William Shakespeare has used this phrase in his popular play, Richard III, where King Richard is expressing his feelings of discontent regarding living in the world that hates him. He begins his soliloquy by stating, “Now is the winter of our discontent/Made glorious summer by this son of York…” (Act-I, Scene-I). Apparently he seems to be protesting his family’s repression, and his own discontent; however, actually he is celebrating the upturn of fortunes of his family, as his brother becomes the king.
In this case, we get the idea that he is not happy with his current state of affairs. We can say he starts grumbling about his brother becoming king, and broods over his deformity — having been born disfigured, and a hunchbacked.
This phrase is a metaphor in which Richard uses winter and summer to suggest that the reign of King Edward-IV has turned sadness, which is like winter, into celebration, like summer. Richard tells the audience about sufferings of his family during a series of civil wars, wars of the Roses and presents the comparison of horrible times to wandering clouds over the House of York during dark winter months. However, now his elder brother has become the king of the country — the reason of the prevalent peace. This is like a “glorious summer” which is replaced with the “sad winter.”
Usually we find this phrase in literature and movies. There is a famous movie, The Winter of our Discontent is based on this phrase. Since it simply represents the time of oppression and sadness, we can find its usage in any area of life. For instance, a king or ruler of the country may be using it after regaining his family throne from enemies, or an eldest member of a clan may use it after regaining the lost name of his family.
This is the first line of Richard’s famous soliloquy in Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. Richard opens the play with:
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
(Richard III, Act-I, Scene-I, Lines 1-4)
Richard is not talking about unhappiness, but celebrating. We may ascertain that he is celebrating the victory of his family, as Edward-IV, his brother, takes the English crown from Henry-IV.
The phrase conveys the themes of evil and ambition. Prior to his brother’s taking the throne, Richard’s family felt they were oppressed, and their lives were unhappy, as though under the spell of a long winter. Nevertheless, now Edward is king, his reign shines like the sun, and the low clouds that had surrounded the House of York are removed.
Notice in this passage how Richard has used puns on the word “son,” which he basically uses to refer to the “sun.” Edward is the “son” of the Duke of York, and is like a royal emblem, a sun shining down upon their family. Despite this happy news, Richard is not happy, as summertime has not yet come to him. In several respects, winter is still there for restless Richard, who is ambitious to take the throne. He tries to bring his own summer by manipulating, or murdering, anyone getting in his way, or by treachery.
- Metaphor: Winter is a metaphor for sadness and oppression.