The Winter's Tale | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Winter's Tale | Quotes


We were as twinned lambs that did frisk i' th' sun / And did bleat the one at th' other. What we changed / Was innocence for innocence.

Polixenes, Act 1, Scene 2

The words of Polixenes recall the idyll of his childhood, growing up as the best friend of Leontes, when innocence marked both their characters.


Is this nothing? / Why, then the world and all that's in 't is nothing. / The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia nothing, / My wife is nothing, nor nothing have these nothings, / If this be nothing.

Leontes, Act 1, Scene 2

Leontes's frequent repetition and sweeping condemnation point to his obsessive jealousy of his former friend Polixenes and his wife, Hermione. "Nothing" in Shakespeare, both in this play and Othello, is often used euphemistically, in references to illicit sexual activity.


A sad tale's best for winter. I have one / Of sprites and goblins.

Mamillius, Act 2, Scene 1

This quote alludes to this play's title, The Winter's Tale. The drama turns out, in fact, to be a tragicomedy.


There may be in the cup / A spider steeped ... I have drunk, and seen the spider.

Leontes, Act 2, Scene 1

The spider in this celebrated metaphor is symbolic of a fatal flaw. In the case of Leontes, it is sexual betrayal, which has spawned his obsessive jealousy.


Nor night nor day no rest.

Leontes, Act 2, Scene 3

Leontes succinctly sums up the torturing effects of his jealousy.


If powers divine / Behold our human actions, as they do, / I doubt not then but innocence shall make / False accusation blush and tyranny / Tremble at patience.

Hermione, Act 3, Scene 2

Hermione's dignified defense of herself at her trial features several personifications.


How he glisters / Through my rust, and how his piety / Does my deeds make the blacker!

Leontes, Act 3, Scene 2

As Hermione is carried offstage. Leontes begins to repent his wrongdoing. Here he compares himself to "the good Camillo."


This is the chase. / I am gone forever!

Antigonus, Act 3, Scene 3

The exit of Antigonus is accompanied by the most notorious stage direction in all of Shakespeare: He exits, pursued by a bear.


Thou met'st with things dying, I with things newborn.

Shepherd, Act 3, Scene 3

The contrast drawn by the Shepherd to his son marks the structural turning point of the play, which now shifts from a tragic to a comic tone.


Your patience this allowing, / I turn my glass and give my scene such growing / As you had slept between.

Time, Act 4, Scene 1

The figure of Time personified, acting as a Chorus, marks the 16-year gap in the play's action.


This is an art / Which does mend nature, change it rather, but / The art itself is nature.

Polixenes, Act 4, Scene 4

Polixenes's remark to Perdita on gardening suggests one of the most important themes of the play: the relationship between art and nature.


This is the prettiest lowborn lass that ever / Ran on the greensward: nothing she does or seems / But smacks of something greater than herself, / Too noble for this place.

Polixenes, Act 4, Scene 4

The quotation exhibits dramatic irony because the audience knows that Perdita, despite appearances, is really the long-lost daughter of a king. The quote also shows the belief—commonly held in Shakespeare's day—that nobility was a heritable quality. The lost Perdita seems highborn and regal, despite her rustic upbringing.


Ha, ha, what a fool Honesty is! And Trust, his sworn brother, a very simple gentleman!

Autolycus, Act 4, Scene 4

The quotation epitomizes the amorality of Autolycus, who may be compared to Shakespeare's character Falstaff in the two parts of Henry IV.


So much the more our carver's excellence. / Which lets go by some sixteen years and makes her / As she lived now.

Paulina, Act 5, Scene 3

Paulina's words stress the fusion of art and nature.


It is required / You do awake your faith.

Paulina, Act 5, Scene 3

Paulina's exhortation may apply as much to the audience or reader as to Leontes. She seems to imply that faith is an essential element in any spiritual action such as love, forgiveness, or reconciliation.

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