Analysis of Cardinal Wolsey’s Soliloquy
Upon his dismissal from King Henry’s court in Henry VIII by William Shakespeare, Cardinal Wolsey deeply contemplates the circumstances for his sudden downfall. Having been left alone by other characters, he proceeds to give a soliloquy whereby he expresses his true thoughts. The figurative language throughout the soliloquy stimulates the numerous tone shifts that occur as he reflects on his ousting, suggesting of a complex progression of emotions that are indicated by tone.
The flower metaphor and the apostrophic references of Wolsey as he addresses his former greatness rouses a bitter tone, indicating his instantly resentful feelings towards dismissal. The cardinal directly wishes an apostrophic and ironic “farewell – to the little good [his power] bears [him]” (1), explicitly saying that “all [his] greatness” (2) is gone; the absolute of “all” contrasts the idea of his position doing him “little good,” signifying his anger and sarcastic attitude towards the situation. Moreover, he metaphorically compares himself to a plant, a symbol of potential, noting that his “tender leaves of hope” (4) with the capacity to “blossom” (4) were snuffed by the unexpected “killing frost” (6) of dismissal that permanently “nips his root” (8) despite his ripening greatness, illustrating the aggrieved attitude that he holds which contributes to his bitterness. The initial bitter tone establishes the foundation for the other tone transitions throughout the soliloquy, thereby highlighting the emotional significance of this event on Wolsey.
The connotations of Wolsey’s simile indirectly characterizes him as hubristic and incompetent for his former role as an advisor, making him realize that he himself is to blame for his downfall, thereby illustrating a tone shift from bitterness to embarrassment and shame. He compares himself to “little wanton boys” (10), the word “boys” connoting naïveté that he was incognizant to because of his “full-blown pride” (12). Furthermore, as a result of him being metaphorically “far beyond [his] depth” (12) in “a sea of glory” (11), he was blinded by hubris that causes his sudden downfall. However, upon realizing the implications regarding him being ousted, he feels that he must “[forever] hide” (15), the hyperbole of “forever” and the feeble connotation of “hiding” emphasizing the eternal shame that he feels for being excessively prideful over a position he was incompetent for. Thus, his realization of why he got ousted illustrates him being at fault, thereby establishing the tone of his emotional reactions in the latter portion of the poem.
Wolsey’s figurative language as he laments his downfall illustrates the emotional gravity of the situation on him following his realization that he is at fault, stimulating a distraught tone that conveys his vacillation between sadness and anger. He calls out to “vain pomp and glory of this world” (16) stating that “[he hates] ye!” (16), the apostrophe and strong diction of “hate” which is emphasized by an exclamation point stressing the sheer loathing that he feels for the superficial world. However, upon indignantly screaming out, he idiomatic describes his “heart new open’d” (17) due to his emotional torment, the sorrowful tone contrasting the livid tone of the apostrophic statement as his emotions change from sadness to anger. Wolsey’s mixed emotions are represented by contrasting tones, establishing that while certain feelings are more prominent than others, the complexity of human emotion cannot be delineated.
The allusion and the clear break from the established meter reflect the hopelessness that Wolsey feels, highlighting the transition from anger and sadness to a despairing tone. He alludes to himself “[falling] like Lucifer” (22) the connotation reflecting the eternal suffering associated with a fall from grace to which there is no recovery, thereby hyperbolically relating it to his fall from nobility with a simile to emphasize the despair he feels in never getting his power back. In addition, the break from the pentameter in the final line with “never to hope again” (23) both parallels the abruptness of his ousting and underscores the finality of his despair, the absolute of “never” reiterating the eternal aspect of his dismissal from advisor. By implying that Wolsey would not get his position back, the despairing tone is highlighted and thereby garners sympathy for him because of his hopeless outlook.
The tone of Wolsey throughout his soliloquy is indicative of the progression of his emotions as hinted at by figurative language. He is taken aback by his dismissal, only to realize that he himself caused it. Thus, Wolsey serves as a metaphor for the complex emotional struggles of man; his progressive reaction to the surprise illustrates the different tones that indicate ever-changing emotion.