Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Hardin Aasand
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10Sources 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

Major characters

While Robert Greene's Pandosto. The Triumph of Time (1588) provides us with the narrative structure, basic characters (see chart above), and essential pastoral and romance elements for The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's adoption and manipulation of the narrative elements display his ingenuity in choosing sources and synthesizing those sources with the vast storehouse of personal readings and dramatic influences that were available to him. The story outlines King Pandosto's emerging jealousy over his wife Bellaria's presumed trysts with his lifelong friend, Egistus (TLN 360ff). Though it provides the essential ingredients for The Winter's Tale, 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 enigmatic 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, Pandosto's cupbearer Franion spirits away Egistus to his home in Sicilia—not Bohemia, which Pandosto rules in Greene's prose narrative. Pandosto's wrath, once the king discovers Egistus 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 Egistus becomes more intimate and more "familiar": Bellaria's desire to please her husband extends to her visiting Egistus in his bedroom.

Bellaria's subsequent imprisonment, trial, and exoneration through the Delphic oracle are all repeated in The Winter's Tale. The birth of a daughter—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, he 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). Bellaria's and Garinter's death provided Shakespeare with the same tragic coda to the first half of the play. Despite the desire to commit suicide—which he fulfils by the end of the narrative—Pandosto persists, as does Leontes.

Greene, 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. 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 Egistus. 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. As in Shakespeare, Greene's second half focuses on the young lovers and their flight from Sicilia and arrival in Bohemia, where Pandosto imprisons Dorastus and attempts to seduce his own daughter.

While Shakespeare brings Polixenes and Leontes together in Sicilia for their emotional reunion, Egistus sends a message to Pandosto asking that his son be released and Fawnia executed; Pandosto agrees to this request until the shepherd Porrus describes Fawnia's orphan past, a recounting which reveals her to be Pandosto's daughter. This 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 to reconcile with his friend Egistus. Overwhelmed by grief for his suspicious treatment of Egistus, 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. Greene characterizes this suicide as a "tragical stratagem" to "close up the comedy."

Besides the obvious reversal of kingdoms—Pandosto's Bohemia becomes Leontes's Siclia while Egistus's Sicilia becomes 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 Ewbank has astutely observed, Shakespeare's "triumph" of time is a regenerative force that restores Hermione after 16 years and 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, following his wife's and son's earlier deaths, ends with no opportunity for providential intervention, and thus provides only the aftertaste of satisfaction. Shakespeare's choice to resurrect Hermione 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)

For Phebe Jensen, this moment "makes [Hermione] miraculously present, in a ceremony performed under the direction of a Pauline practioner [sic], during which stone is transformed into flesh, just as bread and wine become body and blood in the Catholic Mass" (304). The theater 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 anticlimactic, 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.