Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Hardin Aasand
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The Winter's Tale: Introduction

1Overview of the Play

The Winter's Tale is a play that defies simple classification. Neither comedy nor tragedy—despite its arbitrary placement in the "Comedy" section of the First Folio of 1623—the play incorporates themes and conventions from each genre. The geographic shifts of the play – the wintry oppression of Sicilia, the pastoral warmth of Bohemia, and the redemptive return to a Sicilia desperate for rebirth—allow Shakespeare to crisscross generic boundaries as dramatically as it traverses the Mediterranean setting of Sicilia and the Northern climes of Bohemia. The wide "vast" (1.1.8, TLN 32) of the play's geographical reach and generic filiation also provide Shakespeare with the opportunity to revisit themes played out in his earlier plays: the abrupt, senseless jealousy of Othello finds its parallel in Leontes's motiveless distrust of Hermione's fidelity (1.2); the remorseful contriteness of Lear following his own follied delusions surfacing in Leontes's sixteen-year period of penitential withdrawal (3.2.218-29, TLN 1424-35); Camillo's loyal service to Leontes hearkening back to Kent's longsuffering devotion to Lear (4.2.2, TLN 1617-22); the green world of burgeoning love and fertile beginnings in As You Like It's Arden forest informing the pastoral festivity of Bohemia's sheepshearing celebration (4.4, TLN 1797ff); Puck's impishness in A Midsummer's Night Dream or Feste's pranks in Twelfth Night reborn in Autolycus's cozening of peasant clowns and willing maidens (4.4.190ff, TLN 2044ff) . All of these elements and more converge in this "late play" and reflect the masterful hand of Shakespeare returning to and transforming earlier characters and situations. In characterizing it as "late," modern critics avoid the nebulous issue of the play's genre: pastoral, tragicomedy, romance, tragicomic romance, all categories proposed as labels for this most bedeviling of plays. The thorny question remains, however: what "kind" of play is The Winter's Tale?

2That the play is "late" in Shakespeare's career is self-evident from its performance history, which includes productions at the Globe Theatre in 1610 and in the court of King James in both 1611 and 1612. Whether the royal family beheld the same play in private performance in 1611 and in 1612 at Princess Elizabeth's nuptial celebrations as the public viewed at the Globe in 1610 remains a vexing, unanswerable question. Critics have proposed that the marriage of the youthful Elizabeth and Bohemian prince, Frederick of Palatine, may account for the shifting polarities in Shakespeare's manipulation of his source—Shakespeare's source Pandosto invests the king of Bohemia with a jealousy borne from his suspicion that his wife has slept with his friend, the king of Sicilia. With the impending marriage of England and Bohemia, Shakespeare perhaps chose to make Bohemia the more festive, more appropriate setting for the young lovers, Florizel and Perdita, relegating the themes of jealousy and infidelity to Sicilia.

3Simon Forman, court astrologer and amateur occultist, provides accounts of four of Shakespeare's plays in his 1611 "Booke of Plaies," The Winter's Tale one of them. His well-known account is as striking for what it omits as for what it includes in its three paragraphs: "Observe there how Leontes, the king of Sicilia, was overcome with jealousy of his wife with the king of Bohemia, his friend that came to see him; and how he contrived his death and would have had his cupbearer to have poisoned, who gave the king of Bohemia warning thereof and fled with him to Bohemia."The narrative is a cursory listing of the subsequent plot: the oracle's pronouncement of Leontes's isolation unless his banished daughter is restored and the subsequent return of the daughter sixteen years later with her betrothed (3.2.122ff, TLN 1313-16). No mention is made, however, of the bear that devours Antigonus (3.3.57, TLN 1500); Hermione is allotted scant attention, and no mention is made at all of her death and magical restoration as a moving statue before Pedita and Leontes (5.3.20ff, TLN 3208ff), a puzzling exclusion given Forman's own occult proclivities. Forman concludes his account with a paragraph devoted to Autolycus, "the Rogue that came in all tattered like coll pixci . . . ." Forman's concluding admonition is that one should "beware of trusting feigned beggars or fawning fellows."

