THE WINTER'S TALE - WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
One of the last four plays written by Shakespeare, around 1610. The others are Pericles, Cymbeline and The Tempest.
Much of Elizabethan/Jacobean drama is based on Classical forms, but adapted and changed to suit the contemporary audience. In the Winter's Tale we find elements of Classical tragedy, romance, comedy and pastoral drama, but they are, as we would expect, altered to suit Shakespeare's own dramatic purposes.
The Winter's Tale is often called a TRAGICOMEDY, a hybrid form of drama containing elements of tragedy and comedy/romance. In many ways it follows the accepted form of tragicomedy, but has elements which make it distinctly Shakespearian.
Aristotle (Classical Greek philosopher & writer) is the founder of the Aristotelian tradition of tragedy, which states that tragedy should be or seem to be historical, i.e. deal with affairs of state and the public lives of great men, whose downfall is caused by a fatal weakness in their character. Renaissance tradition held that tragedy should deal with men who were "better" than ordinary men, i.e. kings,heroes, aristocrats. The protagonist may be wholly or partially responsible for his own fate or may be the victim of external circumstances and the machinations of those around him. He may accept his fate stoically, or rail against it or against the nature of the human condition.
Shakespeare draws his tragic heroes and circumstances from stories in Classical sources and from British history. From time to time he also turns to Italian sources.
The elements of comedy are directly opposite to those of tragedy. The central characters are "low" and rude - clowns, buffoons, peasants and so on. The situations of comedy turn on deceptions, confusions and false identities. The stories are often fantastical, dealing with happy endings and reunited lovers and children and parents.
The Winter's Tale contains elements of both tragedy and comedy, and falls quite naturally into two parts.The court of Sicilia is the setting for the tragic suspicions of Leontes about Hermione and his friend King Polixenes; the subsequent flight of Polixenes and Camillo; the trial of Hermione and the fates of the two children, Mamillius and the baby Perdita. Aristocrats, exile, accusations,imprisonment and death (real and supposed) are followed by remorse and anguish on the part of the King, whose good fortune has turned to misery, through his insane bout of jealous suspicion.
The second episode, in the pastoral setting of the Bohemian countryside, seems to fit the comic/romantic theme by introducing shepherds, clowns, rogues and young lovers. Stock comic figures are introduced (Shepherd, Clown, Autolycus) and the themes are love, joy in marriage and the restoration and recognition of long lost children.
The tansition occurs in Act 3 sc 3 with the discovery of Perdita by the Shepherd and his son the Clown. The end of the tragic phase comes with the death of Antigonus and the drowning of the sailors in the storm. Shakespeare makes it obvious that the outcome will be happy, by ensuring that Perdita is unharmed. The shepherd's words "Thou met'st with things dying, I with things new-born" also mark that transition and anticipate the outcome of regeneration/reconciliation and so on.
Much of the action of the play is artificial, including the transition, but this is a deliberate device of the author. It is ridiculous to have Antigonus eaten by a bear, but statues which come to life and personifications of Time are equally contrived. The play is not intended to be taken literally, but is a piece for amusement, entertainment and instruction. The audience is required to suspend its disbelief and enter into the spirit of a type of masque - a contrived set-piece of entertainment, containing fantastical situations and characters.
The tragicomedy should have a particular effect on the audience. The tragedy arousing pity and terror, followed by sadness for the protagonist and the comedy provoking laughter, relaxation and the dissipation of sadness. Despite the artificiality of the Winter's Tale and the unlikeliness of its conclusion, there is, nevertheless delight and happiness at the denouement, with the happiness of Florizel and Perdita and the good fortune of the Shepherd and the Clown. At the same time there is implicit gravity at the loss of the sixteen years and the memory of the deaths of Mamillius and Antigonus, which underlies the obvious pleasure attached to the reconciliation of Leontes and Polixenes and the reuniting of the King and Queen Hermione.
