Context: Cardinal Wolsey is an arrogant, overbearing, ambitious, and unscrupulous adviser to King Henry the Eighth of England. He is conniving secretly for an alliance with France, and urges the king to divorce his wife of twenty years, Katharine of Aragon. Wolsey hopes the king will then marry the Duchess of Alençon, but the king falls in love with a Protestant, Anne Bullen, instead. In alarm, Wolsey writes the pope to delay the divorce. A copy of this letter and an inventory of the great wealth which Wolsey has amassed fall into the king's hands. Confronted with these evidences of his double-dealing and grasping ambition, and deprived of his offices by an irate king and jealous courtiers, Wolsey sadly contemplates the precarious nature of worldly greatness.
WOLSEY. . .Farewell? A long farewell to all my greatness.This is the state of man: to-day he puts forthThe tender leaves of hope; to-morrow blossoms,And bears his blushing honours thick upon him;The third day comes a frost, a killing frost,And when he thinks, good easy man, full surelyHis greatness is a-ripening, nips his root,And then he falls as I do.. . .And when he falls, he falls like Lucifer,Never to hope again.