4For the modern audience, Forman's skeletal account of the play jars with the magical, fantastical elements that dramatically redeem the play's tragic beginning. The promise of domestic bliss that opens the play is abrupt and fleeting. Two old friends, Leontes and Polixenes, share their nostalgic memories of a childhood free from worry and anxiety, an innocence that is shattered by Leontes's sudden onset of jealousy over his wife Hermione's ability to extend Polixenes's stay in Sicilia and his unsubstantiated doubt over the paternity of his yet unborn child Perdita. Perhaps Shakespeare hints at the tragic turn of the play in the brief opening scene in which the competitive nature of reciprocating hospitality is implied in the dialogue between Camillo and Archidamus:

If you shall chance, Camillo, to visit Bohemia on the like occasion whereon my services are now on-foot, you shall see (as I have said) great difference betwixt our Bohemia and your Sicilia.
I think this coming summer the King of Sicilia means to pay Bohemia the visitation which he justly owes him.
Wherein our entertainment shall shame us, we will be justified in our loves. For indeed --
Beseech you --
Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge. We cannot with such magnificence -- in so rare -- I know not what to say. We will give you sleepy drinks, that your senses (unintelligent of our insufficiency) may, though they cannot praise us, as little accuse us.
You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely.
(1.1.1-6, TLN 4-21)

Implicit in the courteous modesty of competing hosts is the more lacerating emotion that surfaces in Leontes's psychotic outburst against his best friend and pregnant spouse:

There have been,
Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now,
And many a man there is, even at this present,
Now, while I speak this, holds his wife by th' arm,
That little thinks she has been sluiced in's absence,
And his pond fished by his next neighbor, by
Sir Smile, his neighbor.
(1.2.192-97, TLN 273-78)

5Leontes's fear that Polixenes has bested him and stolen his wife is abrupt and unexpected, but the insecurity behind the sentiment may permeate the Siclian atmosphere of mistrust, jealousy, and irrational fear.

6In the opening scene of Act 2, the doomed Mamillius unwittingly points to the bleakness unfolding in Sicilia when he asks his mother to tell him a "sad tale": "A sad tale's best for winter." He of course will become part of the collateral damage Leontes's actions provoke. Indeed, were the play to end at the conclusion of Act 3.2, the audience would be entitled to leave the theatre hopeless and despairing of any redemptive intervention: friendships can be torn asunder by mere suspicion; children can be drained of life by unraveling family order; innocent babies can be banished to the wild because of an irrational hint of bastardy, wives can be indicted by a husband's capricious jealousy and imprisoned on a whim. Yet Shakespeare pivots the play away from tragedy by relocating the action to Bohemia, a pastoral realm of shepherds, a charming conman named Autolycus, and disguised lovers blocked from consummation by obstinate fathers, all features of romantic comedies. Bohemia promises the green world of rebirth and regeneration common in Shakespeare's greatest comedies like A Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Lke it, and Love Labor's Lost. To reach Bohemia, however, Shakespeare entrusts the play's transformation to the allegorical Time and the inexplicable bear whose maw swallows up the fleeing Antigonus and the tragic remains of Sicilia. This brings us back to the question of the play's genre. What was Shakespeare's doing?

7The Question of Genre

His contemporary, Ben Jonson, found in Shakespeare's generic choice for his late plays a distasteful archaism and aesthetically objectionable mixing of styles. In his Bartholomew Fair induction (ll.115-16), Jonson rejects Shakespeare's decision to "beget Tales, Tempests, and such like drolleries." In the epilogue to his failed The New Inn (ll. 21-30), Jonson alludes again to the "mouldy tales" like Pericles that remained popular among audiences, dramatic throwbacks that he denounces for being outdated scraps that deserved only the "common tub" of consumption. If Jonson's contemptuous derision derives from his own pretension regarding the dignity conferred upon drama by classical aesthetics, his sensitivity to Shakespeare's deliberate nostalgia towards genre is trenchant. That other Johnson, Samuel, in his Preface, grants Shakespeare's practice a more ecumenical sensibility:

Shakespeare's plays are not, in the rigorous or critical sense, either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow . . . in which, at the same time, the reveler is hasting to his wine, and the mourner burying his friend. (Johnson 5:109-10)

8Scholars today find agreement with Samuel Johnson's description of Shakespeare's plays as "the real state of sublunary nature," and they attribute this mood to the dramatic and prose traditions he inherited from both earlier native sources and contemporary experimentations.

