"King Henry the Eighth." By William Shakespeare. At Christ Church.
MYSTERIOUS loads of metal scaffolding heaped in piles in Tom Quad, women rehearsing in lecture rooms at unexpected hours, elaborate coloured charts on the Hall notice-board were the out- ward signs that Christ Church undergraduates were producing a play to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Royal foundation of the House by King Henry VIII on November 4, 1546. A stage was erected over the dais in the Hall, most of the pictures behind were removed, and lights were fitted. To control them a switch-board was erected in a box over the doorway. From this place there came, night and day, drabness and breath-taking colour. It was a triumph of ingenuity and reflects great credit on those responsible.
Shakespeare's King Henry VIII is not a great play. It is too long, contains much bad history, and at times is perversely anti- clerical. Where, for example, is Henry the scholar, or Henry the musician? It was the obvious choice, however, for it is about Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry and Queen Elizabeth, all three inti- mately connected with Christ Church. Towards the end of the play Griffith relates the end of Wolsey to Katharine and tells of Wolsey's achievements. Of Oxford he says: "The other, though unfinish'd, yet so famous, So expellent in art, and still so rising, That Christendom shall ever speak his virtue."
and one's eyes wander round the pictures on the walls, upon men distinguished in high office, men of scholarship and learning, men of lofty ideals.
Wolsey, of course, is the central figure, and we saw a corpulent, arrogant, thin-faced Cardinal, magnificent in his scarlet dress, looking down his nose at those who submit to him, crafty and eloquent to the King, yet humble, repentant and serene in his downfall. The King, tortured in his conscience, stamps and gabbles in his fury, yet is easily diverted to the pursuit of Anne Boleyn. The Queen, surely much too beautiful to be thrown aside for the new love, or rather for a fresh mother, dies slowly and with grace, but for no apparent reason. The play, it will be remembered, closes with the baptism of the infant Elizabeth and Cranmer's prophetic words for her future reign. Led by the Lord Mayor of London, majestic in his presence, the Cathedral choir usher in the royal procession by the Hall door, and down the Hall through the middle of the audience up the steps to the brilliancy of the stage.
The slickness of the performance would deceive many who did not know there was but one narrow exit back-stage with a winding staircase to rooms below. Up and down this must come the actors, the stage hands and the hundreds of odds and ends that go to the staging of a play. The producer, Mr. Guy Brenton, a second-year undergraduate, overcame these difficulties with remarkable assurance.
The audience, no doubt wishing to express its approval after each scene, and not infrequently during a scene, missed hearing much of the incidental music arranged for string quartet and in part com- posed by Mr. Ivor Keys. So the 16th-century music was un- deservedly muffled in chatter and shuffling. Yet the curiously modern syncopations of Byrd, sung in procession by the choir, and the exquisite new setting in Tudor style of "Orpheus with his Lute," accompanied on the virginals, were a feature of the performance.
This staging of a play in Christ Church Hall was a revival of what had been a common custom from 1546 till 1664, in which year a Restoration Comedy was produced. This production will take its place as a worthy successor to some notable performances. Cardinal Wolsey, King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth will smile down their pleasure for a long time to come. J. E. S.