‘Sick interpreters’: Criticizing Historical Adaptations of Cardinal Wolsey in Shakespeare’s <i>Henry VIII</i>


  • Nadia Thérèse Van Pelt University of Leiden




Shakespeare, Henry VIII, theatre, Jacobean drama, Cardinal Wolsey


This article examines the ways in which Shakespeare's Henry VIII self-consciously and thematically reflects on representing the historical Cardinal Wolsey onstage. In so doing the play rewrites history by moving away from the type-cast images in chronicles and earlier Jacobean history plays that represent the cardinal as pure evil. Shakespeare furthermore invites audience members to reflect on the fact that the characters represented were once England's real-life leaders, who carefully presented and protected their image, just as the leaders of Shakespeare's own day did in the 'here and now' of 1613. The following case study explores Shakespeare's criticism of the act of 'interpreting' historical figures, including his own act.


Author Biography

Nadia Thérèse Van Pelt, University of Leiden

Nadia Thérèse Van Pelt (n.t.van.pelt@hum.leidenuniv.nl) is a lecturer at the University of Leiden. She completed her Ph.D., entitled Play-Making on the Edge of Reality: Managing Spectator Risk in Early English Drama, at the University of Southampton in 2014. She has published articles in Medieval English Theatre, Theta: Théâtre Tudor, Notes and Queries, Royal Studies Journal, and book chapters in Das Theater des Spatmittelalters und der Fruhen Neuzeit: Kulturelle Verhandlungen in Einer Zeit des Wandels (Heidelberg, 2015), and The Image and Perception of Monarchy in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge 2014). Her first monograph is under contract with Routledge.