Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Course Hero. "Wolf Hall Study Guide." February 24, 2018. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Wolf-Hall/.


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Wolf Hall | Epigraphs | Summary



The novel is preceded by two epigraphs, or short quotations setting the scene for the book. The first is a paragraph from De Architectura, c. 27 B.C.E., by Roman writer and architect Vitruvius (c. 80–70 to c. 15 B.C.E.). It describes the three types of scenery appropriate to drama.

  • The tragic: contains columns and other objects suited to kings
  • The comic: has balconies and windows evoking ordinary dwellings
  • The satyric (satiric): decorations are rustic objects such as trees and mountains

The second epigraph presents a list of characters from Magnificence: An Interlude, a play written c. 1516 by Tudor poet John Skelton (c. 1460–1529). Each character has the name of an emotion (such as Felicity), a vice (such as Crafty Conveyance), a condition (such as Poverty), or a quality (such as Cloaked).


Both epigraphs are about drama. The first stresses the symbol of theatre in Wolf Hall. Characters are described as putting on a show, wearing masks and other disguises, and taking part in a play. The novel includes all three forms of drama: tragedy, comedy, and satire.

Magnificence, the allegorical morality play from which the second epigraph is drawn, concerns itself with the evils of political ambition. The character Magnificence struggles with good versus evil, prudence versus folly. The play was considered to be an attack on Cardinal Wolsey; several vices associated with him, including his love of extravagant clothing, are personified.

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