Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Hardin Aasand
Peer Reviewed

The Winter's Tale: Performance History


1Early performances

But some men will say, "How are the dead raised up? . . ." (Knight 76)

In the earliest account of the play's performance, Simon Forman fails to answer this question. Nor does he comment on the dramatic return of Hermione in Act 5. Moreover, he makes no mention of the ferocious bear that does away with Antigonus. The disparity between the text of the First Folio and Forman's account has invited recent critics to conjecture Shakespeares's dramatic revision of the play between its performance at the Globe and its subsequent royal performances at the Banqueting Hall. The original production featured Richard Burbage, who provided a tragic dimension to Leontes's jealousy, and Robert Armin, who invested Autolycus with the roguish qualities highlighted by Forman. It is clear, Forman's observations notwithstanding, that the play's design emphasized the fantastical elements we associate with the "romance" genre. Performed initially at the Globe Theatre in 1611, the play was also presented by the King's Men six times in both the first and second Banqueting Houses, Jacobean spaces for court pageants and masque entertainments. The play incorporates two structural features that accommodate the court performance: dances and an iconic bear. The arrival of the "saltiers" for the satyrs' dance in 4.4 to celebrate the Bohemian sheep-shearing festival has been traced to the contemporary performance of Ben Jonson's Masque of Oberon on January 1, 1611. The description of the dancers—"not the worst of the three but jumps twelve feet and a half by th'square"—suggests that these "saltiers" were skilled jumpers with "twinne wrists" and "shaggie thigh." Jonson's masque also featured white bears as part of its creative device; thus, the appearance of a bear to dispatch Antigonous also suggests the influence of the recent masque.

2The appearance of Hermione as a statue has been attributed to the influence of Anthony Munday's Lord Mayor's show, Chrusos-thriambus: The Triumphes of Golde, which features the restoration of a fourteenth-century mayor from a tomb: "Time striketh on the Tombe with his silver wand and then Faringdon ariseth" (Bergeron "Restoration" 128). The presence of Time and the restoration of Hermione have led David Bergeron to conjecture the relevance of these elements for the wedding celebration of Prince Elizabeth in 1613. Two masques were presented at the nuptials, each of which included statues as part of their invention:

3The renewal of Hermione would fit these dramatic events and correspond in the larger sense to the occasion of the wedding. One should recall that the marriage of Elizabeth came just a few months after the sudden and tragic death of her brother, Henry, Prince of Wales, on 6 November 1612. Within a brief period of time we meet on the national scene 'with things dying . . . [and] with things newborn." (Bergeron "Restoration" 129-30)

By 1634, the play had been performed at the court six times before disappearing for a century from the stage.