Act IV, Scene i

Synopsis of Act IV, Scene i

The figure of Time enters, and tells the audience that sixteen years have passed, that Leontes is penitent, and lives a secluded life, and that the action of the play will now take place in Bohemia. Time goes on to remind the audience of Polixenes' son, Prince Florizel (mentioned in Act I scene ii) and of Perdita, who has now grown into a wonderful young lady, and who passes for a shepherd's daughter.

Commentary on Act IV, Scene i

Enter Time, the Chorus A ‘Chorus' in the context of Shakespearean drama means a single person who comments on the action (cf. The Chorus in Henry V.)

More on the Chorus: The term ‘Chorus' comes from ancient Greek theatre where a group of actors, singing or speaking in unison, commented on the significance of events during a play.

It is noticeable that Time speaks in rhyming couplets, which sets him apart from other characters (and was often used by Shakespeare for supernatural characters, such as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream). See: Verse and prose.

PandostoI ... try all … unfolds error Time tests everyone, revealing the truth. There is a proverb that ‘Truth is the daughter of Time', and The Triumph of Time is the subtitle of Pandosto, a novel of 1588 by Robert Greene which supplied Shakespeare with much of his story for The Winter's Tale.

I ... leave the growth untried / Of that wide gap … I give my scene such growing Time uses the image of growth to suggest the developments that have taken place in sixteen years. The idea of growth and renewal is a key image of the play – see: Birth and growth.

I turn my glass The figure of Time traditionally carries an hour-glass.

I mentioned a son o' th' king's Not mentioned explicitly by the figure of Time, but mentioned ‘in time past' –in fact in I. ii

Grown in grace / Equal with wond'ring Perdita, like her mother, is described as possessing the quality of grace, which is as much a spiritual as a physical quality. (See: Spiritual re-creation.) It is notable in the Romance Plays of Shakespeare (see: Romance plays) that, in contrast to many of his earlier plays, outer appearance does reflect character: Perdita is ‘gracious' in both body and soul. She is also described here as causing ‘wond'ring' – that is, admiration. The heroine of another of the Romance Plays – Miranda in The Tempest, has a name which means ‘to be admired, or wondered at'.

Investigating Act IV, Scene i
  • The figure of Time is unlike any other character in the play. What might be the effect of this symbolic figure on the audience?
    • How else might Shakespeare have indicated a jump of sixteen years? (Consider also The Tempest, where events twelve years before are not seen by the audience but are recounted by Prospero to his daughter Miranda.)
  • What does Shakespeare gain or lose by deliberately ignoring the classical idea of the Unities?
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