9Some Shakespeareans consider these late plays as "outriders," a grouping of plays that have a suppleness of plotting, a flirting with tragic outcomes, and the miraculous appearance of gods or god-like devices that hint at the spectacular. Often this experimentation has been associated with the rise of the tragicomic works of John Fletcher and Frances Beaumont. The "tragicomedies" that Beaumont and Fletcher conceived were based on Giovanni Battista Guarini's Italian model that, while taking its characters to the precipice of death, pulled them back from the consummation. In his The Faithful Shepherdess, John Fletcher provides us with the operative definition that suggests how distinct are Shakespeare's "romances" from typical tragicomic structure: "A tragic-comedie is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some neere it, which is inough to make it no comedie". Despite certain dramatic features (dramatic revelations, unconventional plots, and exotic settings) that one can discern in Shakespeare's "romances," the presence of death and of emotional states that have tragic, highly affective potential for its characters make the "tragicomic" label unsatisfying.

10Turning elsewhere, perhaps nostalgically to Shakespeare's past, others trace the The Winter's Tale elements to Shakespeare's invocation of native romances such as Mucedorus—recently revived in the public playhouses in 1610—and to the miracle plays such as the Digby Mary Magdelene, which were popular in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. From Mucedorus, Shakespeare would have teased out the story of a prince disguised as a lowly shepherd who saves a princess from a ravenous bear. Moreover, suggestively, the allegorical appearance of Comedy and Envy as characters to wrestle with the play's theme provides Shakespeare with a blueprint for the generic tension he establishes more subtlely in The Winter's Tale. From the Digby miracle play of Mary Magdelene, Shakespeare would have excavated the themes of tested faith, the maritime separation of families and the miraculous return of those once thought dead and the ascent into heaven of the saintly Mary. The spiritual implications of Mary's faithful service and her divine elevation are perhaps echoed in Hermione's providential return to "life" in Paulina's chapel. Given the iconoclastic nature of the Protestant church—the Church of England was essentially Protestant in doctrine—the appearance of a venerated statue of a "deceased" queen adumbrates the outlawed Catholic belief in the intercession of saints. If this element of the play – missing in Shakespeare's source—hints at Shakespeare's own Catholic sentiments—a view suggested most recently by Stephen Greenblatt—Hermione's re-animation points to the role of grace in providing forgiveness and reunion. This appearance of conventions attributable to prose romances and dramatic saint's and miracle plays provides us with a glimpse into Shakespeare's dramatic method.

11Other factors can be teased out of the dramatic skein presented by The Winter's Tale. In addition to the presence of early Tudor miracle plays, older Elizabethan prose romances, and Italianate tragicomedies, Shakespeare was also writing for different venues: the private indoor theatre (the Blackfriars) and the court of the Jacobean family. Certainly the dance of the satyrs in the sheepshearing festival of Act IV reflects the power of the court masque to influence Shakespeare's dramatic choices, and the acquisition of the Blackfriars theatre gave Shakespeare and his company a theatre that appealed to an elite audience with particular sensibilities of genre and spectacle. With the play's performance for Princess Elizabeth's nuptials to Frederick, Elector Palatine for Bohemia, the play's ability to address contemporary politics expands the circumference of the play's generic girth.