The main source which Shakespeare seems to have used for the Winter's Tale was a prose piece by Robert Greene, published in 1588 and called PANDOSTO. The basic story is that which Shakespeare uses in his play, but some characters are changed, names altered and one or two new characters (Paulina and Autolycus) are introduced. Autolycus is the mirror image of all the good and honest acts. (In Classical mythology Autolycus is the second son, by Mercury, of Chione. Her first child, by Apollo, is the personification of virtue and goodness, but Autolycus inherits badness and dishonesty from his immortal father.)
Shakespeare also changes the plot, making his King, Leontes survive to repent and have his wife and daughter restored to him. In Pandosto the King commits suicide at the end of the story.
Fortune, in Pandosto, is the force which controls the action, but Shakespeare makes events in The Winter's Tale more dependent on human decisions and actions. Most of the extraordinary occurences in the play have a plausible explanation.
The pastoral element of the play is also interesting. Pastoral comedy was a common feature of the Renaissance literary style, with the contrast between corrupt court and idealised country an essential ingredient. Shakespeare includes both court (Sicilia) and country (Bohemia) but adds a third return to court making the pastoral element of Winter's Tale rather unconventional. His Bohemian countryside is not peopled with idealised shepherds and swains, but with realistic characters and rogues like Autolycus, whose origin can be traced from the medieval Morality play.
The masque and the pageant were also familiar styles of entertainment; set pieces of stylish court entertainment with lavish costumes, music and particular characters.Shakespeare includes elements of masque and pageant in the play. There are shepherds, beasts, fools, nymphs and rustics, a moving staue, music and dancing; all the ingredients which would be found in a masque, although not in such a lavish amount.
The living statue is also possibly inspired by a Classical legend - that of Pygmalion and Galatea, found in the Metamorphoses of Ovid. Pygmalion, whose art is "wondrous", carves a statue of a woman whose image surpasses the beauty of Nature. he falls in love with the statue and in answer to his prayers, Venus brings her to life. The Gentleman's description of the statue of Hermione and the art of Julio Romano, a contemporary artist, show close similarities to the Ovidian narrative.
Themes and Ideas in The Winter's Tale
A theme is a central idea, running through the work. Sometimes there is one central theme like the jealousy of Othello and at other times several themes may be present. Shakespeare dealt with many different themes in his plays; love, jealousy, justice, mercy, foregiveness, reconciliation, separation, loss, reunion, relations between parents and children, nature, art and many others. In this play he seems to have included several of his "favourite" themes.
Nature and Art
The passage in which this is introduced is in Act 4 sc 4 ll. 71-108, the so-called "debate" between Perdita and Polixenes. It is a very short exchange, but significant in its content. During the flower-giving, they comment on the difference between "natural" and unnatural or "bastardised" nature. Perdita expresses the primitivist view that man should not tamper with nature, while Polixenes states the sophisticated, "civilised" view that man can and should use his art to alter nature when necessary. At its most basic level it is an exchange between the unsophisticated girl who believes that art is a deception which masks true simplicity, honesty and beauty (which is understandable, given her innocence and lack of sophistication) and the urbane Polixenes, whose cultured wordliness argues that man's intelligence and ingenuity makes it possible to repair some of the imperfections of fallen nature by human art. The contemporary audience would have been familiar with the philosophy of the argument and Shakespeare cleverly uses the exchange to develop the irony of the rejection of Perdita as a daughter-in-law a little later by Polixenes. He argues for a horticultural "mixed marriage", but rejects the idea when it threatens to apply to his son and his own stock. It is also possible to view the idea of the difference between art and nature in relation to the play as a whole, since we are constantly reminded that what we are watching is fiction and we must not treat it as being like life.
The rejection of Pedita as a suitable partner for Florizel would not have surprised the 17thC audience, who would have understood Polixenes' motives. A King had responsibiity to preserve the integrity of his line and his kingdom. The revelation of Perdita's noble birth at the end of the play serves to satisfy both parties in the debate - the eventual marriage is not a mixture of opposites, but entirely appropriate for both Perdita and Polixenes' points of view.
