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.

4The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

The eighteenth century

5The eighteenth century productions were "lop'd, hack'd, and dock'd" adaptations that reflected neo-classical taste dismissive of the play's geographical and temporal expanses. These adaptations accorded more attention to Florizel and Perdita's pastoral romance. The sentiments voiced by Sir Philip Sidney in his Apologie for Poesie governed the dramatic unities emphasized by Macnamara Morgan's and David Garrick's adaptations:

6For where the stage should always represent but one place, and the uttermost time presupposed in it should be, both by Aristotle's precept and common reason, but one day, then is both many dayes, and many places inartificially imagined . . . you shall have Asia of the one side, and Afric of the other, and so many under-kingdoms . . . . Now of time they are more liberal, for ordinary it is that two young princes fall in love. After many traverses, she is got with child, delivered of a fair boy, he is lost, groweth a man, and is ready to get another with child, and all this in two hours space: which how absurd it is in sense, even sense may imagine, and art hath taught, and all ancient examples justified, and at this day the ordinary players in Italy will not err in.

7The adaptations that were popular during the time –112 performances of the adaptation compared with only 14 Shakespearean productions—reflect the sentimental drama that hewed closely to the neoclassical unities, especially those of time and character. Both Morgan and Garrick accentuated the pathos of Perdita's and Florizell's plight, at the expense of either eliminating or condensing Leontes' and Hermione's reunion.

8Morgan's The Sheep-Shearing: or Florizel and Perdita eliminated Leontes and Hermione and the tragic dimensions behind Perdita's story. The focus on Florizel and Perdita, acted by Spranger Barry and Isabella Nossitor at Covent Garden in 1754, is complemented by the comic exuberance of Ned Shuter as Autolycus. The old Shepherd Alcon, Perdita's surrogate father, provides a narrative flashback to the play's omitted Sicilian past. Alcon offers a safe, sanitized account of Perdita's royal lineage that allows her and Florizel to marry according to proper levels of status:

Then let us all be blithe and gay
Upon this joyful, bridal day.
That Florizel weds Perdita,
That Florizel weds Perdita.
And let each nymph and shepherd tell
No happy pair e'er lov'd so well,
As Perdita and Florizel
As Perdita and Florizel
Sing high, sing down, sing ding-dong bell,
For Pedita and Florizel (102-03);

9David Garrick's Florizel and Perdita, a "dramatic pastoral" in three acts, restores Hermione and Leontes at the end in a play confined to Bohemia. More popular than Morgan's adaptation, Garrick's version, sentimental and histrionic in the performances of Garrick and Susanne Cibber, was performed over sixty times between 1756 and 1795. One Drury Lane review captures the truncated version:

Her [Hermione's] having lived sequestered for many Years might be allowed, if she did not stand for a Statue at last. This Circumstance is certainly childish, as is likewise the pretended Revival of her by Music. Had Hermione been discovered to us in a rational Manner, the Close would have been pathetic, whereas at present, notwithstanding many Strokes of fine Writing, Reason operates too strongly against eh Incident, and our Passions subside into Calmness and Inactivity. (Bartholomeusz 32)

10Hermione's resurrection is perfunctory, and all elements of eighteenth-century sentimentality fail to recuperate the loss of Shakespeare's original play. Garrick assayed the role of Leontes, Hannah Pritchard and Suzannah Cibber the roles of Hermione and Perdita respectively, the former saintly and the latter "innocent and blooming" in productions between 1756 and 1765 (1762 for Cibber). Theophilius Cibber laments: " The Winter's Tale of Shakespeare, thus lop'd, hack'd, and dock's appears without Head or Tail. In order to curtail it to Three Acts, the story of the three first Acts of the original Play (and which contains some of the noblest Parts) are crowded into a dull Narrative" (Bartholomeusz 38). Despite the extreme cutting of Shakespeare's play, these adaptations addressed audience expectations for a spectacle that elicited audience wonder, hence the popularity of Garrick's dramatic retreat from the resurrected Hermione. It would take the next century for Shakespeare's original design to return to the stage.

11The nineteenth century

Despite some restructuring –a transposition of 3.1 and a division of the trial scene into two parts—and the retention of some of Garrick's melodramatic dialogue and lyrics, John Philip Kemble's script restores the two halves of the play without the presence of Time to provide a chronological transition. Kemble added additional characters to swell the ranks of judges, scribes, and morris dancers. The production trimmed lines for decency and comprehension (Florizel's description of Perdita's exquisite dance; Polixenes and Perdita's debate on art and nature) and used a wing-and-flat system of scenic changes to accommodate the Grecian and Gothic shifts in public space and interior, withdrawn space of Leontes's jealousy and Hermione's contrived trial. Kemble's Leontes and Sarah Siddon's Hermione embody the pathos of the play:Kemble "evinced a perfect knowledge of his author, and displayed a judgement and feeling which justly place it among his most successful parts"; Siddons, according to William Hazlitt, presented a Hermione with "monumental dignity and noble passion" (qtd in Hunt 66).

