Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent: Meaning, Overview

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  • 0:01 What the Quote Means
  • 2:13 The Rest of the Soliloquy?
  • 4:55 The Real Richard III
  • 5:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Perhaps no author is quoted more than William Shakespeare. Perhaps no Shakespeare quote is more popular than 'Now is the winter of our discontent.' Learn about the famous quote and both the real and fictionalized versions of King Richard III.

What The Quote Means

'Now is the winter of our discontent'

That is the famous opening line to the William Shakespeare play Richard III (1592). The first scene of the play is a soliloquy, or speech a character speaks to himself, by the future king of England, Richard III. Alone, the line is a bit confusing. Is Shakespeare saying that winter means the end of the year and spring is just around the corner? So, the quote means that we've been in the cold harsh winter but we are near the end of our unhappiness. Or is Shakespeare trying to say that our unhappiness is like winter: cold and gloomy?

The issue with the quote is that people recite and know it as a single line. However, 'Now is the winter of our discontent,' is just one part. Let's consider a few more lines. The first two lines of the soliloquy are:

'Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer by this son of York'

It now appears that Richard is not talking about his unhappiness, but he is actually celebrating. The lines together translate to something like this: the unhappiness is over, and now the wonderful summer is upon us.

We can also ascertain that Richard is celebrating his family's victory. Richard's brother, Edward IV (they are the sons of the Duke of York, so in the second line 'son' is actually a pun for 'sun') has taken the English crown from Henry IV. The next two lines of the soliloquy are:

'And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.'

Prior to Edward taking the throne, Richard's family felt like they had been oppressed, and life in general felt like a long, unhappy winter. But now that Richard's brother is king, Edward's reign shines like the sun and the clouds that low'r'd (lowered) on the House of York have been removed.

But What about the Rest of the Soliloquy?

If we consider the rest of Richard's soliloquy in Act I, Scene I, we see that it's not all wine and roses for Richard. We quickly determine that while the rest of the family can celebrate and be happy about Edward's crown, there is a deep dark side to Richard that stems from his physical appearance.

'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'

Okay, sounds like Richard is pretty upset for getting the short end of the stick in the looks department. He is deformed to the point that dogs bark at him. He is so heinous that he can't even take on a lover. So, because he can't lead a normal life and just be happy, he makes it his goal to be a villain.

'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.'

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