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The Winter’s Tale

The Winter’s Tale


by William Shakespeare

The Winter’s Tale Youth and Old Age 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.
Would they else be content to die?
Yes; if there were no other excuse why they should
desire to live.
If the king had no son, they would desire to live
on crutches till he had one. (1.1.5)

Camillo insists that young Mammilius, the kingdom’s pride and joy, has the capacity to restore the health of the Sicilian subjects and makes old people want to live longer. This is kind of an odd thing to say and it’s also ironic given that Mammilius will fall ill and die in the play’s third act. Despite Mammilius’s fate, however, Camillo’s words also seem to anticipate the way in which youth really will have a restorative and healing power in Act 5, when Florizel and Perdita’s blossoming young love will reunite their families at the Sicilian court.

Quote #2

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)

Polixenes describes his childhood friendship with Leontes as a kind of earthly paradise, where the two boys played and “frisk[ed]” like two innocent little “lambs” that knew nothing about the “doctrine of ill-doing” (original sin). If youth is characterized as an Edenic experience that’s marked by innocence, then it seems to follow that old age is like a fall from grace. (Check out “Quotes” for “Friendship” if you want to think about this passage some more.)

Quote #3

Looking on the lines
Of my boy's face, methoughts I did recoil
Twenty-three years, and saw myself unbreech'd,
In my green velvet coat, my dagger muzzled,
Lest it should bite its master, and so prove,
As ornaments oft do, too dangerous: (1.2.15)

Leontes says that looking into his son’s face takes him back to his own boyhood, when he was “unbreech’d” (before he was old enough to wear “breeches” or pants – in Shakespeare’s time, boys wore dresses until they were about seven or eight). In other words, when he looks at Mammilius, he sees himself as a young boy. Here, Leontes also expresses an idea that occurs throughout the play. That is, children are often portrayed as smaller versions or exact “copies” of their parents. Compare this passage to 2.3.12 and 5.1.11 below.

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