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The Winter’s Tale Art and Culture Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.

Quote #1

Sir, the year growing ancient,
Not yet on summer's death, nor on the birth
Of trembling winter, the fairest Hermione’s statue
flowers o' the season
Are our carnations and streak'd gillyvors,
Which some call nature's bastards: of that kind
Our rustic garden's barren; and I care not
To get slips of them.
Wherefore, gentle maiden,
Do you neglect them?
For I have heard it said
There is an art which in their piedness shares
With great creating nature.
Say there be;
Yet nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean: so, over that art
Which you say adds to nature, is an art
That nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we marry
A gentler scion to the wildest stock,
And make conceive a bark of baser kind
By bud of nobler race: this is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.
So it is. (4.4.6)

Literary scholars often argue that this conversation about the merits of “gillyvors” is actually a debate about art vs. nature. When Perdita points out that she doesn’t have any “gillyvors” (gillyflowers, or carnations) to offer her guests, Polixenes takes issue with her referring to the cross-bred flowers as “nature’s bastards.” Polixenes argues that crossbred flowers are superior to plain old carnations and that the “art” of grafting is completely “natural.” (“Grafting” is a horticultural practice where a plant’s tissue is fused with another plant in order to create a “hybrid.”) Perdita, on the other hand, prefers flowers that are pure and that haven’t been influenced by the “art” of grafting.

Quote #2

Then make your garden rich in gillyvors,
And do not call them bastards.
I'll not put
The dibble in earth to set one slip of them;
No more than were I painted I would wish
This youth should say 'twere well and only therefore
Desire to breed by me. Here's flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi' the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age. You're very welcome. (4.4.4)

In the previous passage, we saw how, for Polixenes, grafting is a “natural” process while Perdita sees cross-breeding flowers to create a hybrid as “artifice.” In this passage, the debate turns into something quite personal for Perdita. She says she’d no sooner plant a cross-bred gillyflower in her garden than she would “paint” her face with make-up in order to attract a potential husband (Florizel, whose name associates him with the flowers of spring) to “breed” with. By this point in the conversation, grafting seems to have become a metaphor for family relationships. What’s interesting about this is that, here, Polixenes says that grafting or cross-breeding flowers will ultimately produce a “nobler” breed, but when he later learns that his son wants to “graft” himself to (marry) a lowly shepherd’s daughter, he objects. We can take the implied metaphor further by also pointing out that Perdita doesn’t realize she’s been “grafted” to the Old Shepherd’s family (she was adopted).

Quote #3

Your high self,
The gracious mark o' the land, you have obscured
With a swain's wearing, and me, poor lowly maid,
Most goddess-like prank'd up: but that our feasts
In every mess have folly and the feeders
Digest it with a custom, I should blush
To see you so attired, sworn, I think,
To show myself a glass.
Even now I tremble
To think your father, by some accident,
Should pass this way as you did: O, the Fates!
How would he look, to see his work so noble
Vilely bound up? What would he say? Or how
Should I, in these my borrow'd flaunts, behold
The sternness of his presence? (4.4.1-2)

Perdita is pretty self-conscious about being dressed up in an artificial “Queen of the Feast” costume (when she thinks she’s nothing more than a lowly shepherd’s daughter) and she says as much in the play. While Perdita thinks it’s wrong for her to dress up as something that she’s not, the audience understands that her festival costume actually speaks to her true nature or identity (the princess and future Queen of Sicily).

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