A long farewell to all my greatness
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.
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