12William Charles Macready's production at Drury Lane and Covent Garden that ran between 1823-43 is distinctive for investing Leontes's jealousy with believability. Indeed, Macready's elevation of Leontes's psychic collapse into a response that was laced with "realism" is a hallmark of this production . Macready's jealousy ripens from his initial doubts over Hermione's fidelity to a devastating hatred that humanizes the spectacle of Leontes's and Hermone's restoration, Macready's visible joy measured by his backward movement from the visual epicenter of the scene, Helen Faucit's graceful appearance as Hermione.

13Contrasted with Macready's attempts to humanize the story, Charles Kean's 1856 production at the Princess Theatre was lavish spectacle that stripped away Shakespearean anachronism in favor of a firmly established fourth-century B.C. setting. Kean's major achievement was to transform the choric figure of Time into Chronos, the father of Zeus, seated on the microcosmos that was part of an elaborate allegory. Kean's insistence on spectacle that minimizes Shakespeare's character in favor of theatrical display set the tone for most productions that were staged in the last half of the nineteenth century. Kean's insistence on historical accuracy also led him to alter the seacoast-challenged Bohemia to the Roman colony of Bithynia, sea-coast and all, an adaptation first suggested by Thomas Hanmer's 1744 edition of Shakespeare.

14The Twentieth Century and the "Shakespearean Revolution"

Productions of the play during the twentieth century sought to resurrect Shakespeare's play as written, avoiding both the excessive trimming that marked the eighteenth-century productions and the lavish spectacle of the great nineteenth-century actor- managers. On September 21, 1912, Harley Granville-Barker's The Winter's Tale was performed with minimal textual excisions. The stage, costuming (inspired by Giulio Romano), innovative lighting, and naturalized performances reaffirmed the primacy of a text subjected earlier to neo-classical adaptation and sentimental excess. Stripping away the Victorian veneer of pictorial realism and a framed construction, Granville-Barker paid homage to the play's internal drama and created the template for most modern productions.

15His decision to create a thrust stage over the orchestra pit and insert an interior inset stage created a playing area of depth and space. The imaginative use of white columns and curtains embodied the Sicilian court, and the impression of a thatched cottage with leaf-patterned curtains for exterior scenes conveyed the arrival in Bohemia. Henry Ainley, Lillah McCarthy, and Cathleen Nesbitt each conveyed realistically the manic abruptness a jealous Leontes, the dignified repose of the wronged Hermione, and the naïve, bucolic youthfulness of a fresh Perdita. English poet John Masefield characterizes the significance of Granville-Barker's production in these terms: "The performance seemed to me to be a riper and juster piece of Shakespearean criticism than I have seen hitherto in print" (Bartholomeusz 164).

16If Barker's 1912 production gave its audience a Leontes with severe psychic disturbance, an insecure and clearly undignified neurotic, the Phoenix Theatre forty years later provided a nuanced performance by John Gielguid, whose Leontes is matched by Diana Wynyard's gentle, gracious Hermione. Gielgud's Leontes demonstrates a jealousy that mounts from an initial quietness that reaches fever pitch during his query to Camillo, "Is this whispering nothing?" Flora Robson's Paulina was a determined, loyal presence in the play. She is "Fury-like" (Venezky 338) in her denunciations of Leontes. The play's pastoral elements paled next to the tragic intensity of the scenes in Sicilia. Much of this diminution can be attributed to Brook's decision to remove the satyr dance from the sheep-shearing festival. Brook also excised the opening scene with Camillo and Archidamus and the scene with Cleomines and Dion's arrival from Delphi. The performances enhanced a production for which the multiple stages proved "cumbersome" and awkward in promoting organic, fluid staging. Despite the omissions and the imbalance between the Sicilian and Bohemian sequences, the production at the Phoenix Theatre ran a spectacular 162 performances.

