The seasons

Summer and winter

Sheep shearingIn The Winter's Tale, the sunshine that infuses the sheep-shearing scene suggests the idealistic nature of ‘pastoral' poetry. But the play is not only set in summer sunshine. In the first half of the play (in Act II, sc i) Mamillius tells us that ‘a sad tale's best for winter', suggesting that it is winter at that time.

In addition, when Paulina berates Leontes after Hermione's apparent death (in Act III, sc ii), her words suggest that sin and the death of innocence may be symbolised by winter's death-like cold:

‘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.'

Seasonal renewal

The movement between the seasons not only suggests renewal of the natural world, but also reminds us that time moves on during the course of the play (see also: Natural and unnatural development, and Contrasts and divisions) allowing for Leontes' spiritual renewal.

The myth of Proserpina

The idea that seasons eternally change is also reinforced by Perdita's reference (in IV. iv.) to a well-known classical myth:

O Proserpina,
For the flowers which, frighted, thou let fall
From Dis's wagon!

Prosperpine eating the pomegranateProsperpina (or Persephone in Greek) was supposedly seized by the god of the underworld, Dis (or Pluto). He took her down into his underworld kingdom, but could not have power over her unless she ate. She refused food, but sucked a pomegranate and inadvertently swallowed six pips. As a result, she had to stay in the underworld for six months of the year. In that time her mother Ceres (Demeter), goddess of the harvest, mourns for her and the earth is cold; but once Proserpina emerges, the other six months of the year are warm and fruitful.

Perdita's mention of the myth reminds us that spring comes after winter and hope after sadness; it also, of course, reminds the audience of the story of a lost child and a mother's grief – more appropriate than Perdita herself can know.

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