THE WINTER’S TALE


THE WINTER’S TALE was performed in repertory with A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM.


THE WINTERS' TALE

Famous Lines



Too hot, too hot!

To mingle friendship far, is mingling bloods

I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances,

But not for joy--not for joy.

     Act I, scene ii Leontes


I am angling now,

Though you perceive me not how I give line.

Go, to go!

How she holds up the neb, the bill to him!

And arms her with the boldness of a wife

To her allowing husband! Gone already!

Inch-thick, knee-deep; o'er head and ears a forked one.

Go play, boy, play: thy mother plays, and I

Play too; but so disgraced a part, whose issue

Will hiss me to my grave: contempt and clamor

Will be my knell. Go, play, boy, play

     Act I, scene ii Leontes


Is whispering nothing?

Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses?

Kissing with inside lip? Stopping the career

Of laughter with a sigh (a note infallible

Of breaking honesty)?

     Act I, scene ii Leontes


There may be in the cup

A spider steeped, and one may drink, depart,

And yet partake no venom (for his knowledge

Is not infected); but if one present

Th'abhorred ingredient to his eye, make known

How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,

With violent hefts. I have drunk, and seen the spider.

     Act II, scene i  Leontes


What studied torments, tyrant, hast for me?

     Act III, scene ii Paulina


When daffodils begin to peer,

With heigh! the doxy over the dale,

Why then comes in the sweet o' the year,

For the red blood reigns in the winter's pale.

    Act IV, scene iii Autolycus




Thoughts on The Winter's Tale:

No play of Shakespeare's boasts three such women as Herminone, Perdita, and Paulina. 

Harley Granville Barker, 1912


[The play] tells of the division between friend and friend (Leontes and Ploixenes), king and queen (Leontes and Hermione), father and daughter (Leontes and Perdita); amd, after a gap of sixteen years, father and son (Polixnes and Florizel). The "wide gap of time" which goes unchronicled between the third and fourth acts might seem to give us two plays instead of one, but there is only one. It is conceived in contrast, and it is dedicated to the task of stating with all the force of which poetry is capable the opposition between age and youth, cruelty and goodness, jealosy and faith. The abstract symbols it employs are winter and spring: winter with it's blasts of January and storm perpertual, spring with it's virgin branches and its daffodils that come before the swallow dares. But its concrete symbols are of course human beings; Leontes and Perdita divide this great poem between them - one an obsessed husband and ruthless father, the other a faultless daughter, ignorant of her parentage, who grows up in a cottage, not a court.... Leontes infects the whole of the first three acts with the angry sore of his obsession. There is no more jealous man in literature. Once being jealous Othello could go mad, but Leontes is madness from the start, and it has a curious way of feeding on itself, so that the delusion which it inspires is worse than irresistible; it is nothing less than a condition of its victim's life, and the expression of it gives him in some perverse way a horrible pleasure.
Mark Van Doren, 1939


For modern audiences and critics The Winter's Tale is a strangely discordant play. The title declares it is a fable - a winter's tale is a trifle, a fairy tale to enliven ling winter nights. Yet the first half presents, in the depiction of Leontes' jealousy, one of Shakespeare's most brilliant and deeply felt studies of human psychology, uncompromising in its intensity and realism. It is also a powerful and pointed dramatization of the dangers and responsibilities of monarchy, a logical corollary to King Lear. But why, then, the change of direction for the conclusion? Why does Shakespeare set up the tragic momentum of the first three acts, only to disarm it with fantsay and magic? And if the tragedy is to be disarmed, why is the happy ending so partial - why is Mamillius not restored along with Hermione and Perdita? Why, indeed, is the death of Leontes' young son, the heir to the throne, so much less of an issue than the loss of his infant daughter? Most puzzling of all, why does Shakespeare - quite uncharacteristically, if one thinks of his earlier plays about bad kings - preserve and finally exonerate Leontes? Why not let him atone for his crimes by dying, and resolve the tragic issues through the succession of a new and innocent generation, on the models of Henry IV, Macbeth, King Lear?


Reconciliations are the stuff of Shakespeare comedy; but why does Shakespeare want this play to be a comedy? Though the play has a family setting, its issues are deeply informed by the political and legal history of Jacobean England - by questions of the perquisites and responsibilities of the monarch, the relation between royal authority and the will of the people, the limits of protocol, and what sanctions may be brought to bear on the actions of a criminal king. All these issues were being actively debated throughout the first decade of King James' reign, and the play's focus on the king is certainly a reflection of the world of contemporary politics. At the same time, however, the play's political issues were the ones that had concerned Shakespeare throughout his career, and even overtly political tragedy, for Shakespeare, invariably starts in the family.
Stephen Orgel, 1998