17The Stratford performances at the Memorial Theatre in the latter half of the twentieth century reflect directors who treat the stage as extensions of the psychic state of the play's protagonists. Anthony Quayle's 1948 production transformed the domestic dynamics into a "fairy tale" in which Esmond Knight's Leontes is played as a "tyrant" devoid of nuance or subtlety. Sicily was treated as a Slavic kingdom; Bohemia is transformed into a steppe-like wilderness with Paul Scofield's Clown accentuating the actor's Warwickshire origins. Peter Wood's 1960 production opted to recreate a Renaissance court, replete with Gothic arches and flourishes of courtly magnificence (Tatspaugh 29ff). Eric Porter's Leontes is an urbane, passionate husband propelled by his misunderstanding of Hermione's innocent "If you first sinned with us," to a jealousy that was both reasonable and extreme. His portrait of a man driven to jealousy by the paddling of palms and free expression of Hermione's hospitality was lauded as even superior to Gielgud's highly esteemed performance of a decade earlier. In this production, Time (in the guise of Derek Godfrey) is an elegant, eloquent figure with an hour-glass who seemingly supervises the entrances and exits of the play's characters during the transition: summoning forth the arrival and departure in a dumb show of Leontes in his decline and the pastoral meetings of Florizel and Perdita in Bohemia.

18Productions in the latter twentieth century attempted to design a stage that reflected both Sicilia's upheaval and Bohemia's bucolic spirit. Late Stratford productions (Trevor Nunn in 1969; John Barton and Nunn in a 1976 joint production) emphasize Leontes's psychic break through the use of a symbolic stage to suggest the emotional tenor of jealousy that overwhelms Sicilia in the first half of the play. Indeed, Nunn's 1969 production marks a change of style and dramatic vision from Wood's 1960 Renaissance spectacle. Nunn deployed a white box set which allowed for an imaginative use of spare symbols:

. . . the figure of Leontes, arms outstretched as if crucified, turning in anguish, appeared in an erect, rectangular box or case with mirrored walls which was placed in the centre of the stage and revealed in flashes of light while a part of Time's speech was heard through the darkness: "I that please some, try all . . . ." (Bartholomeusz 213; also see Tatspaugh 33ff)

19This mirrored box and the novel use of Time's speech reflect the creative forces that connected Leonte's tortured state, Time's role in human dynamics, and Hermione's statued imprisonment (all three step out of the same perspex box). The opening scene of a white nursery with toys and a white rocking horse captured both the innocence of Mamillius's world and the more insidious forces that destroy this innocence: Hermione is a "hobby horse," the battered doll capturing the domestic violence that unfolds, and the spinning top the fragile core of Leontes's self-display. The Bohemia of this production was not the Russian steppes or a simple pastoral but rather a more contemporary modish community of rock music and contemporary Carnaby Street ambience. More controversial was the decision to have Judi Dench double both Perdita and Hermione, which had been done by Mary Anderson a century earlier. The choice of having Perdita onstage speaking to the statue made for awkward staging as Judi Dench was forced to move offstage to take her place within the mirrored box while a double returned to occupy the Perdita space that Dench was forced to vacate (see Tatspaugh).

20The joint Nunn and Barton production of 1976 invested the play with even more symbolic use of the stage. The world of Sicily is a Lapland rife with bear imagery characterized by one critic as "totemic": Polixenes dons a bear-skin blanket and becomes the imaginary bear hunted down by the playful Mamillius, a blanket that will then be later wrapped around Hermione's shoulders. The implicit threat of this Sicily is incarnated in Ian McKellan's Leontes, whose jealousy is unpredictable and rash. Here McKellen follows Macready and Gielguid in establishing an anguish borne from deep-seated origins. He renders as palpable the evil moving within his psyche. John Nettles, who would play Leontes in Nunn's later 1992 production, doubled both the roles of Time and the bear in this joint production. Antigonus's demise is not treated realistically but mythically: Time holds a symbolic bear mask before his face, striking a stick upon the stage to signal Antigonus's forced removal from the stage.

21Ronald Eyre's 1981 production eschewed the 1976 symbolism for a spare and minimalist approach, often emphasizing the theatricality of the performance: prop tables visible for the audience, actors in the wings visibly waiting for their entrances, the opening of 1.2 in which actors put on their costumes and take props for the opening masque (Hermione a sheaf of wheat; Polixenes and Leontes crowns and robes from tailors' dummies). Autolycus appears with a giant bear and an oversized Father Time enters wearing a giant robe patterned in astronomical figures from the winter consellation. Mamilius creeps out from beneath Time's robe to begin the scene. Patrick Stewart's Leontes is suspicious at the outset, and his jealousy seems organic and developed. Stewart's scenes with Gemma Jones' Hermione are thus tinged with a latent tension.

