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Now is the winter of our discontent

“Now is the winter of our discontent” is one of the most commonly quoted lines in all of Shakespeare. It appears at the beginning of his famed play, Richard III.

As the lines play out around “now is the winter of our discontent,” the speaker informs the listeners, the audience, about his family’s troubles. He speaks about the War of the Roses and uses further weather-related imagery to describe the clouds over the House of York. 

Since it appeared in Shakespeare’s Richard III, this phrase has found its way into other literary works and into examples of film and television. This includes the film The Winter of our Discontent. 

Now is the winter of our discontent meaning

“Now is the winter of our discontent” Meaning

The best way to understand this quote is to read it with the second line, “Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” This completes the statement.

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

The speaker is suggesting that “now,” and the period of the recent past, has brought him to a discontented state of mind. His brother is the “son,” or “sun,” Richard is talking about. He’s a “sun of York,” or one of the sons of the Duke of York. Richard is the other. Edward has taken the throne from Henry VI. 

The speaker, who eventually becomes Richard III, is referring to how the people around him have treated him throughout his life and to the fortunes of his country, England. Now that his brother, Edward IV, is on the throne (described through a winter and summer metaphor), he hopes that things will change. But, as the lines progress, he becomes more doubtful, bringing the audience’s attention to his “deformity” that makes it impossible for him to lead a normal life. 

Important Vocabulary to Know 

  • Winter: the winter season is used as metaphor in Richard III. Here, the speaker is suggesting that the dark times of history are over, “winter,” and that “summer” has begun because this “sun of York” (Edward IV) is on the throne. He uses “sun” as a pun, connecting it to the extended metaphor
  • Discontent: defined as dissatisfaction with one’s life and circumstances. In this case, the speaker is dissatisfied with how life and history have been playing out. The “winter of discontent” is a period of time that’s now over. 

Where Does Shakespeare Use “Now is the winter of our discontent?” 

This line can be found in Act I, Scene 1 of Richard III. It is the first line of the play 

The famed line is at the beginning of Richard, Duke of Gloucester’s speech. In context, it reads: 

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;

Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;

Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,

Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.

The soliloquy is quite long, extending far past this excerpt, totaling around forty-one lines. He speaks these lines alone on stage, setting the scene for what’s to come. 

Why Does Shakespeare Use “Now is the winter of our discontent?” 

Shakespeare uses the line “now is the winter of our discontent” as a way of initiating a reader’s negative opinion of Richard III. He’s a man who is discontented with his life. He’s deformed in a way that makes him miserable and influences his character. In the same, soliloquy he speaks about his deformity: 

But I, that am not shaped for sportive tricks,

Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;

I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty

To strut before a wanton ambling nymph;

He claims that he can’t participate in sporting events, is unattractive to look at, and even disgusting due to his “curtail’d….fair proportion.” The dogs bark at him when he walks past them, and he can’t act like a lover. He adds a few lines later: 

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,

To entertain these fair well-spoken days,

I am determined to prove a villain

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.

It’s not just the broader history of his country and the social period that he’s discontented with. He also hates the way the world treats him. Now that his brother, Edward IV, is king, he hopes that his fortunes are going to change, at least at first. As the soliloquy progresses, he presents a few complaints about his brother in a way that suggests his initial statement was not entirely accurate. 


Where does Shakespeare use “Now is the winter of our discontent?”

Shakespeare uses the quote “now is the winter of our discontent” in Richard III. It is the first line of Act I Scene 1 and is spoken by Richard III. 

What is Richard’s opening speech about?

Richard’s opening speech is about how unhappy he’s been, his hopes that things are going to change, and the things he can’t do in life. Since he can’t be a lover, he decides that he has to be a villain

Who was king after Henry VI?

Edward IV was king after Henry VI. Histories of both monarchs can be found in Shakespeare’s plays. But, historians understand them as embellished histories. Richard III’s deformity, for instance, was described as far more serious than it was discovered to be in reality. 

What is the meaning of “Now is the winter of our discontent?”

The meaning is that now is the “winter” or the bad times, but now that Richard’s brother, Edward IV, is king, summer is going to come. Better times, Richard hopes, are on their way. 

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