Last updated: July 14, 2019
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Accomplished authors are adept at using rhetorical devices to express the inner thoughts and complex emotions of their characters. Implemented successfully, these devices can serve as a remarkable conduit of the character’s tangibility, making them seem relatable and realistic as in William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. In the selected passage, from the aforementioned play, the titular king has just discharged his advisor, Cardinal Wolsey. Wolsey’s subsequent soliloquy served to reveal his resentment and despair over his dismissal.

Shakespeare’s skilled use of religious allusions, strong diction, and figurative language reveal the extent of Wolsey’s lamentation. Shocked at his misfortune, Wolsey initially bemoans his demoted status and bitterly mocks his downfall as “a long farewell to all my greatness! ” In his anger Wolsey belittles the world as “vain” and “a killing frost”, eventually exclaiming “I hate ye! ” His hostile eruptions are juxtaposed with the shifts to despair that Wolsey experiences through his speech.

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His self-characterization as a downtrodden “poor man” is a change from the ambitious “good easy man” he describes himself as at the beginning of the passage. This woeful description of himself illustrates Wolsey’s miserable disposition. He furthers the piteous self-derision when he likens himself to the fallen Morning Star, stating that “when he falls, he falls like Lucifer”. This particular allusion works on two levels. Wolsey, like Lucifer, was once held in great esteem but was ultimately disgraced and banished from the Kingdom of Heaven.

And, like Lucifer, Wolsey’s downfall has left him with feeling of bitterness and self-pity. This comparison contributes to Wolsey’s distraught image; Lucifer- once loved by God- was cast down, much like Wolsey was sent to his own Hell, having been cast off by King Henry and banished from his Heaven. Wolsey also refers to his spirit and ambition as a “blossom” which is extending its “tender leaves of hope”. This hope is crushed on the “third day” by a “killing frost”.

The image that Wolsey’s garden conjures is one of faultlessness and susceptibility to the “frost” of the world and the volatile workings of the king. The three day rise and fall serve to enunciate the feelings that Wolsey had for his time in the favour of the king: short and sudden. The short term in the Wolsey found himself in the king’s graces and its abrupt and cruel termination leaves him vacillating between anger and hopelessness. The language Shakespeare has implemented adds to the effect of Wolsey’s mixed reaction and emphasizes his volatile emotions.

Wolsey states that he is “weary and old with service”, which can be seen as an admission to the extensive amount of personal resources he has poured into his work for the King. Wolsey also characterizes those who “hang on princes’ favours” as “wretched”, bemoaning his fate after a long allegiance with the King. As if these words, with their negative connotations, were not enough to display Wolsey’s despair, his last utterance in his speech does. After his contrast with Lucifer, Wolsey expressed one last vow that he is “never to hope again”.

This powerful and negative diction strongly suggests that Wolsey has abandoned all hope: the best possible illumination of Wolsey’s emotional state. Shakespeare’s’ extensive use of diction, tone, and allusion portrays Wolsey’s reaction to his untimely ruin. Wolsey’s anguish and forlornness are effectively expressed as a result. The images created by use of allusion and figurative language fortify his despair and the tone shift emphasizes his emotional fluctuations. By implementing various rhetorical devices, Shakespeare reflects the powerful complexity of Wolsey’s reaction and of human emotions as a whole.