12In conclusion, the issue of genre requires us to expand our definition to encompass a broad range of sources and influences. For the The Winter's Tale, genre invites an expansion of the geography, the content, and temporal influencs to such an extent that the artifice draws attention to itself, to become a "tale that is to be hooted at" in Paulina's terms. The "sad tale that's best for winter" that Mamillius requests from Hermione at the play's beginning takes on different forms and obtains different ends. The first three acts in Sicily promise a tragic end. Were the play to end with the ursine removal of Antigonus, the abandonment of Perdita to the fortunes of nature, the announced deaths of Mamillus and Hermione, Leontes would be an isolated tragic figure, devoid of any possibility for a restoration of family. He would confront a lonely death looming in the distance, the pathetic end Lear submits to without his Cordelia or the suicidal stroke that Leontes's prototype, Pandosto, inflicts on himself, a "sad tale" indeed. Shakespeare's decision, however, to revert to "mouldy tales" provides him with a means of generating hope and recovery. It is an admission that there are indeed costs to one's actions but that "providential forces" provide hope: "the benevolent coincidences that provide the occasion for final resolution . . . all seem part and parcel of a providence that has operated throughout."

13Sources and Cultural Context

Robert Greene's Pandosto

Pandosto's characters The Winter's Tale characters
Pandosto Leontes
Bellaria Hermione
Garinter Mamillius
Fawnia Perdita
Franion Camillo
Egistus Polixenes
Dorastus Florizel
Capnio Autolycus
No correspondence Antigonus, Paulina, Emilia, Clown, Dorcas,Mopsa

14Major characters

While Robert Greene's 1588 Pandosto. The Triumph of Time provides us with the basic characters (see chart above), essential pastoral and romance elements and narrative structure for The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's adoption and manipulation of the narrative elements reveal his ingenuity in choosing sources and synthesizing those sources with the vast storehouse of personal readings and dramatic influences that were available to him. Greene's novel –with different names for its major characters and a reversal of kingdoms, Bohemia for Pandosto and Sicilia for Egisthus—outlines King Pandosto's emerging jealousy over his wife Bellaria's presumed trysts with his lifelong friend, Egisthus (TLN 360ff). Though the essential ingredients are provided, Greene's novel constructs a narrative that is straightforward and predicated on a reader's engagement with a story that is lurid and devoid of the enigma of motivation and spiritual aura found in Shakespeare's play. As in The Winter's Tale, Pandosto's jealousy leads to both the death of Bellaria (Hermione) (TLN 1388ff)—in this instance an actual death-- and their son, Garinter (Mamillius) (TLN 1326ff). Like The Winter's Tale's Camillo, the cupbearer Franion spirits away Egithus to his home in Sicilia –not Bohemia, which Pandosto rules in Greene's prose narrative. Pandosto's wrath, once the king discovers Egisthus and Franion's departure (TLN 643), is now trained on Bellaria, whom Pandosto conjectures committed her adultery with Franion's assistance. Pandosto's jealousy is prompted by an extended narrative in which Bellaria's involvement with Egisthus becomes more intimate and more "familiar": Bellaria's desire to please her husband extends to her visiting Egisthus in his bedroom.

15Bellaria, like Hermione, is imprisoned and discovers her nascent pregnancy only after she has endured time in prison (TLN 724). The birth of Perdita—in Greene named Fawnia—similarly elicits Pandosto's enraged jealousy and suspicion that the child is not his, and after pledging to have the girl burned to death, retreats in his anger thanks to his advisors' intercession. Despite this reprieve, Pandosto still orders that the daughter be set adrift on the ocean and left subject to Fortune's whimsical treatment (TLN 1105ff).

16Greene's narrative also provided Shakespeare with the public trial of Bellaria's guilt and the embassy sent to Delphos to receive Apollo's oracle—which Pandosto agrees to after Bellaria's suggestion (TLN 803ff). The prophecy is duplicated almost verbatim in The Winter's Tale: "Suspition is no proofe: Iealousie is an vnequall Iudge: Bellaria is chast: Egistus blamelesse: Franion a true subject: Pandosto treacherous: his Babe an innocent, and the King shal liue without an heire: if that which is lost be not founde" (C2r ). Unlike the audience of The Winter's Tale, the readers of Pandosto are given this oracle account before the trial scene and are thus deprived of dramatic tension. The trial scene merely repeats the reading of the oracle. Given this short reprieve, Bellaria is allowed a moment of joy, Pandosto a period of self-recrimination, self loathing, and public plea for forgiveness before the announcement comes that their young son Garinter has died (TLN 1326ff). Garinter's death leads to the subsequent tragedy: "as Bellaria heard, surcharged before with extreame ioy, and now suppressed with heauie sorrowe, her vitall spirites were so stopped, that she fell downe presently dead, and could neuer be reuived" (C3r) Pandosto's self-loathing replicates Leontes's:

