We have seen the expression Now is the winter of our discontent, a quote from Shakespeare’s play King Richard III, as a criticism to the recent cold front that is sweeping over the central United States towards the east coast and threatening to topple temperature records. Is the expression correct to express discontent with the cold weather? The answer in plain simple: NO!
Meaning of Now is the winter of our discontent:
The time of unhappiness is past.
Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of Yorkwas coined by Shakespeare and put into print in Richard III, 1594. The ‘sun of York’ wasn’t of course a comment on Yorkshire weather but on King Richard. In this play Shakespeare presents an account of Richard’s character that, until the late 20th century, largely formed the popular opinion of him as a malevolent, deformed schemer. Historians now view that representation as a dramatic plot device – necessary for the villainous role that Shakespeare had allocated him. It isn’t consistent with what is now known of Richard III, who in many ways showed himself to be an enlightened and forward-looking monarch.
“Now is the winter of our discontent” are the opening words of the play and lay the groundwork for the portrait of Richard as a discontented man who is unhappy in a world that hates him. Later he describes himself as “Deformed, unfinished, sent before his time into this breathing world, scarce half made up”. This deformity, which has now been shown to have been exaggerated or even deliberately faked in portraits of Richard, is given as the source of his supposed evil doings. He says that as he “cannot prove a lover” he is “determined to be a villain”.
The brooding malevolence that Shakespeare has Richard personify mirrors the playwright’s view of the state of the English nation during the Wars of the Roses.
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here