The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1970 Thursday, 9 October 2003
From: David Cohen <
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:
. . . . My brother,
Are you so fond of your young prince as we
Do seem to be of ours?
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
Mark your divorce, young sir,
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,--
O, my heart!
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 . . . ?
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