In The Winter’s Tale, there’s an importance put on the idea of seasons and how they represent the things happening in the play as well as how the people in the settings during the time of the seasons. A prime example of this can be seen in how the play is set up in the acts and scenes.
To begin, In the second Act we are given a definitive point of time, which allows us to assume when Act 2 is happening. In this quote, Mamillius and Hermione are talking about how her son is going to tell his mother a story:
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.” (2.1.28-34)
The first thing in this quote that can be seen is that Mamillius directly states that “A sad tale is best for Winter.” This piece of the quote sticks out for two reasons, One the stating of the season that they are in and two the major symbolism in the meaning of winter. Often, the use of winter is to signify the ending of something as well as death. This makes sense given that the season itself unintentionally kills the leaves and send the living into an almost dormant state of being while the rest of time carries on.
This idea of winter being a season on ending continues
to play throughout the piece. In the following quote there is mention of winter and summer: “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” (5.3.57-56). Again, there is this reference to the winter being a time of mourning for his wife’s “crimes” and the loss of his child. They also talk a
bout the season of summer in which the second act takes place during. This pairing of the two is interesting because it shows two sides of the same coin and they are opposites of each other. Summer is like the celebration of life, the start of new beginnings.
Along with the topic of life, Spring is often seen as the time of renewal and rebirth, it can also bee seen as a symbolization of youth. They play with the idea of youth during the second half of the play when the Perdita’s moment of rebirth happens when she finds out that she is a princess and her mother is reborn into the world. Both these moments emphasize the meaning of rebirth especially the case of Hermione who died while she was locked up.
Shakespeare, William. “The Winter’s Tale” The Norton Shakespeare, Greenblatt, Stephen, Cohen, Walter, Norton & Company, 2016, 1655-1726.