The Winter’s Tale Influences & traditions
1. Pandosto: The triumph of time Robert Greene (1588) • In Greene's tale, Pandosto, King of Bohemia, accuses his wife Bellaria of adultery committed with his childhood friend, the King of Sicilia. His pursuit of this unfounded charge leads him to send his infant daughter out to sea to die and causes the death of his son and his wife. His daughter drifts to Sicilia and is saved and raised by a shepherd. Dorastus, the Prince of Sicilia, falls in love with Fawnia, unaware that she is a Princess, and they run away to marry. They land in Bohemia, where Pandosto unwittingly falls in love with his daughter Fawnia. At the end of the story, after Fawnia's identity is revealed, Pandosto commits suicide out of grief for the troubles he caused his family.
Shakespeare’s changes to Pandosto • WS reversed the two kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia, • WS made Leontes’ rage sudden unlike Pandosto’s • WS added side characters like Paulina and Antigonus • WS introduced Autolycus, Time and the Clown. • WSremoved the suicide and • WS added the sheep-shearing scene and the resurrection scene, bringing the queen back to life using either magic or a death trick. • WS added restoration of daughter and Queen
‘upstart crow’ • Perhaps the most famous literary snarl ever was penned in 1592 by Robert Greene in his Groats-worth of Witte: • for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey.
What does Greene mean? • He had become successful enough to rankle Greene's jealousy. • He had become well known among in the London professional theater world. • He was known as a man of various abilities ("Johannes fac totem" or Jack-of-all-trades, as we would say), actor, playwright, play mender ("beautified with our feathers"). • He was well known as a poet ("bombast out a blanke verse"). • His Henry VI Part 3 had become famous enough to be recognize by one of its famous lines ("O, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide"). • When it comes to interpreting the meaning of the elusive allusion commentators can be roughly divided into two camps. There are those who believe that by calling Shakespeare "an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers" Greene accuses him of plagiarism. Others think that the attack is directed at the insolence of the uneducated actor who has the presumption of writing plays. Shakespeare is either charged with plagiarism or with social climbing.
2. Danger of a kingdom without an heir • At the centre of the play is a royal family separated by tragedy, and their miraculous reunification provides the play's happy ending. • Prior to 1603, England had gone a long time without a full royal family: Elizabeth had been childless and unmarried, meaning that England had a majestic Virgin Queen who was worshipped and adored. But they had no full royal family that they could look to as a model for their own families, no central family to act as a symbolic microcosm for the larger family of the English nation. In 1603, James I ascended to the throne, and suddenly England had such a family. This significant event undoubtedly influenced the writing of The Winter's Tale.
3. Anne Boleyn? • Eric Ives, the biographer of Ann Boleyn (1986), believes that the play is really a parallel of the fall of the queen, who was beheaded on false charges of adultery on the orders of her husband Henry VIII in 1536. • There are numerous parallels between the two stories – including the fact that one of Henry's closest friends, Sir Henry Norreys, was beheaded as one of Anne's supposed lovers and he refused to confess in order to save his life claiming that everyone knew the Queen was innocent. If this theory is followed then Perdita becomes a dramatic presentation of Anne's only daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. (wikipedia)
The fairy-tale • This 'second play' has all the elements of a good fairy-tale. In other words, whereas the 'first play' comes out of the classical tradition, this comes from the medieval tradition. • The fairy-tale elements include:Opening with a journey - here across the sea (symbol of change), in a storm (also symbolic of change - you’ll see this in King Lear at Level 3)2. Setting in a distant, half-imaginary place, 3. A baby being left to be found by rural people, while conforming to a number of fairy-tale necessities:- the baby is high-born- the baby has to have something with him/her that will eventually identify his/her origins- the discovery by a low-born rural person (here a shepherd) • 4. An old man or equivalent who usually gives advice but does not take part in the action and often gives some sort of talisman or magic aid (here Antigonus takes this role, and leaves the talisman - the scroll.) • The bear, carries potent symbolism (as well as being an exciting theatrical moment ). Jung would have seen it as symbolizing the dark and dangerous aspect of the unconscious; in classical and Celtic mythology it is associated with the hunt and the woods; and in popular and Christian tradition both the she-bear (the female gives birth to apparently formless offspring) and the male bear (tamed by a number of saints) have their place. Bears were no longer indigenous to Britain, so the bear also adds to the wildness of Bohemia. • 5. There is a Prince and the Princess, whom we know should and will end up getting married. We know there are going to be a number of problems before that can happen. And for a good fairy tale of this type, one of those problems should be one of identity. Ideally, the high-born should fall in love with the low-born (and vice-versa), so that this problem has to be solved. • 6. Here the Princess doesn't know the Princess is a princess. The Princess doesn't know she is a princess
Thus the interest in this is not the outcome, but how we reach that outcome - particularly how the crucial discovery of princess-ness will be made. • Ideally, we should have a parent who tries to prevent their high-born being with a low-born - here Polixenes. • The underlying plot is what would be seen in fairy-tale terms as a right-of-passage tale - that of Perdita and Florizel moving from adolescence to independent adults, leading to another rite-of-passage, that of marriage. • The initial journey enters this rite-of-passage story. In fairy-tale terms, another is needed for its conclusion. Thus the Prince and Princess sail over the sea again, symbolizing the change they have arrived at. • Up to the return to Sicily, all this 'second play' takes place in the open air of the countryside, as opposed to the 'urban' setting of the first play.
