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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: November 2010

The Trials of Queen Katherine in Henry VIII

Summary

Henry VIII is remarkable for its unusually full stage directions: the fullest of any play in the Shakespeare canon. It is well known that many of these stage directions follow Holinshed's Chronicles virtually word for word, but those who have noted this point have not gone on to remark on what it suggests about the interest of early modern historians in issues of space: namely that they devote almost as much attention to spatial layout and the way space is occupied as a dramatist might. In this respect not only do Holinshed and his revisers follow the practice of earlier sixteenth-century historians, whom they are often incorporating word for word, but all these historians taken together place tremendous importance on outlining spatial practice in often minute detail. This tells us something about early modern priorities. When Mary Queen of Scots was tried for treason in 1586, for example, one of the greatest problems exercising Lord Burghley in the weeks leading up to the trial was how to lay out the hall for the trial of an anointed monarch. So concerned was he that he sketched out a possible layout in his own hand, placing Mary centrally but below the judges. And so important were the messages conveyed by the organization of the space that the positioning of Mary's chair had changed by the time of the trial itself. Beale’s official drawing of the trial shows her chair further up but left of centre, a more demeaning position than Burghley’s sketch first proposes. Central at the top of the hall in both drawings was the empty chair of estate representing the absent presence of Elizabeth I; and Mary’s first remark upon entering the hall for the first day of the trial was, according to one record: ‘I am a Queen by right of birth, and my place should be there, under this canopy.’