It’s almost the winter solstice (just a couple of days left!) so I thought I’d share some of my favourite winter-related quotes from Shakespeare’s plays and poems.
Henry VI, Part II; Act II, scene iv
Thus sometimes hath the brightest day a cloud;
And after summer evermore succeeds
Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping cold:
So cares and joys abound, as seasons fleet.
Not many people seem to read the Henry VI plays for fun (unless you’re RM of BTS apparently) but this is such an interesting quote. Despite seeming to lament the passing of time, Gloucester is actually talking about his wife being banished from court after attempting to summon a spirit who will tell her the future. It’s a lovely quote when taken out of context though.
Titus Andronicus; Act III, scene i
In winter with warm tears I’ll melt the snow
And keep eternal spring-time on thy face.
Titus Andronicus is one of my favourite Shakespearean plays, which may seem a bit odd considering the subject matter, and the imagery in this quote is stunning. Titus, laying down in the streets of Rome, pleads for the lives of his sons before unrelenting judges and senators. Titus’ entire speech at the beginning of act three is rich and interesting but this is my favourite part of it.
For never-resting time leads summer on
To hideous winter and confounds him there;
Sap cheque’d with frost and lusty leaves quite gone,
Beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where.
Shakespeare is talking about the passage of time in this sonnet, comparing a man’s life to the seasons of the year. In this sonnet, winter represents the final years of a man’s life. Man, like the leaves, is sapped of his strength and left barren by winter. Shakespeare laments the passage of time and the fleeting nature of beauty.
As You Like It; Act II, scene vii
Blow, blow, thou winter wind
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
This is part of a song sung in As You Like It. It’s sung by Amiens who is a musician in Duke Senior’s exiled court. They’re all just wandering around the Forest of Arden being miserable and stuff. Fun times. Blow, blow, thou winter wind is a rather melancholic song as Amiens claims that even the cruellest winter is not as cruel as mankind. He goes on to complain about the behaviour of his friends who are as cold and cutting as the winter wind. According to Amiens, friendship is a sham. He sounds like a fun guy but he’s hanging around with Jaques so what can you expect?
Shakespeare, clearly, displays winter as the worst of seasons. For Shakespeare, winter destroys the joy that summer brings and lacks the wistful longing of autumn but he is still aware of it and utilises the barren, bare imagery in many of his plays and poems. Winter may be the worst season, at least for Shakespeare, but it is unavoidable and, eventually, it gives way to spring.
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