Shakespeare Quotes

A long farewell to all my greatness

Wolsey:
So farewell—to the little good you bear me.
Farewell? a long farewell to all my greatness!
This is the state of man: to-day he puts forth
The tender leaves of hopes, to-morrow blossoms,
And bears his blushing honors thick upon him;
The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,
And when he thinks, good easy man, full surely
His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,
And then he falls as I do.

Henry The Eighth Act 3, scene 2, 350–358

Cardinal Wolsey, the most interesting character in this play, is considerably ambitious. By becoming the chief advisor to the king, he has furthered his plots to amass wealth and secure the Papacy—the ultimate form he imagines his "greatness" will take. After a series of successes in foiling his enemies, however, Wolsey is exposed. Here, he bitterly calls after his antagonists, who have come to taunt him, and then falls meditatively into a fine soliloquy, one of the few memorable passages in the play.

By "greatness," then, Wolsey means "power." His bitter farewell to political esteem and influence is pretty ironic, considering that he is the cardinal. In his current state of mind, he sees the reversal of his fortunes as the workings of a malicious "killing frost" (a phrase he coins)—an evil force of nature rather than the doings of divine Providence. In his despair, he will revealingly compare himself to Lucifer (line 371), the archetype of the ambitious spirit, and the first to be thrown out of a court.

Themes: greatness

Speakers: Wolsey