Is there a moment in Wolf Hall where Cromwell is portrayed as a hero in contrast to accurate historical evidence?
Wolf Hall is told from Cromwell’s point of view and thus there are many moments where the reader views him much more sympathetically than has history. One touching scene which is perhaps not in concert with historical evidence is Cromwell’s final visit to Thomas More on the eve of his execution. Thomas More’s Utopia called for religious tolerance and humane views towards the poor and his adherence to his religious convictions pitted him against King Henry VIII, making him a martyr. Cromwell, who helped to bring an end to Catholicism in England and maneuvered two of the King’s marriages as well as Anne Boleyn’s execution, is seen as a scheming, cruel man. But in Wolf Hall, the roles have changed. In the prison conversation with More, Cromwell unsuccessfully tries to persuade More to beg the King’s mercy so that he might not die a horrible death. Cromwell has been More’s enemy throughout the novel, but these moments in the prison show his attempts to save More from a grisly death as courageous and compassionate, while More is inflexible. At one point in the scene, a reversal of historical roles occurs where Cromwell appropriates More’s utopian vision for his own, saying to More, “I realize you see no prospect of improving this [world].” When More replies back, “And you do?”, Cromwell responds with his vision of a better world even amidst the “spectacles of pain and disgrace I see around me, the ignorance, the unthinking vice, the poverty and the lack of hope…” The scene ends with More weeping pathetically in fear of his execution and Cromwell ineffectively trying to comfort him with language borrowed from religious rituals: humility, mystery, and a call for wine. Ironically, Cromwell, an adversary of the Catholic Church, takes on the position of the merciful confessor who tries to save More from himself.
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