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Time in Richard III

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2007

Stanley Wells
Affiliation:
University of Birmingham
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Summary

My approach to my subject is oblique. It seems to me useful, at the cost of a brief delay, in arguing for something of an emblematic reading of Richard III, to illustrate Shakespeare's use of emblem-like properties in a work of small compass - a sonnet. Moreover, the model I have chosen serves itself as an emblem of the play.

The ostensible occasion of Shakespeare's Sonnet 77 ('Thy glass will shew thee how thy beauties wear') is the presentation as a gift of a commonplace book. The sonnet refers to three objects that bear emblematically on time: a mirror, a sundial, the book that the poem accompanies. The glass will reveal the signs of ageing, the dial will show the passage of the minutes, the blank leaves of the book will through time register the thoughts that will be committed to them. No sooner is the moralizing possibility of the objects raised in the first quatrain than the book becomes a gloss upon itself. The remaining lines express the 'learning' that the book will record. The wrinkles that the glass will show must inevitably remind the addressee of graves. The irresistible 'shady stealth' of the dial must inescapably bring to mind 'Time's thievish progress to eternity'.

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Chapter
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Shakespeare Survey , pp. 41 - 50
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1988

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