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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: October ::
If at home, sir
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1970  Thursday, 9 October 2003

From:           David Cohen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 8 Oct 2003 16:56:34 -0500
Subject:        If at home, sir

I would appreciate any help on the matter of the first line of
Polixenes' response to Leontes' question about how he feels about his
son ("If at home, sir"), as follows:

LEONTES
                . . . . My brother,
        Are you so fond of your young prince as we
        Do seem to be of ours?
POLIXENES
        If at home, sir,
        He's all my exercise, my mirth, my matter . . . .

        The Winter's Tale, Act 1, scene 2, 163-167.

It's that "if at home, sir," that I never thought about till I thought
about the contrast between his sentimental reply to his notoriously
cruel reaction to discovering Florizel's intention to marry Perdita, as
in:

POLIXENES
        Mark your divorce, young sir,
        [Discovering himself]
        Whom son I dare not call; thou art too base
        To be acknowledged: thou a sceptre's heir,
        That thus affect'st a sheep-hook!
        [To Perdita's old father] Thou old traitor,
        I am sorry that by hanging thee I can
        But shorten thy life one week.
        [To Perdita] And thou, fresh piece
        Of excellent witchcraft, who of force must know
        The royal fool thou copest with,--
SHEPHERD
         O, my heart!
POLIXENES
        I'll have thy beauty scratch'd with briers, and made
        More homely than thy state. For thee, fond boy,
        If I may ever know thou dost but sigh
        That thou no more shalt see this knack, as never
        I mean thou shalt, we'll bar thee from succession;
        Not hold thee of our blood, no, not our kin . . .

        The Winter's Tale, Act 4, scene 4, 427-451

Here is a king, an absolute ruler, suddenly confronting a threat that he
will not have the right to chose for his son a wife of proper station
and from a family with powerful political connections, which is the
usual privilege of a king.  His beloved and normally obedient son proves
wayward to his deepest wishes-wayward Florizel is not "at home," that
is, being obedient to expectations regarding his royal station.

Have I got this right-does his remark serve some dramatic presaging of
his later outburst-or is it a lot simpler, i.e., " "the kid's away a
lot, but I like it when he is home, because . . ." or "I am away a lot,
but when home . . . ?

David Cohen

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