Shakespeare’s play signals its interest in time rather obviously in the beginning of act four, when Father Time himself comes on-stage and introduces a (remarkable) sixteen-year jump forward in the play. Time’s inevitable movement forward affects everything in the play: thanks to the temporal jump forward in act four, we see time age Leontes, Polixenes, Paulina, and others. We also see Perdita grow from an infant to a young woman ready for marriage. Even the statue of Hermione at Paulina’s house seems to age with time, as in act five it appears to have acquired some wrinkles over the sixteen years since its being made. (However, this may simply be Hermione herself; critics disagree about whether the statue is real or simply Hermione in disguise, who never actually died.) As the play emphasizes the progression of time, it repeatedly glorifies the innocence of youth. In the opening scene, Camillo says that the young Mamillius gives otherwise hopeless old Sicilians a reason for continuing to live. And Polixenes compares Leontes and himself as children to two “twinned lambs” who were innocent even of original sin. The inevitable process of aging is thus somewhat tragic, represented as a loss of innocence.
But, the play does show some possibilities for finding happiness amid the unstoppable progression of time. One such remedy is through children. When Leontes sees Florizell, he is amazed at the young man’s resemblance to a young Polixenes. The older generation of characters in the play is able to relive their youth to some extent, or at least see their youth reborn in the younger generation of their children. Moreover, the play ends with Leontes looking optimistically toward the future. He encourages Paulina to remarry with Camillo, rather than dwelling on the unhappy end of her former husband Antigonus. Thus, while not abandoning the memory of the past, the play concludes by suggesting hope for improvement in the future. No one can escape time’s constant movement forward, but the progression of time and aging need not be entirely cause for lament.
Youth, Age, and Time ThemeTracker
Youth, Age, and Time Quotes in The Winter's Tale
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.
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
Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh? —a note infallible
Of breaking honesty —horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?
Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.
If she dares trust me with her little babe,
I'll show't the king and undertake to be
Her advocate to the loud'st. We do not know
How he may soften at the sight o' the child:
The silence often of pure innocence
Persuades when speaking fails.
I would there were no age between sixteen and
three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the
rest; for there is nothing in the between but
getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry,
Your mother was most true to wedlock, prince;
For she did print your royal father off,
Conceiving you: were I but twenty-one,
Your father's image is so hit in you,
His very air, that I should call you brother,
As I did him, and speak of something wildly
By us perform'd before. Most dearly welcome!
And your fair princess, —goddess! —O, alas!
I lost a couple, that 'twixt heaven and earth
Might thus have stood begetting wonder as
You, gracious couple, do: and then I lost—
All mine own folly —the society,
Amity too, of your brave father, whom,
Though bearing misery, I desire my life
Once more to look on him.
But yet, Paulina,
Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing
So aged as this seems.
O, not by much!
So much the more our carver’s excellence,
Which lets go by some sixteen years and makes her
As she lived now.
My lord, your sorrow was too sore laid on,
Which sixteen winters cannot blow away,
So many summers dry; scarce any joy
Did ever so long live; no sorrow
But kill'd itself much sooner.