North’s Journal, “Henry VIII,” and “The Winter’s Tale”

In Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare (2021), June Schlueter and I explore a newly rediscovered journal that the 20-year-old North kept during his trip to Rome. The young translating playwright had travelled with an embassy sent by the Catholic Queen Mary, who had wanted a formal reconciliation of England with the pope. North then used the experiences he documented in his travel diary to help him write early versions of his very first plays, Henry VIII and The Winter’s Tale, sometime between 1555 and 1557.

The following video shows shows how the journal links to “Henry VIII.”

This page will soon include a video that focuses on the connections between the journal and The Winter’s Tale. In fact, North’s trip, and especially his stay in Mantua, was a kind of Winter’s Tale and included the same unreal and fanciful images that have been captivating audiences of the play for centuries. Quoting from the book: 

“… North’s journal gives us a new perspective on The Winter’s Tale, for all of the play’s mysterious and wondrous exotica, from its strange settings to its striking visuals, derive from North’s trip to Rome and the circumstances surrounding them. This includes the far-flung settings of Bohemia and Sicily and the Kings that rule them; a Catholic trickster trying to con crowds with fake relics; a very honest Camillo; a pastoral feast with the goddess Flora handing out flowers; Apollo dressed as a shepherd; and a dance of satyrs. Indeed, everything that makes The Winter’s Tale seem dreamlike and otherworldly comes from North’s remarkable journey. We even find the origins of the lifelike statue of Giulio Romano, the only Renaissance artist mentioned by name in the canon, as well as the scene of Perdita kneeling and praying before the saintly statue of her dead mother, Hermione, just moments before she comes back to life. Finally, North’s journal confirms that The Winter’s Tale is an historical allegory and the story that it relates is true.”

The young North wrote Henry VIII and The Winter’s Tale to please the Catholic high-ups of Mary’s reign, and we show how each is really an homage to the Queen, deifying her Catholic mother, Katherine, and romanticizing Mary’s efforts at counter-reformation. More than 50 years later, Shakespeare would then adapt these early Marian works for the public stage.

The posts below will all focus on North’s Journal, Henry VIII and/or The Winter’s Tale.

Original copy of Thomas North’s journal!

12. A Warning for Those Who Creep Into the Bosom of the King

As we note in Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal: From Italy to Shakespeare, at one point, in Cardinal Wolsey’s final scene in Henry VIII, he recites a lesson from North’s Dial of Princes about those who compete for power. His first focus is on two other ambitious court-climbers: Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cranmer: … that…

10. “Exit Pursued by a Bear:” Antigonus, the Banishment to Sicily, the Dark Storm, and the Roaring Bear

Perhaps, the most famous stage direction in the Shakespeare canon occurs in The Winter’s Tale and involves the doomed character Antigonus. He leaves the play abruptly after abandoning the banished baby Perdita on the shores of a distant land: “Exit pursued by a bear,” reads the stage-direction. We soon discover that Antigonus doesn’t survive, and…

9. Elder Gossip Who Never Spoke “Word That Might Be To The Prejudice of” Another

In Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey’s defensive claim that he has never slandered the Queen comes from a similar passage in North’s Dial of Princes. Both passages are referring to elderly, malicious gossipers, especially stressing their spleen, heart, and tongue/mouth. Both also include the same unique eight-word word-string: North’s Dial of Princes Shakespeare’s Henry VIII his…

8. North’s Journal, “Henry VIII,” a Cardinal-Parade, and a Consistory

While Thomas North’s 1555 Travel Journal examines all the extensive borrowings connecting the journal to Henry VIII and The Winter’s Tale, just the first example described here should be sufficient to prove the diary’s use by the original playwright. As shown in the feature pic above, both North’s journal and Henry VIII juxtapose eerily similar…

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