The Winter Of Our Discontent

http://thereformedbroker.com/2009/05/28/quick-shakespeare-lesson-for-the-troglodytes/ I’d prefer not to lump myself in with the “troglodytes”, but this post does make me curious.  I think most of the regular readers here recognize the problem with the quote – people take “winter of our discontent” out of context, and never follow up with the “made glorious summer” bit. What I just learned, I think, is that “winter of our discontent” is not a standalone phrase that generically means “period of time when we are generally gloomy and unhappy with how things are going.”  I realize that in order to understand what’s being said in the play itself you have to put them together, but I guess I always kind of figured that it was two separate things – this period of our life is coming to a close because this new, happier day is dawning. What the blog poster argues, which is new to me, is that “winter” itself implies the transition, so it is not appropriate to just use it by itself.  It’s not translated as “This dark time for us is coming toa a close because of this new dude…” but more accurately, “This transition out of  our dark time has been brought about…”  If you look at it that way, it doesn’t make sense to use it by itself. Did I understand that correctly?  Do you use “winter of our discontent” as a period of time, or as the ending of one?

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10 thoughts on “The Winter Of Our Discontent

  1. I am skeptical.

    Certainly “the winter of our discontent” could mean what he says, but I don’t believe that it does in this context. The part of the speech immediately following what he quotes consists entirely of contrastive phrases (“stern alarums changed to merry meetings” and so on), so it seems considerably more coherent to read the initial sentence as contrastive, too.

    Frustratingly, if google has shakespeare.mit.edu completely indexed, this is the only time Shakespeare ever used the phrase “winter of”, so there’s not a whole lot of evidence to go on.

  2. It’s a question of grammar. If one makes the phrase “Now is the winter of our discontent . . .” into a sentence of its own, the agreement is between “Now” (subject) and “is” (verb). It’s a complete statement.

    It’s the “made” verb in Shakespeare that makes the phrase a subject phrase. “Now is the winter of our discontent” doesn’t have it in itself to point us toward its verb; the verb itself pulls that phrase from being a sentence into being merely the subject of a sentence.

    Shakespeare does that kind of ambiguity with sentences all the time!

    That doesn’t mean that the phrase should be used to mean “Things are really bad right now”–at least not to an audience that knows Shakespeare.

    Of course, we could consider the speaker–for him, the winter of his discontent is now!

    kj

  3. S. was known for his functional shifts.
    How about “Winter” having less to do with time per se, but used mainly as an adjectival metaphor to describe the severity of the discontent?
    In the Folio, both Winter and Discontent are capitalized. Further notation on this proclivity to explore double and triple meanings through the shift– Summer is also upper case S, and…sun is not spelled ‘sun’ but rather ‘Son’…of Yorke, alluding to he that stands in his way to the throne.

  4. The tone of the linked article bothers me. If you use a reference from Shakespeare in a way that it is most commonly used, then you are a troglodyte? Harsh words from someone who thinks this speech is supposed to be an uplifing one. (Richard is saying that it is a glorious summer for everyone except him.) But maybe that’s just his entertaining blogging persona, which I do not begrudge him.

    Of course you can refer to something as the “winter of our discontent,” in fact, that is what Richard does (it just isn’t “now”). Doing so implies that the condition is a temporary one, and that such things are cyclical. I don’t see any contradiction here. To reference the “winter of our discontent” for auto suppliers means that there are good times and bad times for everyone, and right now things are really bad for auto suppliers.

    But even if it were a gross misapplication of the original Shakespeare that had nevertheless passed into common parlance, why get so angry? The Reformed Broker doth protest too much, methinks.

  5. Bill wrote: “The tone of the linked article bothers me. If you use a reference from Shakespeare in a way that it is most commonly used, then you are a troglodyte? Harsh words from someone who thinks this speech is supposed to be an uplifing one.”

    Amen.
    One wonders whether or not he’s been blinded by his own dazzling but erroneous analysis of the whole soliloquy, based, as it is, totally upon its first four lines; and has therefore found himself unable to read how the rest of it speaks a categorical denial to his ‘well thought out’ assertions regarding its meaning.

  6. Just curious–when was it that the Bureau of Interpretation Police instituted the Rule of Singularly Correct Analysis? The long line of Professional Critics, they who “deduce” for their supper, had better quickly find a new line of work or starve, since they almost never agree two at once.

    During the plague years of 1592-94, the theatres were closed the majority of the time.
    I wonder if on the road to some provincial stop near nowhere, Burbage (who played Richard) might have uttered the line thus: “NOW is the WINTER of OUR Discontent.” ? I suppose Will might have been quick to pull him up short for that transgression–Not.

  7. It means "the winter of our discontent is now made [turned into] glorious summer by this sun of York."

    In other words, things were really bad but now they're better, in the speaker's view. -Larry Siegel

    This is relatively straightforward and I am surprised to see it being debated.

  8. Anonymous said…"This is relatively straightforward and I am surprised to see it being debated."

    The "debate" seemed to have been over the use of the quote "out of context" so to speak. The original author questioned a reporter's knowledge, as a result of this statement:

    Reporter 1: What’s the mood out there amongst the auto parts suppliers in the Detroit area?

    Reporter 2: Well, certainly there is a sense of this being the winter of our discontent, with mounting job losses on the horizon for many in the industry.

    As shown above in the hypothetical Burbage example, it can be properly used "out of context" without immediately assuming that the speaker is ignorant of how it's used differently in the play. Richard, though he speaks of the past, might have, at one point, spoken experientially in the present about this "winter" as he was experiencing it.

  9. I'm not sure what to think. Sometimes I think of Winter as a capitalized noun, and sometimes as a lower-case noun, i.e. it could be that winter IS the bad time itself or, its ending. But consider these words together: "is the winter" and "made glorious" An ending could certainly be glorious but i think Shakespeare meant to say that Winter is being transformed into a glorious Summer.

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