Pride is from hell

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Portrait of Thomas Wolsey by unknown artist (c. 1520)

In Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII (1.1), the Duke of Norfolk, the Duke of Buckingham, and the Lord Abergavenny discuss the character of Cardinal Wolsey. Buckingham memorably says, “No man’s pie is freed / From his ambitious finger” (1.1.52-53). Norfolk offers a weak defense of Wolsey’s ambition; lacking noble ancestry, he must make his way by “the force of his own merit” – “a gift that heaven gives for him, which buys / A place next to the king.” Abergavenny’s rejoinder is worth pondering for its insight about the vice of pride:

I cannot tell
What heaven hath given him: let some graver eye
Pierce into that; but I can see his pride
Peep through each part of him: whence has he that?
If not from hell? the devil is a niggard,*
Or has given all before, and he begins
A new hell in himself.

*Lucifer fell from heaven because of his pride, and Abergavenny makes the point that Wolsey must have received his pride from the devil, or if the devil is selfish or has already given away all he had, Wolsey is making a new hell from his own pride.

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