King Richard III from Shakespeare's play

Now is The Winter of Our Discontent

When you stop to think about it, Shakespeare really was a genius. In Richard III, we find one of literature’s most famous lines, “Now is the winter of our discontent” (Folger Shakespeare Library). Richard, who eventually becomes King Richard III, speaks this poetic and memorable phrase. Before we look at why this line is so great, let’s read the second line (which I like even more).

The second line says, “Made glorious summer by this son of York.” Why is this interesting? Well, if you read quickly, you might assume we’re talking about the weather, but that would be wrong. Notice the spelling of “son” and not “sun.” What’s going on here?

Shakespeare set this drama during a period of time called The War of Roses (1455-1485). Two different houses, Lancaster and York, battled for the English throne. It was a dark time (the winter of our discontent). Men killed for power, but then Edward IV (Richard’s handsome brother whose symbol in battle was a sun) is victorious and becomes king. He is the “son of York” that brings us out of winter into a glorious summer. But wait, there’s more.

Richard is the narrator, an ugly and discontented man. The irony is that while he says these words in praise of peace, he secretly plans to take the throne for himself. He means to disrupt that peace by killing his brother and anyone who gets in his way. The opening line is not about weather, it’s a deeply cynical view into the mind of a murderer.

I discovered this by being curious. After reading the first line, I wondered what Shakespeare was getting at, and why. After thirty minutes of research, I had only read two lines of the drama, but the meaning of those words became so much more dramatic. That is why we read slowly.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.



Works Cited:

“Folger Shakespeare Library.” Richard III – Entire Play. Folger Shakespeare Library, Accessed 4 Apr. 2024.

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