Henry VIII "Fling Away Ambition"
by William Shakespeare

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"Fling Away Ambition"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: Cardinal Wolsey, an overly ambitious and unscrupulous divine, is adviser to King Henry the Eighth of England. Not content with amassing wealth and having the ear of the king, he connives secretly for an alliance with France, and urges the king to divorce Katharine of Aragon, who has been his wife for twenty years. Wolsey hopes the king will then marry a French princess to cement the alliance. But the king falls in love with Anne Bullen, a Protestant. Alarmed at this turn, Wolsey requests the pope to delay the divorce. A copy of this letter and an accounting of Wolsey's wealth, enough to make a king jealous, fall into Henry's hands. Confronted with the king's wrath, these evidences of his double-dealing, and the loss of his offices, Wolsey meditates upon the precarious nature of ambition, and then speaks a touching farewell to his servant Cromwell.

WOLSEY. . .Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition.By that sin fell the angels; how can man then,The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?Love thyself last, cherish those hearts that hate thee;Corruption wins not more than honesty.Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace,To silence envious tongues. Be just and fear not;Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's,Thy God's, and truth's. Then if thou fall'st, o Cromwell,Thou fall'st a blessed martyr.Had I but served my God, with half the zealI served my King, he would not in mine ageHave left me naked to mine enemies.