Wolsey’s Complex Response
This excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII describes Cardinal Wolsey’s reaction to his sudden dismissal from his position as advisor to the king. On a deeper level, this soliloquy displays Wolsey’s unfiltered and complex emotions as he thinks out loud, revealing a change in how he views the monarchical system. Indicated through figurative language, allusions, and tone shifts, Cardinal Wolsey undergoes an intricate process of self-reflection as he evaluates the nature of his downfall due to his tragic flaw as well as reveals the injustice of the monarchy.
Wolsey’s metaphors and bitter but remorseful tone display the confused nature of his emotions, revealing the great immediate psychological impact of his dismissal. As Wolsey begins to process what has just happened to him, his repetition of the word “farewell” (1/2) represents his initial shock and bewilderment. In an attempt to comfort himself, he bitterly bids his position “farewell” (1), falsely convincing himself that his position is only of “little good” (1) to him. However, his pathetic self-consolation is short-lived since he soon recognizes the reality that he is saying “a long farewell to all [his] greatness” (2), which he may never be able to attain again. He expresses this sentiment by spitefully describing “the state of man” (3) by comparing himself to a flower. At first, he “puts forth / the tender leaves of hopes” (3-4), approaching his job with optimism and the potential for eminence. Then, he “blossoms / and bears his blushing honors thick upon him” (4-5), representing his subsequent numerous successes and achievements as advisor to the king. However, unexpectedly “a frost, a killing frost … / … / … nips his root” (6-8), heartlessly destroying him in the midst of his prominence when he thinks “full surely his greatness is a-ripening” (7-8) and nothing can knock him down. His abrupt tone shifts and sarcastic metaphors emphasize his disbelief at his sudden termination despite his brilliance as an advisor.
Wolsey’s allusions depict the lasting negative impacts of his dismissal while displaying his developing resentment for the unfair monarchy through his cynical tone. Wolsey compares his fall from greatness to the fall of “Lucifer” (22) from heaven, illustrating the inescapable hell into which his termination has plunged him. After a fall of such great magnitude, he would be cursed never to regain his previous glory, “never to hope again” (24). As a result, he ironically laments “that poor man that hangs on princes’ favors” (18), alluding to how foolishly beholden he was to his own king and his king’s approval, brainwashed by “that smile we would aspire to” (19). Consequently, it is through his downfall that he recognizes and resents the duality of princes, who can cause one’s “ruin” (20), yet paradoxically possess the “sweet aspect” (20) and ability to raise a person’s status. These allusions and his self-pitying tone serve to elaborate upon the intensity of his dismissal and its life-changing implications.
Through similes and diction, Wolsey indicates his realization that his downfall was preventable, substantiating his tragic nature and creating a tone of regret. Wolsey likens himself to “little wanton boys that swim on bladders” (10), his word choice indirectly characterizing him as naive and ignorantly self-satisfied. He carelessly wallowed “in a sea of glory” (11) lost in his own success, never realizing, until it was too late, that he had gone “far beyond [his] depth” (12) and possibly overstepped his authority. In this way, he, “weary and old with service” (14), admits that his hubris, his “high-blown pride” (12), is his true undoing. Now, his pride “has left [him]” (13), replaced by shame, resulting in his dependence on “the mercy / of a rude stream that must for ever hide [him]” (15). However, his embarrassment quickly shifts to anger and irritation as he professes his hatred for “the vain pomp and glory of this world” (16) that fostered his ultimately self-destructive ignorance to his tragic flaw. Following this apostrophe, he feels his “heart new open’d” (17), his emotions exposed and his stupidity heart-breaking. Had Wolsey not been blinded by his overweening pride, he may have been able to preclude his dismissal.
Wolsey’s sudden termination and his subsequent, multi-layered response featuring a variety of tones, extended metaphors, and allusions highlights his discombobulation and his greater insight upon analysis of the incident. Furthermore, his downfall illustrates the detriments of pride and ignorance. In this way, the reader learns the dangers of complacency and the importance of knowing one’s place in society particularly when in a position of great prominence.
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This excerpt from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII describes Cardinal Wolsey’s reaction to his sudden dismissal from his position as advisor to the king. On a deeper level, this soliloquy displays Wolsey’s […]