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NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT

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This week for our cultural article we will be looking at the Now is the Winter of Our Discontent soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Richard III.

The play, which was first published in 1597, deals with the rise and fall of the Machiavellian king, Richard III. It follows Richard as he lies, cheats, manipulates, and ultimately murders his way from the position of Duke of Gloucester to the Kingship of England. Then, finally, it follows his fall from power as he struggles to keep his kingdom unified, and ends with his death at the Battle of Bosworth field and the declaration of the Tudor dynasty.

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

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William Shakespeare is one of the most important figures of the English Renaissance, living through the reign of Elizabeth I and the early years of James I. Over the course of his life, he published over thirty plays, as well as numerous poems and sonnets.

William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd, 1564 in Stratford-Upon-Avon. His father, John Shakespeare, was an alderman and successful glove-maker. His mother, Mary Arden, was the daughter of an affluent farmer. Young Shakespeare probably received an education at Edward IV Grammar school in Stratford. There he would have become familiar with the Roman dramatists, Latin, and the basics of Ancient Greek.

At eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior. Together, the couple would have three children: Susanna, Judith, and Hamnet (who would die in childhood). He would die at the age of fifty-two on April 23rd, 1616.

RICHARD III – CHARACTER

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Countless villains, from Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine to Lord Voldemort, owe their existence to Shakespeare’s infamous character. Shakespeare presents Richard to us as a murderous psychopath, a Machiavellian villain driven by jealousy and a mad lust for power.

THE SOLILOQUY

Richard III Brooklyn Academy of Music - Harvey Theater

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
Clarence comes.
INTERPRETATION
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Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

The word “now” implies that the play is taking place in the present. Similarly, “sun” is a pun referring to both warmth and brightness of summer and to the son of the Duke of York. Ultimately, Richard is referring to the brief period of peace brought about by his brother’s, Edward IV’s, ascent to the throne of England.

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Here Richard tells us that all the hardships his family had endured have been buried in the “deep bosom of the ocean.”

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;

The Yorks have won the War of the Roses (for now) and wear the laurel wreaths of victorious heroes upon their heads. The weapons they used have been hung on the walls to memorialise their victory. And now, with peace and order restored, the call of battle has morphed into the sound of people chatting and being friendly with one another. There is even a little dancing. If war were a person, Richard tells us, his gruff facial features have been smoothed out into something kinder and more pleasant.

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.

King Edward, Richard informs us, is no longer riding into battle and commanding his army to put the fear of God into his enemies. Instead, he is making love to music in a lady’s chamber.

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;
Richard believes no woman will want to have sex with him because of his physical appearance. He was not made to look in the mirror and fall in love with his own appearance, nor can he inspire lustfulness in women: he would like to be desirable, but isn’t. Instead, he has been “rudely stamped” like a coin that has not been properly polished.
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,
Richard goes on about his physical appearance. He tells us that he has been poorly put together, that he has been denied beauty and sexual attractiveness by nature. Instead, he has been cursed to look deformed and monstrous. Richard is deformed, suffering from a hunched back, a withered arm, and a limp. He tells us that he was born before his body was fully developed.
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Not even the dogs like Richard: barking at him as he stops by them. Nor is anyone going to look to him for advice on fashion.
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:
There is nothing for Richard, the great commander, in peacetime. He likes war because it brings about strength, glory, and victory. By contrast, Richard despises peace as being passive and weak. Furthermore, Richard’s deformity means he cannot join in the revelry of peacetime. His only entertainment is to poke fun at himself.
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.
Richard decides that if he cannot make love to women or fit in with peace time, he will instead devote his life to being evil, to making others feel the pain and suffering he feels. Furthermore, by telling us he is “determined to prove a villain”, Richard asserts that he has free will.
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:
Richard has been plotting and scheming. He has set things in motion by getting drunks to spread false prophecies, rumours, and dreams of his invention. Richard intends to inspire a deadly hate between his two brothers: Edward and the Duke of Clarence.
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.
Richard believes his brother, Edward, to be gullible enough to fall for his trickery and deceit. If Edward is gullible enough to believe the rumours Richard has been spreading, as Richard believes he is, he will throw Clarence, whose name happens to be George, into prison for plotting to murder his children. It is obvious that he holds his brother in contempt, never referring to him as his brother, but only as the king. The description of “true and just” is said sarcastically, referring to the qualities expected in a king.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.
Richard is going to buy these thoughts deep down inside himself as he interacts with the outside world.

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