Literature Study GuidesWolf HallPart 2 Chapter 3 Summary

Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall | Part 2, Chapter 3 : Make or Mar, All Hallows 1529 | Summary



On the eve of All Saints' Day Thomas Cromwell keeps vigil alone at Esher, praying for the souls of the dead. He longs for Liz. The next day the grief overwhelms him. He can almost feel the presence of Liz, Grace, and Anne as he looks at illustrations in Liz's prayer book. George Cavendish sees him crying. Cromwell tells Cavendish he expects to go down with Cardinal Wolsey and regrets becoming the cardinal's right-hand man rather than practicing law.

Cromwell recalls that a poet from Thessaly named Simonides was commissioned to recite a poem in praise of the host of a banquet; the host's name was Scopas. The poem included verses about Castor and Pollux, twins from Roman and Greek mythology. Scopas didn't appreciate sharing the poem with these mythical twins and paid Simonides only half the fee. Soon a message came that two young men were waiting outside for Simonides. When he went outside, the roof of the hall caved in and killed everyone else. The banqueters were all crushed beyond recognition, but Simonides, who had a superior memory, could identify them. According to the historian Cicero, Simonides "invented the art of memory."


This chapter begins with a glimpse into the deeply personal emotional life of Cromwell as he holds his dead wife's prayer book in his hands and allows his mind to call up tender, personal memories of his wife and daughters. The prayer book illustrations he looks at are of the Visitation (Mary visiting Elizabeth, who is pregnant with John the Baptist), the Nativity (the birth of Jesus), and the murder of infants by Herod's soldiers—all images of mothers and children. Given this context, the explanation for his tears he gives to Cavendish seems disingenuous. Cromwell does not want to reveal his private thoughts, so he invents a reason that satisfies as an explanation. This reinforces the deep gulf that exists between Cromwell's public and private lives.

The interruption from Cavendish over, Cromwell's mind returns to memory. This time, he considers the nature of memory to recall details of those who are dead. The story of the poet Simonides tells of a man whose memory was so keen he could identify banqueters who had been disfigured by the force of the falling roof. He could remember where they were sitting and other details of their appearance. Cromwell's memory has been noted as being unusually good. This has served him well in financial and political matters. But his excellent memory also means he recalls every detail of those he has lost.

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