Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Wolsey

Herbert Beerbohm Tree as Wolsey

Herbert Beerbohm Tree's Shakespearean productions carried on the traditions of Charles Kean and Henry Irving in stressing spectacle. His 1910 production of Shakespeare's Henry VIII, in which he played Cardinal Wolsey, was particularly sumptuous. There were nearly a hundred exquisitely detailed costumes designed by Percy Macquoid. The crimson coronation dress for Anne Boleyn was richly pearled and trimmed with ermine. Henry VIII was arrayed in green with gold brocade, and had a gold dagger enamelled in green. Wolsey wore the red robes of his office, but the addition of the golden pomander (which you can see in the picture) was Tree's idea. It was there to reflect the Cardinal's addiction to luxury, crucial to Tree's interpretation of the role. He cut the text heavily, focussing on the domestic plot and the conflict between Henry and his Cardinal. The reviews he received in a later New York revival were ecstatically enthusiastic: 'The character lives and breathes … a creation vital, impressive, profoundly moving and sympathetic'.