Leontes's tonalities have a rising intensity matchless even in Shakespeare. Though he will subside into sanity and repentance in Act III, Scene ii, his enormous interest for audiences and readers is what vivifies the first half of the play. The second half will have Autolycus, and Perdita, but until we touch the seacoast of Bohemia (created to infuriate Ben Jonson), Leontes carries The Winter's Tale. Whether his madness or nihilism counts as the truer starting point, he is one of Shakespeare's hign priests of "Nothing", a worthy successor to Iago and to Edmund.
Harold Bloom, 1998


The Winter's Tale was first performed in 1611, and was then re-played, at the request of King James, in 1612 and again in 1613. Those years were eventful ones for the Stuart royal family. In 1612 the King's eldest son, prince Henry, died. In the following year James's daughter, Princess Elizabeth, was married to Frederick, the Elector Palatine; performances of both The Winter's Tale and The Tempest were arranged as part of the wedding celebration. Frederick accepted the crown of Behemia in 1619, and Elizabeth became Queen of Bohemia, but shortly thereafter Frederick lost not only Bohemia but also his hereditary status, and Elizabeth, known to history as the Winter Queen, followed her husband into exile. We may note that both of these events - the death of the King's son; the marriage of the daughter, who became Queen of Bohemia - took place after the writing of Shakespeare's play, and neither can have had any effect whatever upon the plot. The play's chief source was Robert Greene's prose romance Pandosto, published in 1588, a text Shakespeare followed closely in almost all details of his plot. I mention them here because a post facto knowledge of these historical details does imbue the play with an uncanny topicality. The play's author had also lost a son, and had married off a daughter. Hamnet Shakespeare died at age eleven in 1596. Susanna married Dr. John Hall in 1607. Yet there is no specific reason to read the play as in any way "autobiographical," except in the sense that all artistic work is part of the autobiography of it's creator. The resonances in The Winter's Tale - a very great play - are poetic and mythic, political and ethical, not narrowly historical or personal....The cumulative effect of The Winter's Tale is echoic, a kind of rhythmic mise en abyme, a hall of mirrors in which stories are told and retold, in which they bisect and intersect. It begins in conversation, and it ends in transformation. As for the [transformation] scene, it is difficult to know what to say. Though he may have matched the gradualism, the suspense, and the enchantment of this scene elsewhere, surely Shakespeare never surpassed it. The presiding genius [is] the final artist and wonder worker of the play, Paulina. "It is required/ You do awake your faith," declares Paulina, to Hermione's family and to the spectators in the theatre, and then: "Music; awake her; strike!" In this moment Paulina is the true descendant of her namesake, the Apostle Paul, who spoke to the Ephesians and the Romans of awakenong out of sleep to redemption, and to the Corinthians of the natural body and the spiritual body, the earthly and the heavenly. Yet if Paulina is herself Pauline, and the scene a visibly Christian one, transforming the diurnal and cyclical into the redemptive, so, too, is she here evoking a recognizably mythic and Ovidian scene.


....we might note that at the end of the play there is a triad of women - Hermione, Perdita, and Paulina - who seem closely bound to one another. The set of three mariages or remarriages with which the play ends (Leontes and Hermione; Perdita and Florizel; Paulina and Camillo) is thus matched by a shift from the autocratic, wrathful, and almost tragic male rule of the King to the collective and collaborative female "magic" of the women, who have sustained one another and their secret to see the oracle fulfilled.
Marjorie Garber, 2004

©2004-2010 ShakespeareNYC

Exit, pursued by a bear.

     Act III, scene iii stage direction


O Proserpina,

For the flowers now that, frighted, thou let'st fall

From Dis's waggon! daffodils,

That come before the swallow dares, and take

The winds of March with beauty.

     Act IV, scene iv Perdita


Either forbear,

Quit presently the chapel, or resolve you

For more amazement. If you can behold it,

I'll make the statue move indeed; descend,

And take you by the hand: but then you'll think

(Which I protest against) I am assisted

By wicked powers.

     Act V, scene iii Paulina


Paulina: It is required

You to awake your faith. Then all stand still:

Or--those that think it is unlawful business

I am about, let them depart.

Leontes:   Proceed:

No foot shall stir.

Paulina:   Music, awake her; strike!

T'is time; descend; be stone no more; approach;

Strike all that look upon with marvel. Come!

I'll fill your grave up; stir, nay; come away:

Bequeath to death your numbness; for from him

Dear life redeems you. You perceive she stirs:

Stir not; her actions shall be holy as

You hear my spell is lawful. Do not shun her

Until you see her die again; for then

You kill her double. Nay, present your hand:

When she was young you wooed her; now, in age,

Is she become the suitor?

Leontes:  O, she's warm!

If this be magic, let it be an art

Lawful as eating.

     Act V, scene iii.

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