What Shakespeare Can Teach You About Winter

We’re in the middle of winter, my least favorite time of the year. Even more so this year as I spent six weeks of it recovering from my broken ankle. In spite of modern heating wherever I go, it’s quite unpleasant, inconvenient and boring.

I have friends and family who snowbird going south to overwinter in a warmer clime. Others head to the ski slopes to enjoy its pristine powder. But Shakespeare didn’t do that. In his younger days he lived in an English village surrounded by snow, ice and mud. He spent his cold months facing icy blasts and freezing temperatures.

In his poetry Shakespeare describes nature, weather and daily life. His works are crammed with seasonal imagery including those about winter. And he tells you how he felt living drafty, cold, and bitter.

Shakespeare associates winter with negative feelings like discontent, but he also anticipates the coming summer’s delights. According to Warren King on his blog, if you make a medley of Shakespeare’s wintery writings you get a grippingly negative frigid impression.

Barren winter, with his wrathful nipping cold;  … the icy fang and churlish chiding of the winter’s wind…bites and blows upon my body; I shrink with cold; what freezings I have felt, what dark days seen, what old December’s bareness everywhere! I, that did never weep, now melt with woe that winter should cut off our spring-time so;  hideous winter …sap cheque’d with frost,  and lusty leaves quite gone, beauty o’ersnow’d and bareness every where; boughs which shake against the cold, bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang; freeze, freeze, though bitter sky.

Warren King on his blog No Sweat Shakespeare February 17, 2013

But wait Shakespeare gives us more. His song from Love’s Labor’s Lost pictures a poor, rural family living in a wintry Warwickshire then. People constantly sniff and cough, with milk freezing in pails and icicles hanging on the walls. Even his birds appear depressed.

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp’d, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

When all aloud the wind doe blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
To-whit! To-who!—a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Shakespeare paints a penetrating winter perspective with nothing positive to say. And I agree. Winter is dismal, depressing, even wounding. We suffer from it. But I’m grateful I don’t have to live constantly sniffing, freezing, and bundled like an Eskimo as people lived in England’s 16th Century.

I look forward to longer days and summer’s glorious sun. To walking Pippa in the nearby park or taking floral photos at Lauritzen Gardens. And to enjoying Calontir’s Lilies War when I’ll be complaining again, “it’s so hot.”

Categories: Persona

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  1. Oh boy, that really hit the nail on the head this Friday of blizzard and road closures. I’m staying home and keeping warm with my little space heater boosting the temperature over where we have the furnace set conservatively.


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