The Winter's Tale


William Shakespeare

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The Seasons Symbol Analysis

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The Seasons Symbol Icon
The play’s title hints at the importance of the seasons, and while they are not always an obvious motif throughout the play, the seasons (in particular winter and summer) form a significant background to the action of the play. The first three acts of the play take place in winter, as is hinted when Mamillius prepares to tell Hermione a story and tells her, “a sad tale’s best for winter.” Acts 4 and 5, in contrast, take place in the spring and summer (the exact time is ambiguous), as is made clear by the occasion of the sheep-shearing festival in Bohemia. As Mamillius’ comment suggests, each season has particular associations appropriate to it. Cold winter is often associated with old age, death, and grimness. As such, it is appropriate for the first, tragic half of The Winter’s Tale, in which the older generation of characters is at the center of the action, and which climaxes with the deaths of Mamillius and Hermione (and also includes Antigonus’ death). Spring symbolizes renewal, rebirth, and new beginnings, and is associated with youth. Thus, in the second half of the play, the younger characters (Perdita and Florizell, especially) take center stage, and the tragic seriousness of the first three acts gives way to the light-heartedness of the sheep-shearing festival. Moreover, this part of the play reaches a climax with the “rebirth” of Perdita, as she becomes a princess once again, and with the apparent resurrection of Hermione. Both seasonal moments thus signify particular things, and emphasize aspects of the play that occur during each seasonal period. But since the play contains both time periods, it is ultimately a combination of the contradictory associations of both these times of year, just as it is a combination of the qualities of several genres (including tragedy and comedy).

The Seasons Quotes in The Winter's Tale

The The Winter's Tale quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Seasons. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Loyalty, Fidelity, and Honesty Theme Icon
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

Come, sir, now
I am for you again: pray you, sit by us,
And tell ‘s a tale.

Merry or sad shall’t be?

As merry as you will.

A sad tale’s best for winter: I have one
Of sprites and goblins.

Related Characters: Hermione (speaker), Mamillius (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 2.1.28-34
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 4, Scene 4 Quotes

Thou dearest Perdita,
With these forced thoughts, I prithee, darken not
The mirth o' the feast.

Related Characters: Florizell (speaker), Perdita
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 4.4.47-49
Explanation and Analysis:

The fairest flowers o’ th’ season
Are our carnations and streaked gillyvors,
Which some call nature’s bastards. Of that kind
Our rustic garden’s barren, and I care not
To get slips of them.

Wherefore, gentle maiden,
Do you neglect them?

For I have heard it said
There is an art which in their piedness shares
With great creating nature.

Say there be;
Yet nature is made better by no mean
But nature makes that mean. So, over that art
Which you say adds to nature is an art
That nature makes.
. . . This is an art
Which does mend nature, change it rather, but
The art itself is nature.

Related Characters: Polixenes (speaker), Perdita (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Related Literary Devices:
Page Number: 4.4.95-114
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Camillo (speaker), Leontes
Related Symbols: The Seasons
Page Number: 5.3.57-62
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Seasons Symbol Timeline in The Winter's Tale

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Seasons appears in The Winter's Tale. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, Scene 1
Youth, Age, and Time Theme Icon
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
...Mamillius to tell her a “merry” tale, but Mamillius says, “a sad tale’s best for winter,” and plans to tell her a frightening story with “sprites and goblins.” He starts to... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
Seriousness, Levity, and Humor Theme Icon
A con-man named Autolycus is walking along a road in Bohemia, singing a song about spring and how he enjoys “tumbling in the hay,” with women. He sees the shepherd’s son... (full context)