Folk and other elements in the 'second play' • At the same time, Shakespeare uses other elements drawn from the folk/rural and medieval tradition: • The sheep-shearing festival is imbued with rural folk and seasonal traditions. No date is given, but the opening lines of IV.4 would suggest April, which seems to be confirmed by Perdita, who has the flowers of summer, and those that will last into winter, but not those of spring (e.g. February-March). This would also make sense from the farming point of view. - It is a representation of the end of winter and the beginning of summer (if sheep are not sheared as summer starts, they start slowly loosing their wool) - It is a representation of continuity, the cycle of the seasons - It is a representation of the bounty of nature, and thus connected with fertility rights
Sheep-shearing is a communal event. Traditionally, groups of farmers would gather together to shear each other's sheep, since quite large numbers are required (I have myself taken part in such a sheep-shearing 'bee'). The shearing also involved women and children, not only in the obvious roles of providing food and drink to the men shearing, but also in the organization and movement of bringing the sheep to the shearers (and if Welsh rural experience is anything to go by, there were probably women shearers anyway). • - In rural communities, such communal events would be a cause for celebration at their conclusion, especially when fertility and seasonal cycles were involved • The name Florizel has a distinctly medieval ring about it (he only appears in the 'second play') and inevitably recalls that of Floris in the well-known medieval story of Floris and Blanchfleur (Whiteflower), Indeed, Perdita is the flower maiden, distributing them to everyone in 4.4. • The rustics, particularly Autolycus and the clown, are from the rural tradition (the former being the wandering pedlar), as well as being in Shakespeare's own tradition of 'mechanicals'. • Autolycus provides a number of songs and ballads in the rural tradition (indeed, he is in part a wandering ballad-seller), though it should be noted that the words of these ballads ranges from traditional wording and subjects to much denser language, atypical of such songs, but reflecting the dense and complex language of the play as a whole. • If one were analyzing the 'second play' as a myth/fairy tale in psychoanalytical terms, then Autolycus represents the magician/trickster archetype, in his more scurrilous aspect.
The classical elements in the 'fairy-tale' play • But, of course, this 'second play' is not completely isolated from the first, and in it one sees a number of classical elements or references. Thus Florizel talks of his disguise in terms of classical metamorphoses (IV.4.25-31), while Perdita’s flower giving is full of classical references. • It is notable that these classical references are given only by those who belong to the 'urban' rather than the 'wilderness', whether they are in disguise (Florizel) or simply don't know that's where they belong (Perdita). How Perdita could pick up such knowledge in the shepherd's home is a different matter, but fairy-tales are allowed such anomalies. • The exception to this is Autolycus, whose name is deliberately of Greek origin. In Greek mythology, Autolycus was the son of Hermes, who specialized in thieving and in trickery (hence Autolycus, the Prince of Thieves, in Xena, Warrior Princess). (A second Autolycus joined the Argonauts, and wasn't heard of after their visit to the Amazons - the two get muddled up in Greek mythology). • In the play, the character himself claims he was born under [the planet] Mercury, which is appropriate (and a pun), not only since Mercury is the Roman name for Hermes, but also because Mercury, in addition to his role as messenger of the gods, also has elements of the trickster in the classical tradition - he is the god of thieves. Indeed, I sometimes have the fancy that Autolycus is not really a mortal at all, but someone like Mercury in disguise, down to have a bit of fun at the humans' expense - and certainly he doesn't seem in any danger of ever getting caught.
Winter, summer and rebirth • Perdita refers to the classical myth that is the basis for the underlying allegory of The Winter's Tale: • O Proserpina,For the flowers now that. frighted, thou letst fall From Dis's wagon - (IV.4.116-118) • Proserpina is the Greek goddess Persephone, who after being abducted by Hades, makes a deal whereby she will spend six months of the year below ground, and six months of the year above ground. • Thus she is the archetypical goddess of summer, bring new life and fertility to the earth and to humankind after the long cold of winter, and she is therefore associated with flowers. She appears at this point, because it is in the middle of a festival - the sheep-shearing festival - that is has precisely the same symbolic image of new life, the shearing off of the old, the ending of the white wool of winter. • Here, then, the classical and folk traditions meet, though, like the trickster figure, the pagan concept of the goddess of winter/summer was never lost, and Persephone is one of the Greek figures who was remembered by the medieval world. • This central celebration of rebirth and renewal is the surface representation of the allegory of rebirth and renewal that is inherent in the whole plot, especially in the 'second play'. Perdita, the lost one, has been banished from the sterility of Sicily, that has literally rejected the Apollonian light of enlightened intellect, and is ruled by a King as suspicious as Dis in a winter world made stark by its human, rather than natural, surroundings. She is cast out as dead, but in fact she is a seed, planted in winter ground, that will grow and blossom in the natural world of Bohemia, the flower-maiden. • Similarly her mother Hermione has been cast out as if dead, and will come to life again only when the rebirth - the new generation - returns in the renewal of summer. She is, in a sense, Persephone, cast out for the winter, reborn for the summer - only this winter is 16 years long, for the allegory is operating in real time, rather than seasonal time. At least it seems to be, until one realises that time in the play is not real time at all, but mythical time, so that 23 days can pass completely unnoticed, and 16 years pass at the behest of Time as Chorus. So in terms of the myth, of the renewal and rebirth, it doesn't matter if it's summer/winter or 16 years, as allegorically they are the same thing.