17my innocent Babe I haue drowned in the Seas: my louing wife I haue slaine with slaunderous suspition: my trusty friend I haue sought to betray, and yet the Gods are slacke to plague such offences. Ah vniust Apollo, Pandosto is the man that hath committed the faulte: why should Garinter, seely childe, abide the paine: Well, sith the Gods meane to prolong my dayes, to increase my dolour, I will offer my guiltie bloud a sacrifice to those sacklesse soules, whose lives are lost by my rigorous folly (C3v).

Despite the desire to commit suicide—which he fulfills by the end of the narrative—Pandosto persists, as does Leontes.

18Greene, like Shakespeare, transports the narrative across the sea, where the infant Fawnia floats ashore in Sicilia and is discovered by a shepherd, Porrus, who raises her, not without a contentious debate, with his wife Mopsa (TLN 1501ff). As with Perdita, Fawnia matures in her beauty and wit with tremendous modesty, qualities that ultimately draw to her side at a chance encounter the young prince, Dorastus, son of Egisthus. Greene meditates on the pangs of love felt by Dorastus and Fawnia: Dorastus loves beneath his social station while his father is attempting to arrange a royal marriage: Fawnia falls for someone well above her peasant status. Greene's attention to these star-crossed lovers is so extensive that in its 1635 printing, Pandosto was retitled The Pleasant History of Dorastus and Fawnia.

19Greene's melodramatic recounting of the burgeoning love and Dorastus's peasant disguise—drawn from Apollo's lascivious dissembling in Ovid's Metamorphoses —allows the two young lovers to plan their departure by ship, aided by Capnio, a trickster figure who pulls an oblivious Porrus into the plot (TLN 2496ff). Dorastus's departure from court propels his father into a melancholic state; Greene's narrative glowers at Dorastus's indifference to his father, yet he delivers the crew to Bohemia's safe shores following a tempest. The melodrama becomes heightened as Pandosto re-enters the narrative: using spies, he abducts Dorastus and Fawnia, to whom Pandosto finds himself physically drawn. Attempting to hide his identity as the son of Egisthus, Dorastus identifies himself as a Trapolonian named Meleagrus and Fawnia as his Paduan betrothed (TLN 2831). Pandosto rejects Dorastus's story and has him imprisoned while he furthers his attempts to seduce Fawnia during Dorastus's imprisonment: "Hauing thus hardly handled the supposed Trapalonians: Pandosto contrarie to his aged yeares began to bee somewhat tickled with the beauty of Fawnia, insomuch that hee could take no rest, but cast in his old head a thousand new devises: at last he fell into these thoughtes" (F4v).

20While Shakespeare brings Polixenes and Leontes together in Sicilia for their emotional reunion, Egisthus sends a message to Pandosto asking that his son be released and Fawnia executed; Pandosto agrees to this request, supplementing the death warrant with the names of Porrus and Capnio. Porrus, however, provides the denouement by revealing Fawnia's orphan past:

21For so it hapned that I being a poore sheepherd in Sycilia, living by keeping other mens flockes: one of my sheepe straying downe to the sea side, as I went to seeke her, I saw a little boate driven vpon the shoare, wherein I found a babe of sixe daies old, wrapped in a mantle of scarlet, hauing about the necke this chaine: I pittying the child, and desirous of the treasure, carried it home to my wife, who with great care nursed it vp, and set it to keepe sheep. Here is the chaine and the iewels, and this Fawnia is the child whom I found in the boat. What she is, or of what parentage, I know not, but this I am assured of that she is none of mine (G3v).

