Winter’S Tale (The)

By William Shakespeare
June 1 1992
directed by Patrick Kelly

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and his Queen, Hermione, entreat Leontes' childhood friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to extend his visit. When Polixenes gives in to Hermione's entreaties, Leontes is seized with an unreasonable jealousy. He orders Polixenes' murder and sends Hermione to prison where she gives birth to a daughter, Perdita. Refusing to believe that the child is his, Leontes orders Perdita to be abandoned in the wilds. He then learns that Hermione has died. Sixteen years later, Perdita, who was found and raised by shepherds in Bohemia, is wooed by Florizel, Polixenes' son. Polixenes is opposed to their marriage and threatens punishment. Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicilia, where Perdita's identity is revealed and the kings are reconciled. When all go to view a lifelike statue of Hermione, there is a mysterious transformation and a joyous reunion.

Date Time
Monday June 1 12:00 am
Closed

Originally performed at the Globe in 1611, The Winter's Tale has traditionally suffered from either extensive alteration or embellishment. Two of the earliest and best-known adaptations are Macnamara Morgan's The Sheep-Shearing: Or Florizel and Perdita (1754) and David Garrick's Florizel and Perdita, A Dramatic Pastoral (1756), both of which attempted to preserve the romance and joy of The Winter's Tale without its grief and desolation.

Leontes, King of Sicilia, and his Queen, Hermione, entreat Leontes' childhood friend, Polixenes, King of Bohemia, to extend his visit. When Polixenes gives in to Hermione's entreaties, Leontes is seized with an unreasonable jealousy. He orders Polixenes' murder and sends Hermione to prison where she gives birth to a daughter, Perdita. Refusing to believe that the child is his, Leontes orders Perdita to be abandoned in the wilds. He then learns that Hermione has died. Sixteen years later, Perdita, who was found and raised by shepherds in Bohemia, is wooed by Florizel, Polixenes' son. Polixenes is opposed to their marriage and threatens punishment. Florizel and Perdita flee to Sicilia, where Perdita's identity is revealed and the kings are reconciled. When all go to view a lifelike statue of Hermione, there is a mysterious transformation and a joyous reunion.

Shakespeare's main source for The Winter's Tale was Robert Greene's romantic nouvella, Pandosta (1588). In Shakespeare's version, the outstanding differences are the addition of Hermione's restoration and her reunion with Perdita and Leontes, and the creation of the long pastoral episode based on Greene's brief mention of a sheep-shearing feast. Shakespeare also adds and expands several characters. Paulina is entirely Shakespeare's creation. She is Hermione's champion and protector, and the fearless accuser of Leontes' jealousy, as well as the guide of his actions and the keeper of his conscience during his period of remorse. Camillo, the poisoner and revealer of the poisoning plot, becomes the one who orchestrates the movement of all the Bohemian characters back to Sicilia. And Autolycus, who assists with this orchestration, is a magnificent and comic expansion of Greene's Capnio, an wily old servant. The most critical change is Shakespeare's creation of two separate worlds and the movement between them. Greene's Pandosta begins in Bohemia, then moves to Sicilia. However, this movement does not serve to underscore the themes of the story as it does in The Winter's Tale. Shakespeare reverses the locations and adds the return to the Sicilian kingdom. The court in Sicilia is chaotic and artificial, a cold, confining place where Leontes' jealousy can grow into an unreasonable rage which tragically destroys marriages, families, friendships, even life itself. In contrast, the kingdom of Bohemia is natural, delightfully comic and festive, a life-restoring world where Florizel and Perdita's love can blossom. In this pastoral setting, the issues of courtship and marriage are treated lightly and hold the potential for a happy resolution. The return to Sicilia unifies these contradictory worlds in a new realm of serenity and acceptance. Here, love and friendship are renewed, and faith in the spontaneous, mysterious processes of Nature is restored in one miraculous moment. This movement between Sicilia and Bohemia marks the redemptive, renewing qualities of the passage of Time, and the human journey through life-the primary themes of The Winter's Tale.