The exchange about art and nature also anticipates the end of the play, i the statue scene. The sculptor, Julio Romano, seems to have produced by his art a statue which is so lifelike that it lacks only breath. His skill, according to the 3rd gentleman (V.2.97) would "beguile nature of her custom". The lifelike image is commented on at length by the characters in Paulina's house in the final scene, before it moves and reveals itself to be, in fact, the real life figure of the Queen. Romano, it seems, is not just copying nature, but creating an image of a real woman as she would be sixteen years older than the day she died. Of course the audience knows, or perhaps suspects, that what is supposed to be art, is really nature. Nature, in the end is superior to art of the most sophisticated kind, so Perdita's argument, although lost to Polixenes in the Bohemian countryside, is finally won in the civilised court of Sicilia.
There are numerous references to grace throughout the play,the first being Hermione's observation when Leontes sends her to prison (II i 121) "This action I now go on, Is for my better grace. Going to prison, it seems, is to her credit, increasing rather than decreasing her honour. Perhaps behind it lies the idea that affliction tests and improves a person.
Perdita is described by Time as having "grown in grace" and both Perdita and Hermione are often interpreted as characters who represent natural grace.
Theologically, grace is the supernatural aid given by God to man to assist in his sancfification (i.e. making man holy and worthy of a place in God's scheme of things). The medieval church taught that man in his fallen state deserved damnation, but that grace was available to all and would lead to salvation provided that man co-operated. The Reformers (16thC) tended to take a more rigid view of the availability of grace. In the play, it can be seen how Leontes' life follows a pattern of sin, repentance ("a saint-like sorrow") and redemption. The restoration of Hermione does not depend on Leontes' penitence. He stresses how he cannot forgive himself of forget what he has done, so we can assume that Hermione's return is an act of grace; something undeserved, but God-given because Leontes condition suggests that he will make something of the gift once it is given to him.Similarly, the beginning of the play can be interpreted as a fall from innocence, with the unworthy suspicions of Leontes. The ideal world of Sicilia is corrupted because of his sinful actions and the consequences are dire. It is a deliberate, selfish act on Leontes' part which causes the fall, like the fall of Adam and Eve because of their wilful selfishness in Paradise.
It is NOT, though, obvious in the play that Shakespeare openly suggests that providence controls events. He may have intended only to create circumstances which his audience COULD interpret in a theological sense, if they so wished. In fact, you should notice that the only deities referred to throughout the play are the pagan Gods of Ancient Greece, Apollo and the like.
If we do not assume a Christian interpretation of grace, then we can look at grace in a different way, that of the natural grace which animates mankind - call it courtesy, or a gift of nature. Perdita is certainly posessed of a gift of grace - she is refined, courteous and gentle, the embodiment of nobility, despite her apparent low birth. Camillo describes her as a "rare note". Polixenes also says that "nothing she does or seems but smacks of something greater than herself, too noble for this place." Indeed the behaviour of the majority of characters in the play could be said to show this natural nobilty.
This is another important theme in the play, and in all the last four plays. There is the personified figure of Time, illustrating the gap of sixteen years in the action; the contrast between the two generation of parents and children in the play; the cycle of the seasons (winter in Sicilia and spring in Bohemia) and the contrast between new life, death and regeneration. The sub-title of Greene's Pandosto was "The Triumph of Time" a popular saying which meant that in time all would be revealed and Truth, Time's daughter, delivered.
In a sense, when Hermione and Perdita are restored to Leontes, his dark winter is over and a new spring begins, but paradoxically the clock cannot be reversed, and the sixteen years which have passed have made their mark.