22This reversal overturns the potential tragedy that has been building: Pandosto apologizes for his lust, knights the peasant Porrus, and sails with Dorastus, Fawnia, and Porrus to Sicilia toper his friend Egisthus. Overwhelmed by grief for his suspicious treatment of Egisthus, for his role in bringing on Bellaria's death, and for his incestuous feelings towards his daughter, Pandosto commits suicide and is returned posthumously by Dorastus and Fawnia. Green characterizes this suicide as a "tragical stratagem" to "close up the comedy."

23Besides the obvious reversal of kingdoms, Pandosto's Bohemia becomes Leontes's Siclia and Egistus's Sicilia, Polixenes's Bohemia, Shakespeare invests the play with two dramatic alterations to Greene's novel, both of which give the lie to Greene's moral-- "the Triumph of Time"—and the presence of "Fortune" as a blind impetus for the novel's tragedies. As critic Inga-Stina Ewbak has astutely observed, Shakespeare's "triumph" of time is a regenerative force that restores Hermione after sixteen years, provides Leontes with a penitential opportunity to atone for a violence that sends his wife into isolation, his son to an early grave, and his daughter abandoned to the wilds. Greene's novel, which concludes with Pandosto's suicide, his wife's and son's concomitant deaths, and a conclusion that promotes no opportunity for providential intervention, provides only the aftertaste of satisfaction. Shakespeare's decision to provide for Hermione's restoration as a statue affords the play a redemptive turn:

Leontes: Her natural posture.
Chide me, dear stone, that I may say indeed
Thou art Hermione; or rather, thou art she
In thy not chiding, for she was as tender
As infancy and grace. But yet, Paulina,
Hermione was not so much wrinkled, nothing
So aged as this seems.
(5.3.23-29, TLN 3212-18)

24For Phebe Jensen, this moment "makes [Hermione] miraculously present, in a ceremony performed under the direction of a Pauline practioner, during which stone is transformed into flesh, just as bread and wine become body and blood in the Catholic Mass" (304). The theatre that makes this moment possible is aligned with the performance of ritual that transforms lives and provides for rebirth. Such a conclusion would have been irrelevant for Greene's novel, which celebrates melodramatic situations that prompt emotional excesses and Pandosto's anti-climactic, seemingly appropriate suicide. The logical, linear movement provided by Greene, in which narrative heaps situation upon situation, outcome upon outcome, is given a cyclical, sacramental dimension by Shakespeare, in which Leontes's precipitous jealousy and Mamillius's premature demise are bound up by a gracious Hermione and a banished daughter restored. This would have been beyond Greene's novel and outside of his authorial capacity.

25Classical Influence


Ovid was an important storehouse of mythic influences for Shakespeare throughout his career. He drew on Ovid's Metamorphoses for his earliest narrative poems and sonnets. He interwove Ovidian allusions into plays as diverse as Titus Andronicus, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and The Tempest. The Winter's Tale afforded Shakespeare the opportunity to incorporate a number of Ovidian myths to amplify the play's narrative structure. In Perdita, Shakespeare found echoes of Flora, the goddess of fertility and spring, an allusion not lost on Robert Greene and Pandosto: "Every day she went forth with her sheepe to the field, keeping them with such care and diligence, as all men thought she was very painfull, defending her face from the heat of the sunne with no other vaile, but with a garland made of bowes and flowers: which attire became her so gallantly, as she seemed to be the Goddesse Flora her selfe for beautie" (D1v). Shakespeare's dramatic adaptation of the Flora myth is also discerned in subtle hints such as allusive names, as Jonathan Bate suggests: ". . . is the goddess really Flora? We also know that Time has taken it upon himself to name Bohemia's son Florizel, so for the latter to call Perdita Flora is to stake a claim for her by grafting his own name to her" (Bate 229).

