The Winter’s Tale
The Winter’s Tale Time Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
Looking on the lines
Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil
Twenty-three years. (1.2.15)
Just after Leontes begins to suspect that his wife is cheating on him, he says that looking into his young boy’s face takes him back in time “twenty-three years” to his own childhood. We know from Polixeness’ description of Leontes's childhood that it was a time of pre-sexual innocence (see 1.2.9 above). It’s no wonder then that Leontes would seek refuge in the memory of his innocent childhood after convincing himself that his wife has been sexually promiscuous. Here, we can imagine Leontes staring into the face of his child (Mammilius) and remembering his own childhood as a warm, safe place where everything was OK and he didn’t suspect his wife of infidelity. It seems that, for Leontes, childhood is a time of innocence and adulthood is a time of inevitable sexual corruption.
If at home, sir,
He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter,
Now my sworn friend and then mine enemy,
My parasite, my soldier, statesman, all:
He makes a July's day short as December,
And with his varying childness cures in me
Thoughts that would thick my blood. (1.2.17)
When prompted, Polixenes says that, yes, he and his wife love their son (Florizel) just as much as Leontes loves Mammilius. What’s interesting to us about this passage is how Polixenes says his boy “cures in [him] thoughts that would thick [his] blood.” Polixenes, of course, means the child makes him happy and keeps bad thoughts at bay. His use of the word “cures” also suggests that the child keeps him healthy and young. (We’ve seen a similar idea at 1.1.5, above, haven’t we?) At the same time, however, Polixenes also implies that his kid is also a bit of a handful – so much so that the boy makes it seem like time is flying by (a summer day seems “short as [a] December” day), which draws our attention to the fact that Polixenes is aging.
I, that please some, try all, both joy and terror
Of good and bad, that makes and unfolds error,
Now take upon me, in the name of Time,
To use my wings. Impute it not a crime
To me or my swift passage, that I slide
O'er sixteen years and leave the growth untried
Of that wide gap, since it is in my power
To o'erthrow law and in one self-born hour
To plant and o'erwhelm custom. (4.1.1)
When “Time,” a winged figure with an hourglass appears on stage at the beginning of Act 4, he announces that time has fast-forwarded “sixteen years” into the future. In this way, Time is acting the part of a Chorus (kind of like a narrator).
What’s interesting about this passage is that Time asks the audience not to be critical of this dramatic technique (“impute it not a crime” that the play has skipped ahead sixteen years). Flash forwards were a big no-no on the English stage in Shakespeare’s day because they disregarded the “classical unities” (of time, place, and action), a set of literary rules that said all plays should have the following features: 1) the action should take place within a 24 hour time span; 2) the action should take place in one geographical place/setting; 3) the play should have one main plot and no sub-plots. The Winter’s Tale pretty clearly breaks all of these rules (as did many other Shakespeare plays). Check out more of Time’s big speech below…