Forgiveness and Restoration
Reconciliation, forgiveness, mercy, restoration and regeneration are evident themes in all the last four plays and they are prominent at the end of the Winter's Tale. They have been described as life-affirming themes, contrasted to the life denying ones present at the beginning of the play. Often these themes have been seen as paralleling the Christian experience, linking forgiveness and restoration with a consideration of grace in the play and illustrating a reference to the symbolism of the Christian faith, by which Christ is said to have ransomed the world, though the world must be destroyed by fire so that the new Jerusalem can rise from the ashes. Leontes is, in a sense destroyed and purged of his wickedness after the deaths of his wife and children, and from the ruin of his hopes comes the promise of new life with the restoration of Perdita and Hermione to Sicilia. Even if Shakespeare did not intend this specifically Christian bias in the play, it should be noted that the ideas of mercy and forgiveness are universal themes in ordinary social life and certainly would have been so in Shakespeare's time.
Parents and Children
The relationship between parents and children is another theme which occurs throughout the last four plays and significantly it is the young women characters who restore the lives and fortunes of the older parents. Perdita's return to Sicilia precipitates the events which lead to the reunion of Leontes and Hermione and the reconciliation of Polixenes and Leontes, although she is unaware of the outcomes and does not have a direct hand in bringing them about. Her innocence and purity contrast with the cynicism and corruption shown by Leontes at the beginning of the play, and she is also able to parry the smooth sophistication of Polixenes and his later anger during the shepherd's feast.. Both children seem to be the incarnation of the finer sides of their parents - Perdita is as graceful as Hermione and has the nobility of her father, Leontes without his cynicism. Florizel, also, is noble and steadfast, like the young Polixenes, described in the opening scene.
The adults are not decrepit or trivial, though. On the contrary they are vital people and vigorous characters, although weighed down by the events which they experience. The reunion of Leontes and Hermione is charged with emotion and passion, and the reconciliation of the two kings is poignant. The young people may be the symbols of hope and new life, but we are in no doubt that the adults will also enjoy their future years.
The Faithful Woman
It is not only Perdita who portrays courage and steadfast endurance in times of trouble, but also her mother Hermione, from whom she inherits the grace which is so obvious to all who have dealings with her. Both women are noble and belong to a traditional type of character; the woman who remains faithful and constant, despite her suffering. Hermione, the Queen suffers deeply, wrongly accused as she is of adultery and enduring not only the loss of her dearly loved husband's trust, but the apparent deaths of both her children and a sixteen year voluntary exile. She waits patiently for the fulfilment of the Delphic prophecy, cared for by another faithful companion, Paulina, and no doubt aware of the suffering of her husband. When Perdita returns and Leontes is seen to be truly repentant, Hermione reveals herself to him once more without malice. The goodness which all the court believe is an integral part of her nature remains unblemished. She demands nothing of Leontes, but "hangs about his neck" at the moment of reconciliation.
Paulina is also a faithful companion to both the Queen and to Leontes. She risks her life in bringing the infant Perdita to him, and continues to remind him of his actions and their consequences during the sixteen years of his penance. She is, in a sense the stern voice of conscience to the King, fearlessly saying what all the court thinks, at the risk of her own life. It is through her intervention that Perdita is not flung into the fire, but taken away to Bohemia and she is treated with some respect by all the courtiers. She is not always rational, but she keeps a stern watch on Leontes until it is time for the restoration of Hermione with Perdita's return. Paulina has no way of knowing that Perdita is alive - she knows that her husband Antigonus is dead and that his ship sank, so her actions are motivated not by guile but by faith in the outcome of the prophecy and hope that it will come to pass. Once more, virtue is rewarded with a new husband, Camillo.
All three women show nobility, virtue and fortitude and conform to the medieval ideal of "gentilesse" - nobility of birth which expects equal nobility of behaviour. Perdita, despite her apparent upbringing is recognised as "too noble for this place" and of course it is her natural breeding which makes her so. These women are positive forces for good in the play.
Jealousy and Friendship
The jealousy which attacks Leontes is powerful and sudden. It is not inflamed by the actions or machinations of another character as we see, for example, in "Othello", but is unexplained. He is transformed in an instant from a loving husband and father and a true and lifelong friend into a hateful monster, locked into a mad, private world of suspicion and malice.
