Compelling Insight On Henry VIII By Actor Paul O'Brien
Playing Henry the VIII offers enormous opportunities and enormous challenges as should come as no surprise given his enormous stature in European history. One of the most volatile monarchs in British history, Henry could be by turns tender and sweet, thoughtful and curious, and downright terrifyingly explosive with anger and hostility. By most accounts an intellectual and good-natured man, he ended his life one of the most brutal tyrants England produced. What happened to him has been explored by both historians and Physicians, and various metabolic, endocrine, and toxin-induced pathologies have been invoked to explain his change in character. From diabetes, to Cushing's, to lead poisoning from his various medications, or perhaps the growing weights of his own power bent his nature toward paranoia and ruthlessness. I believe these changes were in play during the period depicted in Wolf Hall.
At various times during the period and during the play, Henry demonstrates the full range of what he had been and what he would become. A figure of enormous appetite, enormous ambition, enormous ego, enormous vanity, and enormous presence, he also had, as so often is the case with those with enormous egos, and enormously profound insecurity. And his deepest insecurity, his greatest fear, what in his darkest moments he begins to suspect, is that his own kingship is illegitimate. His doubt of his own legitimacy comes from first, his older brother Arthur, who is the original heir but died suddenly as a teenager, leaving Henry as a new heir. Second, his father, whom some regarded as a usurper, a king who took the crown by proving to be the toughest one around and the last one standing after the Battle of Bosworth Field. A deeply religious man, Henry VIII believes the birth of a legitimate son would be God's way of validating his kingship, and his difficulty with this might suggest the unacceptable: that God does not regard him as a rightful King and is purposefully denying him a son.
Finding the moments of commanding power in despairing fragility, of public dauntlessness and private fear, has been energizing and gratifying in my exploration and unfolding discovery of this fascinating character of Henry VIII.