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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.

Quote #1

I very well agree with you in the hopes of him: it
is a gallant child; one that indeed physics the
subject, makes old hearts fresh: they that went on
crutches ere he was born desire yet their life to
see him a man. (1.1.5)

Here, Camillo brags that the young prince is so special that he “makes old hearts fresh.” Not only does Mammilius have the power to make it seem as though time has been reversed (meaning, he makes old people feel young again), but he also instills in the old and frail a desire to extend their time on earth in order to see him grow up into a “man.” Young Mammilius tends to have this effect on everyone.

Quote #2

Nine changes of the watery star hath been
The shepherd's note since we have left our throne
Without a burthen: time as long again
Would be find up, my brother, with our thanks;
And yet we should, for perpetuity,
Go hence in debt: and therefore, like a cipher,
Yet standing in rich place, I multiply
With one 'We thank you' many thousands more
That go before it. (1.2.1)

OK, Polixenes has apparently been in Sicily for nine months, which is a long time for him to be away from his family and his kingdom. More importantly, nine months is the exact amount of time it takes for a baby to gestate, so it seems like Shakespeare is alerting us to the possibility that the pregnant Hermione could, technically speaking, be carrying Polixenes’s baby. (She’s not.) While there’s no evidence of infidelity, we know that the timing of Polixenes’s visit probably plays into Leontes fears that his wife and BFF have been fooling around.

Quote #3

We were, fair queen,
Two lads that thought there was no more behind
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal.
We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun,
And bleat the one at the other: what we changed
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream'd
That any did. Had we pursued that life,
And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd
With stronger blood, we should have answer'd heaven
Boldly 'not guilty;' the imposition clear'd
Hereditary ours. (1.2.9)

As Polixenes describes his childhood friendship with Leontes, he suggests that they seemed to live in a world where time stood still and boyhood seemed “eternal.” As an adult, however, Leontes will become acutely aware of time’s progression – he’ll suffer for sixteen long years before being reunited with his family.

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