Thomas Wolsey on stage and screen

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 16
  • Abstract:

    Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, lord chancellor of England from 1515 to 1529, has played no small part in the many literary, historical and dramatic retellings of the reign of King Henry VIII. This article presents the first extended analysis of the way in which Wolsey has been represented by playwrights and, later, film and television writers during the years from his death in 1530 through the present. The article demonstrates that by the middle of the 16th century, two competing narratives about Wolsey had become entrenched historiographically, and nearly all subsequent accounts borrow substantially from the narratives of either Edward Hall (1550) or George Cavendish (1554–1558). How successive playwrights and screenwriters balanced the cardinal’s two archetypal personae has often depended, in no small part, on the concerns of their own day. In the 21st century, readings of the cardinal as crafty rather than callous, unlucky rather than unprincipled, have become more common, and with them have come more sympathetic portrayals of a traditional Tudor villain.