22Terry Hands' 1984 and Noble's 1992 productions avoided the starkness of the 1981 Eyres' production, returning to the symbolism of earlier 60's productions: Hands adorned the white set with a scrim to set off the playing areas, a romantic ambience of dramatic set pieces with nursery toys, lighting and reflective surfaces overhead and below that hinted at distortions of the opening scenes of bliss; Noble's "gauze box" could be warmly lit or darkly opaque, flexibly allowing for still-life vignettes and dynamic action spilling out to the main stage. For Hands, Jeremy Irons made Leontes a sardonic husband to Penny Downie's flirtatious Hermione, a man whose fragile marriage makes his jealousy both justifiable and rational. For Noble, John Nettles' Leontes is blissfully in love with Samantha Bond's Hermione, and his jealousy is sudden, violent, and reflected in the lighting that turned to a chilly blue against the floor covered with fissures that reflect the breakage of the romantic promise.

23The stage in Gregory Doran's 1999 production was a perspective stage created by five pairs of sliding panels that narrowed to convey Leonte's (Anthony Sher) paranoia and insularity. Doran also used sound to suggest suspicious voices and secrets emanating in the psyche of an increasingly paranoid Leontes. The billowy curtains overhead created a threatening gesture that reflected Leontes' descent into a "psychotic jealousy" that cripples him emotionally, which internalizes the physical handicap of the wheelchair-ridden Mamillus (Emily Bruni, who also doubled Perdita). Unlike Jeremy Iron's ironic Leontes, Anthony Sher's Leontes is pathetic and ultimately brutalized by a vindictive Paulina who physically throws him across the stage following the reading of the oracle. Hermione's eventual restoration to him is a therapeutic necessity for his mental health.

24The new century

Twenty-first century performances

The 21st century saw renewed interest in this play, especially in the spring of 2001. By the fall of 2001, however, the play seemed to lose its currency for nearly a decade. Carol Chllington Rutter queried its revival by 2009: "What accounts for the play's currency today? Is it, since that September, our culture's profoundly adjusted attitude to time, history and loss, the daily acknowledgement of life's fragility? Is it a longing for a return to a place we can't recover . . . ." (350). Rutter alludes to the events of 9/11 and the sense of vulnerability created by an act of terrorism. That sense of a failed nostalgia and abrupt violence marks the productions that occurred later in the first decade of the new millennium. The domestic violence and assertion of feminine prerogative, especially in Paulina's bellicosity towards Leontes, found an audience during the new millennium as especially topical and relevant. Notable productions include both the 2005 Propeller Production that featured an all-male cast who doubled parts and the respective 2009 and 2010 high-profile productions in New York by the Bridge Project and Shakespeare in the Park. The Propeller Production attempted to duplicate the all-male productions of Shakespeare's time and the subsequent doubling of parts. Thus, one actor plays Time, Mamillius, and Perdita, accentuating the temporal shifts occasioned by Mamillius's death and Perdita's birth. The play's emphasis on time was reinforced by the rear-projection of the moon ["the watery star" 1.2.1; TLN 50] that gradually became a new moon following the interval. The Bohemia of this production is headed by a band, "The Bleatles," and Autolycus is garbed as punk rocker à la Iggy Pop. Exit pursued by a bear provides the company with an opportunity to play with audience expectations: Mamillius arrives on stage dressed in a bear suit an act earlier than the actual bear, tweaking the audience's expectation. When the bear does arrive to devour Antigonus, it turns out to be Mamillius's stuffed bear. Noteworthy is the coda director Edward Hall appends to the end: the ghost of Mamillius arrives to blow out the candle cradled in Leontes's hands. The coda provides the play with a proper annunciation of a production for a new world. Increasingly, the play turns its attention to the children, Mamillius especially, and the effect of domestic violence on children.

25The Bridge Project was a bi-national production by Sam Mendes that married American and British actors to create the Sicilian and Bohemian realms. Notable in this production was Simon Russell Beale's Leontes, who is credited with making "transparent" Leontes's jealousy while sustaining the enigma of its origins. The power of the first half of the production in Sicilia cast with British actors made pedestrian the Bohemia set in rural Midwest America, a dramatic rarity for a play that necessitates the relief offered by a Bohemian idyll. Suffering in comparison is the 2010 Shakespeare in the Park production registered by actors blaring out dialogue to be heard above urban noise. The psychological layers provided by the 2009 Mendes production are missing in a production for which the Bohemian pastoral setting promise of comic festivities –heightened by puppets and Eastern European dance music—are welcome relief. The production's emotional swings are characterized as achieved more in the telling than in the showing.

