Internet Shakespeare Editions

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  • Title: The Winter's Tale: Performance History
  • Author: Hardin Aasand
  • ISBN: 978-1-55058-367-0

    Copyright Hardin Aasand. This text may be freely used for educational, non-profit purposes; for all other uses contact the Editor.
    Author: Hardin Aasand
    Peer Reviewed

    Performance History

    The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

    The eighteenth century

    The 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:

    For 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.

    The 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 Florizel's plight, at the expense of either eliminating or condensing Leontes' and Hermione's reunion.

    Morgan'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 Perdita and Florizel (102-03);

    5David 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 Susannah 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 the Incident, and our Passions subside into Calmness and Inactivity. (Bartholomeusz 32)

    Hermione'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 Susannah 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). Theophilus Cibber laments: "The Winter's Tale of Shakespeare, thus lop'd, hack'd, and dock'd 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.

    The 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).

    William 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 Hermione's restoration, where Macready's visible joy was measured by his backward movement from the visual epicenter of the scene, Helen Faucit's graceful appearance as Hermione.

    Contrasted 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.