Leontes' suspicions are unfounded, neither Polixenes or Hermione are in any way guilty of any unfaithfulness. On the contrary, both love him sincerely and are astonished and hurt by his actions. It is sometimes difficult for a modern audience to understand the depth of affection which Leontes and Polixenes feel for one another, but a Shakesperian audience would be quite familiar with male friendship with its roots in the classical tradition and companionship-in-arms. Many writers held that this love was more important than that between a man and woman. To suspect, therefore, that his best friend had fallen in love with his wife, would indeed send Leontes into a madness of jealousy. The idea of being a cuckold (the husband of an adulterous wife), would also be insupportable. The two combined are a fearful and corrosive combination, leading to uncontrollable passion and with tragic outcomes.
There is no consistent psychological motivation for Leontes' jealousy. Its onset is swift, sudden and unexplained. Perhaps because Shakespeare is employing the tragicomic form, he has not the time to develop the character so fully as would have been done in a full blown tragedy, like "Othello",preferring to plunge the audience straight into the exaggerated incidents which are characteristic of the play. Leontes is not already jealous as the play begins, or the references to his youthful friendship with Polixenes would be insincere, which they are not. The onset of Leontes' madness parallels the fall of innocence, grounded on error and made worse by further error.
As a character, Leontes portrays many traits with which the Jacobean audience would have been familiar; the betrayed friend, for example and the cuckold. He is quickly transformed into a jealous husband, eager to desroy both friend and wife. His speeches in the first half of the play are haunted by sexual imagery and double meanings, as his manic obsession builds. Diseased opinion becomes truth in his deranged mind. When he finds Camillo and Polixenes have fled, he immediately assumes that his suspicions are right and that he is "accurs'd" to be "so blest".Like the drinker who dies when he sees the spider in his cup, he is "infected" by his (false) knowledge. The drinker is not killed by the spider, but by the sight of the spider, Leontes is not diseased by the fact of Hermione's and Polixenes' adultery, but by the SUPPOSED knowledge of it. He quickly justifies his decision to imprison and kill the Queen, behaving like a tyrant and listening neither to his courtiers' defence of her goodness; the Queen's own denial and assurance of her innocence nor finally to the word of the God Apollo from the Oracle at Delphi.
When the news of Mamillius' death is brought and the Queen collapses and apparently dies, Leontes' guilt descends as quickly as did his suspicion.He becomes instantly penitent and does not appear again until the final Act. By that time he has "done enough", "performed a saint-like sorrow" and paid "more penitence than done trespass". The audience does not see the change taking place in him, for the action of the play shows us only the beginning and the end, so to speak, of the transition from evil to good.The return of Perdita and the restoration of Hermione is more than even the most ardent penitent deserves, and the point of the conclusion has more to do with the difference between what one deserves and what one gets in life and what one can get in fiction than it has to do with the rehabiltation of Leontes. Shakespeare is dealing in this play not with detailed observation of character and interaction between people, but with ideas and philosophies. The play is allegorical and must be seen as a series of moral illustrations, more than as a human drama with realistic characters.
He is a much less prominent figure in the play who fulfils the traditional role of the wronged friend in the first half and the disguised ruler and hostile father in the second half of the play. The convention of disguise is much used by Shakespeare and Polixenes in disguise is used to make Perdita reveal her views on an important topic in the play; that of the conflict between art and nature.. When he casts off the disguise it is to catch a son who is "unfilial" and means to demean his royal birth by taking an unsuitable wife, thereby threatening the integrity of the blood line. Ironically of course this is not the true case, and Shakespeare's use of dramatic irony would be much appreciated by his audience. Polixenes' anger can be compared to that of Leontes at the beginning of the play, but it also has an element of comedy in it, for he rages and threatens, but then recants and storms out.Camillo tells Florizel to wait a little and approach him once he has cooled off. By the end of the play, Polixenes is merely a supporting figure. The reconciliation between him and Leontes is only described, not staged, and is less important in the third gentleman's account than the return of Perdita. Hermione's reappearance upstages even that, in the statue scene. Polixenes is more important for his function than his character; as a friend he makes believable the intensity of Leontes' jealousy, as a father he provokes the flight of Florizel and Perdita and the subsequent restoration of good fortune and happiness to all the adult characters.