26Regional productions at the Old Globe in San Diego in 2005 and at the Guthrie Theatre in 2011 provided the play with elements inspired by regional and thematic tastes. Darko Tresnak's Old Globe production, spare of stage but resplendent with special lighting to highlight seasonal changes, gives Leontes's jealousy a complexity that captures his tragic trajectory. The restoration of Hermione is especially heightened by the presence of a female Time, who cradles Hermione in a recreation of a moving Pietà. Tresnak's production ushers in a Bohemia in which the beer barrel polka and a giant funhouse bear establish the festive mood of the regenerative kingdom.

27Jonathan Munby's 2011 Guthrie Theatre production doubles Time with Antigonus, the actor changing from his military uniform to an all white spectral garb. If the Old Globe created a carnivalesque atmosphere with a cutout bear's head, the Guthrie production used an actor in a bear suit with special lighting to capture the ominous attack on Antigonus. The Guthrie highlighted its Midwest roots by setting its Bohemia in a northern Minnesota setting with birch trees and black-eyed susans and Ford Ranchero pick ups. Despite the staging idiosyncrasies of these two productions, both directors highlighted the tortured state of Leontes's mind and its incipient jealousy. Munby used a dumb show to capture Leontes's riven mind and pre-recorded vocal murmurings to create the internal monologue that disrupted his state. Tresnak's Leontes gains in sympathy through the moving statue scene, in which his Hermione is restored to his side. The Guthrie production emphasizes especially Hermione's anguish during her trial scene, in which she is dressed in a sackcloth dress stenciled with a number, her hair shorn and skin gaunt from the imprisonment.

28The RSC's imported production (directed by David Farr) in New York in 2011 gave Leontes's jealousy a "cool ferocity" that reveals a jealousy with an extensive germination period. The Edwardian setting provides the most unsettling of transformations; chandeliers come crashing down and ceiling-high bookcases collapse, strewing their books with a cataclysmic thunder. The loose pages are given extra sartorial power by forming the costumes of the Bohemians and the leaves of the trees. Though the production also creates a haunting image of the final restoration of Leontes and Hermione, Farr leaves Autolycus onstage to challenge the audience's acceptance of the play's promise of a festive reunion. He shrugs to reinforce the ambiguity of the resolution. Does the play conclude "happily ever after?" Perhaps not.

29Film

30The 1981 BBC production of the play is renowned for the influence of producer Jonathan Miller and director Jane Howell in establishing a play that avoided the "realism" of earlier productions in the BBC series. Described as an "economically" adaptive approach to the play for a televised media, Howell's production has a stylized quality more akin to the more experimental theatrical productions (Hall, 178-79). The set was a stark wedged-shaped background with a central entrance, two cones and a tree to suggest a non-descript landscape given seasonal change through lighting. Jeremy Kemp is a stern, domineering Leontes to Robert Stephen's more cheery Polixenes. Anna Calder-Marshall and Margaret Tyzack project, respectively, Hermione's resilience and Paulina's indignant outrage to Leontes's affronts.

31The production is also notable for its striking use of television's intimacy to isolate Kemp's whispered asides to the audience from the onstage action and to unite audience and Autolycus in conspiratorial collusion during his dissembling feats. Grouping of actors in the televised frame allowed Howell to control the audience's interpretation and perspective. In Leontes's interruption of Hermione's intimate moments with Mamillius in Act 2, Howell uses the camera to shift angles from Hermione and her court dressed in light colors on the left and Leontes with his courtiers dressed in black, pulling back to reveal the growing rift within Sicilia's order. A similar effect is used to isolate Hermione during her trial scene as the camera moves from her isolated close up to take in the sweep of the court's remoteness from her plight. The Bohemian sheep-shearing scenes are similarly staged, with the swelling of the scene from individual to group scenes to capture the festivities as a communal mingling of Perdita, Florizel, and the Bohemian celebrants. As Joan Hall observes, the effectiveness of the fluid medium of television fails to deliver the impact of the final statue scene; the close ups of Hermione's awakening and Leontes's astonishment deprive the audience of the advantage of the wider perspective as Hermione's return is registered by all the characters onstage.

32The theatrical and cinematic productions described have captured the range of interpretations and staging possibilities presented by Shakespeare's play, a drama that draws attention to its artifice and to the emotional polarities that life presents all of us. If productions come to different conclusions about the source of Leontes's jealousy, the depth of his depravity or fragile condition, the nature of the bear which sheds blood in the creation of the Bohemian pastoral, and the pathos of the haunting closing scene, all theatrical versions exploit the aesthetic demands of this play. The Winter's Tale requires its readers and its spectators to experience joy and terror as the inexorable consequences of Time's hour-glass as it turns again and again to demarcate this "wide gap" of life.