In my part of the country, Winter’s all but over, which is a happy time. Shakespeare used that sentiment in one of his most famous turns of phrase: ‘The winter of our discontent.’ The opening of Richard III leaps upon us as a grand soliloquy, presented by its antihero, the sociopathic and hunchbacked Duke of Gloucester, later renamed Richard:
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.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
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;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them;
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity:
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.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew’d up,
About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
—Richard III, Act I, Scene i
It’s a stupendous speech because Gloucester (Richard) spells out for everyone what ails him (he was born so ugly and deformed that dogs bark at him), and gives argument to why he’s spoiling to play the villain (even though his brother King Edward has banished winter for the summer of peace, Gloucester’s having none of it).
He boasts that ‘if King Edward be as true and just / As I am subtle, false and treacherous’, he’ll soon have things his way.
And so Shakespeare is telling his audience that even though they’ve come to see a history, they’re going to bare witness to some deliciously staged mayhem.
If you’d like to see this brought brilliantly to life, I highly recommend the 1995 film Richard III, starring Ian McKellen as the murderously vile but eloquent King. This opening speech, in particular, McKellen delivers from a urinal! The graphic shows McKellen in faux Nazi-like regalia: the film was staged as if it took place in an alternate universe England of the 1940s.