OF HARMONY AND CONTRADICTION: THE CHALLENGE OF STAGING THE WINTER'S TALE Throughout the production history of The Winter's Tale, critics and directors have been challenged by the tryptic form-how to unify and reconcile the tragic, comic, and romantic elements without sacrificing one for the others. The Winter's Tale begins as a tragedy, in which Leontes' obsessive jealousy destroys families and lives, leading him to sorrow and remorse. The second part is a comedy where the issues of love, courtship and marriage are treated lightly through song and disguise in a pastoral setting. The final part is a romance, a reunion of lovers and friends in the serene warmth of acceptance and forgiveness. Director Patrick Kelly sees The Winter's Tale and this "journey through the genres" as a mirror of human life marching on through the generations. The passage through the richly emotional Winter, to the bucolic comedy of Summer, to the resolution of Autumn represents the passing of Time, while "disturbing the deepest, darkest emotions of the human experience." In 1856, Charles Kean set his production in ancient Greece, cutting everything that clashed with the chosen period. The result was a brilliant spectacle, with emphasis on visual images rather than on excellence of acting and exploration of character. However, Kean's interpretation became the norm for productions of The Winter's Tale until the turn of the century, making it one of Shakespeare's more popular "Greek" plays. The first professional production of the play in "Elizabethan" style after 1634 was staged in 1910 by Winthrop Ames, who gave focus and unity to the passage of time through a permanent set which changed character as the seasonal elements within it changed. Granville-Barker's production in 1912 emphasized the text by opting for a much simpler and more stylized white and gold set, which, according to the critics, set the imagination roaming between past and present. This production, and subsequent Granville-Barker productions of Shakespeare, put an end to the overblown spectacles of the 19th century in which scenery dominated the text. More recently, productions of The Winter's Tale have explored the development of character, and the movement in time and location. Peter Brook's London production (1951) concentrated on character. Actor John Gielgud portrayed Leontes with romantic dignity, jealousy smoldering within him. Influenced by the idea of the dream as defined by Freud and Jung, Trevor Nunn's 1969 production by the Royal Shakespeare Company was played on a set of abstract symbols which mirrored the play's images. In this production, Leontes' Sicilia was a dreamlike, childhood world of a nursery that included a man-sized white rocking horse. In 1975, at Stratford, Connecticut, the balance swung towards symbol and allegory. The main symbol of destruction and renewal in this production was a circle which was consistently repeated in different contexts. The idea of duality was also evident in the doubling of the roles of Hermione and Perdita, and Time and the bear. At Stratford, Ontario (1986), David Williams staged the play as a fairytale adventure, with emphasis on coincidence and chance. The production included a visualization of Time and his "children" as tableau figures on a sculptural clock. The 1992 CSF production of The Winter's Tale seems, at first glance, to be firmly set in the 17th century. But only at first glance. Director Patrick Kelly describes the world of the play as one in which strange coincidences and fantastic moments are made believable. It encompasses extraordinary events "which in the doing, seem scary, but later, in the telling, have humor." This magical quality is reflected in Robert Schmidt's unit set of wooden panels, which are painted with water-colored landscapes and light. Bruce McInroy's costumes for the play draw their inspiration from the 17th century artists Rubens and Veronese. The soft, rich colors and loose, draped lines evoke the magical world of The Winter's Tale. Brian Otte's original music and Michael Wellborn's lighting further create the iridescent world of the play, described by Kelly as the "shimmering suggestion of a memory." The result is a production which embraces the play's rich, contradictory life: while exposing our fear of loss, it touches on our hope in the continuity of living and loving. Susan L. Ernest-Stengel, Dramaturg, The Winter's Tale

Bartholomeusz, Dennis. The Winter's Tale in Performance in England and America 1611-1976. Cambridge University Press, 1982. Frey, Charles. Shakespeare's Vast Romance: A Study of The Winter's Tale. University of Missouri Press, 1980.