and the lack of tension can also be explained by a change in tastes. The court of King James apparently had a fondness for masques and pageantry. Shakespeare, always aware of his audience, honored that preference in the masque in The Tempest and evidently in Henry VIII. Masques do not have tension or “conflict”.
Finally, Spedding in his article propounding his theory referred to the slackened tension of the last act which leaves us “among persons whom we scarcely know, and events for which we do not care”. The last scene of the play presents the baptism of the baby Elizabeth. There are elaborate stage directions for the ceremony and the nobility who are part of the ceremony. There would have been aristocratic members of the audience who cared very much about the people on stage.