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The Winter’s Tale Theme of Time

The Winter’s Tale is obsessed with time. The play goes out of its way to draw our attention to 1) time’s passage, 2) the way time can often appear to stand still, and 3) how some events can trigger memories that seem to transport us back in time. The only Shakespeare play to span across sixteen years, The Winter’s Tale defies the classical unities (of time, place, and action), an old set of literary rules that said the action in all plays should take place within a 24-hour time span.

Questions About Time

  1. What’s the overall significance of Polixenes’s nine-month stay at Leontes’s court? (Why doesn’t Shakespeare make his visit, say, seven months or three weeks?)
  2. What event or activity triggers Leontes's memory of his own childhood?
  3. What is the purpose of Time’s appearance on stage in Act 4, Scene 1?
  4. After Hermione’s supposed death, how many years pass before Leontes is reunited with his family?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Leontes's grief over his destruction of his family prevents him being able to move forward with his life – although sixteen years pass before he’s finally reunited with his family, Leontes's lives as though he’s frozen in time.

In The Winter’s Tale, looking into the faces of children can transport parents back in time to the days of their own youth.

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