26Ovid's presence is palpable in Florizell's unwittingly ironic allusions to Apollo's penchant for transforming himself to achieve sexual congress (4.4.24ff, TLN 1825 ). The greater tapestry of Ovidian influence, however, is found in Shakespeare's overarching dramatic structure. The cyclical return of Proserpina governs the two-part—diptych—structure of the play: the first three acts take place in a Sicily made tragically wintry by Mamillius's death, Hermione's assumed demise, and the mortuary climate that surrounds the court; the second two acts introduced by Time are initially relocated to the pastoral climes of Bohemia, where life is restored—despite Antigonus's violent end—and obstinacy replaced by youthful vigor. Shakespeare's choice of Proserpina's myth is especially poignant for this play. Daughter of Ceres, Proserpina is abducted by Dis, plunged into the Underworld and cloistered for six months in Dis's death-like clutches for every six months of fertile growth before her annual restoration to her mother. As Jonathan Bate proposes, The Winter's Tale can aptly be named for this dormancy of hope: "Waiting for Proserpina" (Bate, 220).

27Ovid's presence is given more resonance in the statue scene; Shakespeare unobtrusively interweaves two separate myths to capture the profound reach of this final reunion of husband and wife. By alluding to the myths of Orpheus's descent to regain his Eurydice and the power of Pygmalion's imagination to make an ivory statue a warm, vital woman, Shakespeare invests Hermione's own resurrection before the rapt Leontes with a profound magic. Paulina's caveat to Leontes resonates with Orphic power: "Do not shun her/Until you see her die again, for than/You kill her double" (5.3.104-06, TLN 3313-15).

28Leontes's faith in Paulina's vision recasts Pygmalion's miracle as a metaphorical restoration: Hermione's cloistered statuary is exchanged for a domestic life she had forsaken sixteen years before. Leontes's language betrays its Ovidian traces: ". . . methinks/There is an air comes from her. . .What fine chisel/Could ever yet cut breath?" (5.5.76-8, TLN 3278-80). Though Giuliano Romano is credited with carving this figure, the sculpture is Hermione's own aged visage that beholds her daughter and penitent husband, a charitable gesture that Leontes little deserves but one which is provided for by Paulina's intercession. Shakespeare found in these Ovidian transformations the power of faith to restore life from stone and to transform living beings into ossified figures entranced by magic. The implications of the moment are given special weight by Leonard Barkan: "Hermione's life as a sixteen-year statue is her own winter's tale, but the whole world of Scilia has in fact been similarly hardened. Only with the discovery of Perdita does the softening begin to take place."

29Shakespeare's provocative grafting of Ovid's Metamorphoses within his drama mitigates the melodrama he gleaned in Greene's Pandosto and humanizes the obdurate figures of Leontes and Polixenes. Both stifle love by respectively repudiating Hermione's potent love and the emerging youthful love of Perdita and Florizel, and both are metamorphosed into passionate, responsive figures who promote love over suspicion, trust over mistrust, and faith over the lunacy of prejudice.


Shakespeare's decision to rename the characters resituates the play chronologically to make the oracle of Apollo at Delphos relevant (see Snyder 80-1). From Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, Shakespeare drew upon names to highlight the classical dimension and minimize the pastoral elements. The city of Leontinum in Plutarch's Lives of Cleomenes may have provided Shakespeare with Leontes's name, though a more attractive analogue is Cymbeline's Posthumuous Leonatus, who, like Leontes, accuses his wife of infidelity, desires her death but is reunited with her following his own repentance. These ingredients may have influenced Shakespeare in naming Leontes. Hermione's name can perhaps be traced to a myriad of analogues: perhaps to the male protagonist in the 1581-2 The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune or to the Greek messenger god, Hermes (Mercury), an etymogical genealogy which aligns her with Autolycus, who is "littered under Mercury" and whom some productions double with Hermione.

31Other characters are renamed for symbolic effect: Perdita, "one who is lost"; Antigonus, who, like Sophocles's Antigone, attempts to remain true to kinship in the face of tyranny. Paulina is the feminine counterpart for her scriptural namesake, St. Paul, whose faithfulness is embodied in Paulina's allegience to Hermione in restoring her to Perdita and Leontes. Shakespeare may have drawn on Greek for Polixenes ("polyxenus," hospitable and much visited) and Latin for Camillo ("attendant"). Florizell's name is perhaps derived from the Spanish romance, Amadis de Grecia; it is Don Florisel who doffs his royal identity to woo a shepherdess, who similarly is of royal birth.

