This is the one play I’d say you should read as a dare…at least, the version I have. Which may well be the version everybody has other than the original copies in the great British libraries behind vaults or something.
And it’s not entirely by Shakespeare, either. Heavily edited and worked on by several people, it’s no wonder that the play’s surfaced only sporadically.
This version, however, I’d say should be scrutinized to get a grasp for the writing and editorial process. Seriously–full of underlining and editor’s marks (transformed in such a way as to let you still read it, but understand where cuts and changes were made). It’s not formatted the same way as the other plays in this book.
The content, however…well, I’m not sure how I feel about it. And neither did anybody else at the time–they waited til well after Queen Elizabeth 1 was dead before trying because of all the political unrest in the play, which was another reason for the heavy censorship.
There’s a lot of problematic stuff in this play: the depiction of foreigners, rioting, judicial issues of the time… and leaving in all the possibly-deleted stuff sure makes things a bit confusing regarding the sequences.
If you’re interested in history and Sir Thomas More’s role in it (and I still haven’t read his Utopia yet), then some basic biography might do you better. More’s in the judiciary and close to the King, so much that his advice to the citizenry and the King are generally well received. He’s a clever man, and considerate, but with unshakable convictions. He advises Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon so he can be free to marry and produce the needed heir, and yet will end up in prison because of his refusal to back down and acknowledge the king to be above the pope once the schism develops.
I think this play is a mess, and it’s taken me a few tries to read this. I did like the notes between scenes and at other moments, which tell you who (if known) is responsible for certain parts of the play.
The language is amazing, and I’m getting better at understanding it, but the events are troublesome, because so much is going on and it feel so episodic, more like a pageant than play. Indeed, there aren’t even acts, just scenes. I think it would’ve taken a long time and a lot more editing to truly flesh it out and finish it. Perhaps another day I’ll find the most complete version and give it another shot.
But for the curious, I would recommend at least looking at this one to study and get a feel for the editing and censorship process of the day.