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 case, if we get this idea that he is not happy with his current state of affairs, we can say, he starts grumbling about his brother’s becoming the king and broods over his deformity — being disfigured and born as 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 like winter of everyone 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 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, therefore, we can find its usage in any field 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 as,
“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, rather celebrating. We may ascertain he is celebrating the victory of his family as Edward-IV, his brother takes English crown from Henry-IV.
The phrase conveys the themes of evil and ambition. Prior to his brother’s taking the throne, his family would feel like they were oppressed and their lives were like unhappy and under the spell of long winter. Nevertheless, now Edward is king, his reign shines like sun and lowering clouds on House of York are removed. Notice in this passage how Richard has used puns on word “son,” which he basically refers to the “sun.” Edward is the “son” of 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 coming into his way, or by treachery and then he succeeds.
- Metaphor: Winter is a metaphor for sadness and oppression.