32Jacobean Culture and Royal Absolutism

In the midst of the sheepshearing festival in Act IV, a group of artisans perform a gallimaufry of gambols," a dance of satyrs that resounds for the court audience who witnessed Ben Jonson's earlier Masque of Oberon. The masque entertainment—a spectacle of dance, song, and elaborate scenic devices by Inigo Jones—is a trademark of King James's court and James's own penchant for "spectacles of state." Though the dance of satyrs is often seen as a detachable interlude inserted into the play by Shakespeare to take advantage of the King's Men role in Jonson's entertainment, the presence of the dance and the spectacle clearly reflects both a Jacobean aesthetic influence and the courtly venue of the Banqueting House, site of the November 5th performance and the later December and February 1612-3 performances arranged for the festivities surrounding the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Frederick the Elector Palatine, later King of Bohemia.

33Masques were allegorical extensions of the royal court in which panegyric praise of the monarch performed an embellishment of courtly power:

Masques were essential to the life of the Renaissance court; their allegories gave a higher meaning to the realities of power and politics, their fictions created heroic roles for the leaders of society. . . . In form they were infinitely variable, but certain characteristics were constant: the monarch was at the center, and they provided roles for members of the court within an idealized fiction. (Orgel, Illusion 39)

34The ascension of James I to the kingship of England provided not only the patronage of court masques but also more importantly a domestic and political break from Elizabethan rule, in which dynastic succession remained a public fear. As David Bergeron (Royal Family) has noted, James I brought with him a family of potential successors who provided a stability that was desirable to a country ruled previously by the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. James's reign provided, thus, a domestic economy that made him not only pater patriae at the national level but also pater familas of the domestic family. Despite the promise of orderly succession, the relationship between James and Queen Anna of Denmark, and more specifically between the monarch and his children, Prince Henry and Prince Charles, engendered a public display of familial rivalries and domestic discord, a theme that is prevalent in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The promise of succession and the potential ruptures between father and son are profoundly relevant in the relationships between Leontes and Mamillius and between Polixenes and Florizell.

35While the Jacobean family may not be responsible for the dynamics reverberating within the The Winter's Tale, their presence reminds us of the power of theatre to reflect its cultural milieu. As Jonathan Goldberg has observed, James I frequently applied domestic metaphors to the promulgation of regal doctrine. In his 1597 Trew Law of Free Monarchies, James I writes "as the Father of his fatherly duty is bound to care for the nourishing, education, and virtuous government of his children even so is the king bound to care for all of his subjects" (James I Political Works 55). In the more intimate Basilikon Doron addressed to Prince Henry and intended as a royal handbook for a future monarch, James reminds his son of his "fatherly authority" (4) and the need to regard his future subjects in patriarchal terms. More dramatically, Leontes' extended discussion with Mamillius over their physical resemblance is itself a representation of the very real need for monarchs to guarantee their legitimacy through dynastic succession and a visual, emblematic imprinting of the royal patriarch upon his children. The dialogue between Mamillius and Leontes is worth citing in full, for its content is nothing less than the patriarchal need to guarantee a succession that duplicates the legitimacy of its ancestry:

How now, you wanton calf,
Art thou my calf?
Yes, if you will, my Lord.
Thou want'st a rough pash and the shoots that I have
To be full like me, yet they say we are
Almost as like as egg -- women say so
That will say anything. But were they false
As o're-dyed blacks, as wind, as waters? False
As dice are to be wished by one that fixes
No bourne 'twixt his and mine, yet were it true
To say this boy were like me? Come, Sir Page,
Look on me with your welkin eye, sweet villain,
Most dearest, my collop.
(1.2. 126-39, TLN 201-213)

36In a famous double portrait of 1583, James and his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, are captured on canvas in a pose that asserts their visual resemblance: face, gestures, and posture are exactly duplicated, and mother and son mirror each other. James's authority is affirmed by his physical resemblance to his mother, a fact not lost on Leontes as he looks on his own progeny.