Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Hardin Aasand
Peer Reviewed

The Winter's Tale: Textual Introduction


1This edition is based on the only extant text of The Winter's Tale, that of the First Folio. The Winter's Tale first appeared as a printed text in Shakespeare's First Folio, which was published posthumously in 1623. Despite the "romance" genre by which the play is currently categorized, The Winter's Tale is grouped with the Folio comedies, The Tempest being the first of the genre and The Winter's Tale being the last in the grouping. The Stationer's Register shows that the play was entered into the register on November 8th, 1623, where it is listed as one of sixteen Shakespeare plays never entered previously for licensing.

2We are able to discern some clues from the text as to its placement within the Folio during the initial printing. The signatures used at the bottom of the page to indicate the order of the folio sheets to be gathered reveal that The Winter's Tale text was not available for the process of "casting off" –the printing house practice of setting the play into copy for the printing on folio sheets. Twelfth Night, the play which precedes The Winter's Tale in the Folio has one set of signatures and The Winter's Tale has another set, suggesting that the copy of the text for printing house use was not available when the TN printing had been finished. Typically the plays follow one another without blank pages between them, yet TN ends on the recto (right hand page) of one folio sheet with a blank verso page (reverse side of the recto). The Winter's Tale begins on the next recto, leaving the preceding verso page blank. Charlton Hinman, a Shakespearean who examined the preparation of the First Folio, concluded that the copy of the play arrived too late for the printers to set as part of the Comedies section as it was being prepared (2:521-2).

3Despite the probable difficulties in its printing history, the text is itself considered "clean," regardless of the frequent "incomprehensible" passages that one finds evident in many of Leontes's most tortuous speeches (See Orgel, "Poetics"). The clarity of the physical text is often attributed to Ralph Crane, a scribe employed by Shakespeare's company, the King's Men, to prepare copies of plays for the Stationers' Registers. Indeed, based on Crane's unique spelling, his tendency to mass the entrance of all characters at the beginning of a scene even if their arrival occurs later in the scene, his punctuation, and his hyphenation practices, scholars believe he also prepared the Folio texts of The Tempest, The Two Gentleman of Verona, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Measure for Measure. W.W. Gregg surmised that Crane prepared the Folio text from Shakespeare's "foul papers" (his own handwritten copy) rather than from a prompt book used by the players to stage the play, based on the apparent absence of the "allowed" book for licensing on August 19th, 1623. T. H. Howard-Hill confirms Gregg's suspicions that Crane made one or two transcripts of the play directly from Shakespeare's foul papers to replace the missing promptbook: "Crane made two transcripts from foul papers, one to replace the prompt-book which was missing before a new prompt-book was relicensed . . . , and the other as copy for the Folio" (130).

4Crane's role in transcribing The Winter's Tale has elevated his stature as an intelligent shaper of the texts he transcribed, a scribe who invested his copies with his own distinctive scribal practices, all of which can be found in the original Folio text: massed entrances of characters at the beginning of a scene; extensive use of parentheses; unusual hyphenation of compound words; a paucity of stage directions; a tendency to maintain an orderly act-scene division. Though this edition has effaced many of these idiosyncratic punctuation practices through repunctuation, repositioning of stage directions to reflect actual entrances and exits, and the insertion of stage directions to convey stage practice not readily apparent from the text, a brief analysis of Crane's practices is useful in conveying his practice of producing copy for the Folio printing.

5Though most editions, the present edition included, readjust the entrances to allow for arrivals and exits that reflect the actual action onstage, the massed stage entrance does perhaps offer a theatrically effective staging. In 2.3, Leontes arrives alone, brooding over Hermione's alleged infidelity and his inability to remove its stain from his mind. He is interrupted by a servant who announces Mamillius's physical decline and then by the arrival of Paulina and a baby, who herself confronts her husband Antigonus and the other servants. Most editions will stage these entrances in a staggered fashion to reflect Leontes's initial isolation on stage before being confronted by news of Mamillius's languished state and then later by the remonstrations by Paulina and the appearance of the infant Perdita. Alan Dessen presents the benefits of the massed entrance of all the characters at the opening of the scene as follows:

6This staging . . . would make Leontes's 'Nor night nor day no rest' speech not a soliloquy but an extended Macbeth-like 'rapt' delivery in which the speaker is oblivious to his surroundings. Such an interpretation could be reinforced if the actor is wearing a nightgown that in the Elizabethan theatrical vocabulary can denote not only sleeplessness but also a troubled or tortured mind . . . More context would therefore be provided for Paulina's critique of the lords and a greater contrast between her forceful behavior and that of the courtiers. To have the lords onstage from the top therefore both changes the nature or value of Paulina's entrance and emphasizes Leontes's self-absorption (so that instead of witnessing a soliloquy the playgoer sees a figure who has isolated himself from a visible human community) (122).

7Retaining the lords onstage from the outset of the scene lends Paulina's forceful entrance with the baby and her subsequent critique of the lords ('Tis such as you,/That creep like shadows by him and do sigh/At each his needness heavings" (2.3.34-6 [TLN 938-40]) a particular dramatic effect. While such moments are lost in modernized texts, this edition provides notes that reflect the staging potential of the original text.

8Crane's unique spelling ("councels"; "extreames"; "physicks"; and "wayting") and his tendency to apply parentheses around words of direct address ("sir," "madam," "brother") combine with two other practices -- hyphenation of unusual compounds ("avouch-it" "made-me," "push-on") and apostrophes in notional contexts ("'Beseech you" and "'Pray you") to create his signature texts. Though these characteristics are lost in modern editions, they remain the trace evidence of Crane's hand even as they blur the nature of his original copy. Despite the cleanness of the Folio copy, Crane's idiosyncracies dominate any description of the text behind his transcription and leave behind a question-mark as to what Crane himself was using for his own scribal practice.