The Importance Of Time In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

2326 words - 9 pages

The Importance of Time in The Winter's Tale

 

Leon. No foot shall stir.

Paul. Music, awake her; strike! [Music]

Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach;

Strike all that look upon with marvel. Come!

I'll fill your grave up: stir, nay, come away:

Bequeath to death your numbness; for from him

Dear life redeems you. You perceive she stirs:

--The Winter's Tale (V.iii.98-103)

 

Unlike most of Shakespeare's earlier plays, The Winter's Tale moves from tragedy to comedy. The disastrous consequences of Leontes' jealousy and tyranny are resolved by the passing of time. Only after sixteen years can the two royal families come together again. Time also plays a significant role in the reading of the chosen passage. The passage is full of commas, colons, semi-colons, and periods, which force the lines to be slowed and pausing. The frequent punctuations draw the reader's attention to time and its effects on the words being spoken by the characters. The scansion of the passage illustrates Shakespeare's mastery of time as he manipulates the rhythm of the lines using varying foots and meters. Time seems to be the crucial element in not only the scansion of this passage, but in the development of the play as a whole.

 

Line ninety-eight begins with a half-line consisting of only two feet, "No foot shall stir." The brevity of the line and the slowness of the opening spondee help to create the tension before Paulina attempts to summon the statue of Hermione. Leontes wants everyone to stand still while Paulina tries to give life to the statue. He says, "No foot shall stir" (98). Meanwhile, the metrical feet in line ninety-eight do "stir" as the pentameter is broken up into two half-lines. This contradiction of what Leontes wants and how the feet in the lines are set up conveys the lack of Leontes' total authority. In many instances of the play, Leontes' requests are not heeded to, despite his position as king. When Leontes wants Camillo to poison Hermione, Camillo does not do as he says. Instead, he runs off with Polixenes, buying precious time for everyone. Camillo and Polixenes evade death, and Hermione is given enough time to stage a death so that she can avoid being killed also. Camillo's noble defiance gives everyone valuable time; the key factor which allows people to take shelter from Leontes' tyranny.

 

The second half-line of line ninety-eight consists of a trochee and two iambs: "Music, awake her; strike!" Since the only varying foot of the latter half-line is the trochee, "music," Shakespeare seems to be emphasizing the significance of music. In a sense, music is a representation of time because it is defined by its time signatures, which designate much of its rhythmical patterns. Music is also the magical element that accompanies the transformation of the still Hermione into the living Hermione, which makes it an agent of change. In other words, Shakespeare...

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