Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Winter's Tale - Shakespeare

The Winter's Tale starts with the trouble a-brewing.  The king of Bohemia, Polixenes, has been visiting his dear friend the king of Sicilia, Leontes.  Apparently the stay has been a long one as Leontes is urging him to stay a bit longer but Polixenes is anxious to go.  As an aside, Leontes is certain that Polixenes has been invading his marriage bed and has knocked up the queen of Sicilia, Hermione.  He is so certain of this, that he is planning killing the visiting king and requests that one of his lords off him.
This lord, Camillo, won't do it.  In fact, he tells Polixenes of the danger and all flee to Bohemia.  Leontes is so certain of the guilt that he publicly accuses Hermione of adultery.  She is sent off to prison where she gives birth.  Leontes demands that the child be sent off to the wilderness and left for dead.
There is some back and forth about a trial but the upshot is that the queen is declared guilty and then quickly dead.  Also, Leontes has asked for a word from the Oracle and defied it.  As soon as he does so, his grown son is reported dead.  Leontes is very upset that he has lost his whole family.  (No kidding!)
The child, Perdita, is indeed taken off to the wilderness by a defender of the queen's named Antigonus.  As soon as he arrives in the wild, he meets a bear and is famously chased offstage.  ('Exit pursued by a bear.')  Perdita is found by a shepherd and saved.
Many years pass (in a speech literally given by Time) and things pull together about how you'd expect.  Polixenes son, Mamillius, meets Perdita and falls in love.  They flee Bohemia and end up in Sicilia where they are taken in front of the king.  They've been chased there by Polixenes himself and together, the kings reconcile.  Leontes realizes that this is his lost daughter and all that is needed for a full reunion is his poor queen Hermione, dead all these years.  But it turns out ok, as she has been hiding as a statue for some time.  Everything ends happily.

Leontes jealousy in the beginning is very reminiscent of Othello, though this time we don't get any of the front story.  In some ways, he also reminded me of King Lear, tearing his family apart without any mercy or forethought at all.  The roof caves in on him and I'm sure the audience feels like he ends up getting off easy. 
This play might have the greatest collection of names in all of Shakespeare.  JK Rowling got 'Hermione' from here, but Polixenes and Perdita are both great.  In fact, both would be good names for a pair of kittens...  As would Leontes, Dion and Florizel.  The name work here is really spectacular.

Did I like the play?  I don't know.  Leontes seems so heavy handed that you can't identify with him.  The threads for the happy ending are so obvious as to be bothersome.  The only real surprise is that of the 'statue' coming to life at the end.  It's hard for me to see how that would work well without seeming hokey.  Maybe it's better on the stage than from a book, but I wasn't thrilled by it.

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