The passing of time is significant for both Birth and growth, and the relationships between Parents and children.

Time passing in Act I

Although the most obvious part played by Time is his appearance as a character at the start of Act IV, yet there have been many references to time passing in all the first three acts, as well as later, after Time has left the stage:

  • In Act I, sc i, Camillo talks of ‘this coming summer' when Leontes plans to visit Bohemia
  • In the same scene, Camillo and Archidamus discuss Mamillius' growing up
  • At the start of Act I, sc ii, Polixenes reminds Leontes (unfortunately, given Leontes' later suspicions) that he has been in Bohemia for nine months
  • Later in Act I, sc ii, Hermione and Leontes talk about his wooing of her for ‘three crabb'd months'
  • Looking at his son, Leontes recalls himself twenty-three years before.

Time brings change

All these references – and others - occur before we are halfway into the second scene of the play. Why is Shakespeare so keen to stress the passing of time? Almost certainly because, as the play continues, we observe the changes that time brings about for both good and ill. In particular:

  • Hermione's child is born and lost
  • Apollo's oracle tells Leontes and his court (in Act III, sc ii) that ‘the king shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found'.

Time and forgiveness

When Paulina enters with the news of Hermione's death, she at first tells the now distraught king that he may never be forgiven:

‘A thousand knees,
Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting,
Upon a barren mountain, and still winter
In storm perpetual, could not move the gods
To look that way thou wert.'

However, as time passes Leontes takes part in the ‘re-creation' of his soul that enables him to be forgiven and his wife and child restored. As Time tells us (in Act IV, sc i):

‘I, that please some, try all.'

Time marks the natural progression of both human life and that of the natural world through which humans pass from youth to age, and from innocence to sin but also to possible grace and redemption.

See also - Natural and unnatural development in The Winter's Tale:

Birth and growth Children Sin and innocence Parents and children Time
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