NORFOLK I advise you— And take it from a heart that wishes towards you Honor and plenteous safety—that you read The Cardinal's malice and his potency Together; to consider further that What his high hatred would effect wants not A minister in his power. You know his nature, That he's revengeful, and I know his sword Hath a sharp edge; (1.1.123-131)
Early on, Norfolk warns Buckingham about Wolsey: watch out, because he doesn't have principles. And Norfolk's right—Wolsey takes Buckingham for a ride and doesn't look back. So is it okay to not stand up for what's right because the guy in charge is doing wrong? In a lot of ways, Norfolk shares in the blame here if he's willing to sit by and do nothing when he knows Wolsey is a troublemaker.
BUCKINGHAM Let the King know— As soon he shall by me—that thus the Cardinal Does buy and sell his honor as he pleases And for his own advantage. (1.1.221-224)
Buckingham knows Wolsey is a good manipulator with a bunch of tricks up his sleeve. Here he claims that Wolsey is selling his principles to the highest bidder; he just hopes the king isn't fooled by Wolsey's antics. We're not so sure.
QUEEN KATHERINE Of these exactions, yet the king our master, Whose honor heaven shield from soil, even he escapes not Language unmannerly—yea, such which breaks The sides of loyalty and almost appears In loud rebellion. (1.2.28-33)
The people are rebelling over the tax that Wolsey put in place without consulting Henry. Katherine is in tune with the people's needs and brings this to the king's attention. What's more: her request raises questions about whether Wolsey is loyal to the king.
WOLSEY We must not stint Our necessary actions in the fear To cope malicious censurers, which ever, As ravenous fishes, do a vessel follow That is new trimmed, but benefit no further Than vainly longing. What we oft do best, By sick interpreters, once weak ones, is Not ours, or not allowed; what worst, as oft, Hitting a grosser quality, is cried up For our best act. (1.2.90-99)
Irony, anyone? Yep, we're pretty sure that's the best way to describe Wolsey giving Henry advice about acting honorably without worrying about what others think. Wolsey is doing the exact opposite by playing the field for himself.
QUEEN KATHERINE I do not like their coming, now I think on 't. They should be good men, their affairs as righteous. But all hoods make not monks. (3.1.24-26)
When the cardinals come to visit her, Katherine stands up to them. She calls them out for their lack of principles—something that no one else seems willing to do. She might have little power while she's going through her divorce, but she's not afraid to fight the cardinals in their own game. Bonus: we know she's got ethics, too.
WOLSEY Love thyself last; cherish those hearts that hate thee. Corruption wins not more than honesty. Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not. Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's, Thy God's, and truth's. Then if thou fall'st, O Cromwell, Thou fall'st a blessèd martyr! Serve the King. (3.2.523-530)
They say pride comes before the fall, and that's what happens with old Wolsey. He knows his star is falling, so he tries to help Cromwell out. It's interesting that his advice includes the deets about how to be honest and peaceful with everyone. If only Wolsey would have taken his own advice about being moral, he might have saved himself a lot of heartache.
KATHERINE After my death I wish no other herald, No other speaker of my living actions, To keep mine honor from corruption But such an honest chronicler as Griffith. Whom I most hated living, thou hast made me, With thy religious truth and modesty, Now in his ashes honor. Peace be with him! (4.2.76-82)
Katherine is interested in how she will be remembered—with principles or without. It's particularly important for her character to set the record straight because she was thrown out like dirty dishwater. She's no floozy ex-wife or loose woman (remember, divorce at the time was almost unheard of), and she wants everyone to know how upright she was.
GARDINER If we suffer, Out of our easiness and childish pity To one man's honor, this contagious sickness, Farewell all physic. And what follows then? Commotions, uproars, with a general taint Of the whole state, as of late days our neighbors, The upper Germany, can dearly witness, Yet freshly pitied in our memories. (5.3.75-82)
At the council meeting, Gardiner relates the accusations against Cranmer to a national sickness. We get the sense that principles are good for the whole nation, not just the individual. Plus, we can see that this is an ongoing problem within England. It's not one or two people who are a little immoral; it's a national epidemic—and just like a disease, it has to be contained.
CROMWELL My mind gave me, In seeking tales and informations Against this man, whose honesty the devil And his disciples only envy at, Ye blew the fire that burns you. Now, have at you! (5.3.178-182)
Anyone else getting déjà vu? First Buckingham was accused; then Wolsey; now Cranmer. The difference is that Henry frowns at this. He doesn't believe that all the trash talk about Cranmer is true.
KING I had thought I had had men of some understanding And wisdom of my Council, but I find none. Was it discretion, lords, to let this man, This good man—few of you deserve that title— This honest man, wait like a lousy footboy At chamber door? (5.3.207-212)
Finally, Henry speaks up in Cranmer's defense and tells everyone else to cool it. It looks like you can just tell when a guy is good and when he's bad. But Henry couldn't tell with Buckingham or Wolsey, so what makes this one different? No, really—we want to know.