Although she makes very little appearance in the play, Hermione's impact is considerable. She is presented in two different lights, according to the change in her circumstances. At the beginning of the play she is the assured, witty, clever heroine of comedy; teasing, jesting and entirely at ease with her ladies, her husband, her son, Polixenes and her household.These are scenes of domestic harmony, but the audience is aware, from Leontes' asides, that her serenity is threatened and her confidence misplaced. Her husband's actions come as a complete shock to her. She asks in bewilderment "What is this? Sport?" Her first reaction is to treat it all as a mistake, but when she realises that Leontes is serious, she accepts her sentence as the influence of some evil planet which will change in time. She is controlled and calm throughout the terrible ordeal of trial and imprisonment and the repeated praise of others in the court confirms her worth and her justified reputation. She is "good", noble, honest and virtuous. During her trial she is lucid, compared to the tortuous speech and confused reasoning of her husband.
When she is restored at the end of the play, she has very little to say, except to bless her daughter, but for whose return she would have stayed hidden. Her concealement has been criticised as very improbable and unbelievable. As a piece of theatre, the moment when Hermione moves would have been very dramatic, and the language of gesture is very clear as she "hangs about" the neck of the King. There is more impact in what is not said than in any superfluous dialogue at this point.
Like her mother Perdita has relatively few lines to speak, but her importance in the play is vital. She represents a type of character, in this case the innocent shepherdess; the foundling whose noble birth is revealed by nobility of behaviour and whose true identity and restoration is a crucial part of a harmonious resolution. She is a romantic heroine, pure, chaste and virtuous; rejecting artifice and pretence and unwilling to accept falsehood. The deception of her assumed father, when Florizel acts the part of a shepherd, Doricles, causes her pain, as does the very nature of the relationship she has with Florizel, since it depends on his deception of the king, his father as well. Her innocence and naivety are not negative aspects of her character,but arise naturally from her breeding and background. She is indeed the younger version of her mother, before time and the corruption of life have damaged innocence and trust. She is a skilful blend of tne natural and down to earth.
Easily recognisable as another "type", this time the disguised princely lover. This deception troubles Perdita, but would be entirely familiar to Jacobean audiences. Indeed the deceptions which Florizel practises on his own father, Polixenes and on Perdita's adoptive father, the shepherd and later for a short while on Leontes when the lovers flee with Camillo's help to Sicilia, are necessary to the denouement of the play. Despite them, he is essentially honest. He does not wish for a clandestine, immoral affair with Perdita, but genuinely wishes to make her his wife, as he loves her with the idealised intensity of the medieval courtly lover. He is bound by a lover's vow to wed her, even if he must give up his inheritance to do so, and for a while it seems that this will be the case. He is a vigorous youth, in the tradition of courtly romance and like the other characters of noble blood, he shows the natural grace and honour of his rank.
If the deceptions practised by Florizel are for honest motives; Autolycus' are not. He is a rogue and the character is drawn from various sources, most notably the personification of Vice in the Morality plays of the middle ages.. His presence balances the tendency to see Bohemia as an idyllic, pastoral world. He is not a member of the community of shepherds,but, he says, a fugitive from court - a former servant of the prince Florizel dismissed and now fallen on hard times. Autolycus uses the pastoral world of the countryside not for spiritual refreshment or for purposes of regeneration, but as a hunting ground. He steals and swindles the gullible inhabitants and makes them seem ridiculously stupid. He should not be seen as a sympathetic figure, for he has no scruples at all about the way of life he leads. He is, however, comic and the songs and readiness of his tongue make the audience laugh at him and at his victims. His function, apart from the symbolic one of satirising the pastoral idyll, is to prevent the shepherd and the clown from taking the fardel to Polixenes and revealing the truth about Perdita's birth too soon. Less importanatly, he furnishes the disguise for Florizel's escape. He never receives any punishment for his crimes, not least of which is the theft of the clown's gold, and he is never unmasked as the villain he is. When he reveals the truth of the fardel to the prince on board the ship, neither he nor Perdita are in any condition to listen, as they are both laid low with sea-sickness. When he finally is forced to seek the good report of the two rustics, now elevated to gentlemen, we seriously doubt the truth of his reformation, but there is no evidence either to prove or disprove that he reforms at all.
Autolycus, named for the master of trickery and disguise who was the son of Mercury and Chione, is a master of disguise, assuming different personalities and deceiving all with whom he deals. The disguises assumed by the lovers are innocent deceptions, designed to bring about good results and to fulfil the prophecy of the god Apollo (whose son, Philamon, by the same woman, Chione was the personification of all that is good). Autolycus shows how disguise can be a cover for dishonesty. We never see him in his "true" self all through the play and even when his deceits do bring good results, like the transportation of the shepherd and the clown to Sicilia, it is not intentional on Autolycus' part.
Paulina and Camillo
Between them this couple manage the two parts of the plot: the return of Perdita with Florizel (although Camillo does not realise the full implications of what he is doing), and the concealment and restoration of Hermione. Neither has any regard for their personal interest, but adheres to what is right, though in rather different ways.
Camillo is the type of the ideal courtier, loyal and at first apparently obedient, agreeing to the king's mad command to poison Polixenes, provided that he takes back Hermione so as to prevent scandal. He recants, of course, realising that the king is wrong, and that his own safety is at risk regardless of the outcome; he is damned if he does the deed and damned if he does not. His decision to alert Polixenes and fly with him to Bohemia is made because he cannot remain beside a king who will poison his associates with his own corruption. Besides he knows that the king is isolated and that no-one believes or condones his actions, so he feels that the flight is not betrayal. The audience must condone what he does in the first half of the play, and again when he deceives Poixenes in contriving to get the lovers and himself back to Sicilia. In the first half his deception rescues an honest man and the threat of a tyrant and friends are divided. In the second part his deception helps to bring about their reconciliation. In both he is acting the part of the honest courtier, first in a tragic, then a comic environment.
Paulina, on the other hand stays at court to prompt the king's conscience. She appears only when Camillo has gone and her approach to the king is blunt and uncompromising. She judges Leontes to be sick and sees herself as a physician to his disease. Despite the threats, Leontes cannot be rid of her and there is a certain rough humour in the confrontation. Within two scenes, Paulina is transformed to the status of remembrancer of Leontes wickedness and injustice and so she remains for the next sixteen years. It is Paulina who swears the queen is dead when she is not, and with such success that the audience also are made to believe it. We should not, once more, delve too deeply into Paulina's realism as a character, for she is also a type and her function is to remind the king of his obligations, see that he performs his penance and watch and protect the hidden queen until the time comes for reconciliation and restoration, and the fulfilling of the prophecy. In a sense, she is the greatest deceiver in a play about deceit and artifice. It is Paulina who stages the statue scene, by "natural" arts, not magic, acting as the faithful servant of the gods' "secret purposes".
In conclusion, all of the characters in The Winter's Tale are types. Despite this they are not one-dimensional, but have credibility and some realism. The outcome of events in the play, though, does not depend on character, but on the manipulation of events by the playwright, expressed in the operation of chance or accident, or the intervention of the wonderful (or dangerous) or the surprising or the improbable. Most of the parts in Winter's Tale are very short and one replaces another in the plot to create, by the end a composite effect which reflects and expresses the structure, themes and meanings of the play.
Copyrightę 2000 Val Pope