The Winters Tale A performance history An ill-made play? Nevill Coghill began an article on The Winters Tale in 1958 with the observation that It is a critical commonplace that The Winter's Tale is an ill-made play (1958: 31). Coghill, however, defends the play, describing its stagecraft as subtle and revolutionary (1958: 31). He identifies the six main charges of creaking dramaturgy which have been made against it:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. The supposed suddenness of the jealousy of Leontes Exit pursued by a bear Time The crude shifts to clear stage in the Florizel-Perdita-CamilloAutolycus sequence
The messenger-speeches in 5.2 The statue scene Tragicomedy all their plays be neither right tragedies, nor right comedies, mingling kings and clowns, not because the matter so carrieth it, but thrust in clowns by head and shoulders, to play a part in majestical matters, with neither
decency nor discretion, so as neither the admiration and commiseration, nor the right sportfulness, is by their mongrel tragi-comedy obtained. (Sir Philip Sidney, c. 1579, pub. 1595, Apology for Poetry) Tragicomedy Now, lest such frightful shows of Fortunes fall, And bloody tyrants rage, should chance appall The dead-struck audience, midst the silent rout,
Comes leaping in a self-misformed lout, And laughs, and grins, and frames his mimic face, And justles straight into the princes place; Then doth the theatre echo all aloud, With gladsome noise of that applauding crowd. A goodly hotch-potch! when vile russetings Are matchd with monarchs, and with mighty kings. (Dr Joseph Hall, Virgidemiarum, 1597) Simon Formans account
On 15 May 1611, the Elizabethan doctor Simon Forman went to a performance of The Winters Tale at the Globe theatre: Observe there how Leontes, the King of Sicilia, was overcome with jealousy of his wife with the King of Bohemia his friend, that came to see him; and how he contrived his death and would have had his cupbearer to have poisoned, who gave the King of Bohemia warning thereof and fled with him to Bohemia.  Remember also the Rogue that came in all tattered like coll pixie, and how he feigned him sick and to have been robbed of all that he had, and how he cozened the poor man of all his money, and after came to the sheep-shear with a peddler's pack, and there
cozened them again of all their money. And how he changed apparel with the King of Bohemia his son, and then how he turned courtier, etc. Beware of trusting feigned beggars or fawning fellows. David Garrick, Drury Lane, 1756: Neoclassical tidying-up The neo-classical unities of time, place and action are especially unsuited to this play; it is also clearly lacking a unity of tone. Perhaps for this reason, most stagings of The Winters Tale
during the 18th century were adaptations: The Famous History of Dorastus and Fawnia (1703); Dorastus and Fawnia, or the Royal Shepherdess (1729); The Royal Shepherd and Shepherdess (1749); Macnamara Morgans The Sheep-Shearing: or, Florizel and Perdita (Covent Garden, 1754), in which the Old Shepherd is revealed to
be Antigonus in disguise; David Garricks Florizel and Perdita, A Dramatic Pastoral (Drury Lane, 1756). David Garrick, Drury Lane, 1756: Neoclassical tidying-up Garricks prologue: The Five long Acts, from which our Three are taken, Stretchd out to sixteen Years, lay by, forsaken.
Lest then this precious Liquor run to waste, Tis now confind and bottled for your Taste. Tis my chief Wish, my Joy, my only Plan, To lose no Drop of that immortal Man! Garricks adaptation featured Leontes (played by Garrick) in disguise at the sheep-shearing festival. It was revived frequently throughout the century.
Charles Kean, Princess Theatre, 1856: Pictorial realism The 19th-century tendency towards pictorial realism was perhaps equally unsuited to the play, which rides roughshod over historical and geographical accuracy. Nonetheless, Charles Kean took the opportunity to use the play as the basis for a spectacular production, based on thorough archaeological research. The set featured a detailed recreation of The Temple of Minerva at Syracuse; the production staged a full-scale Greek banquet and classical dances.
The Times described the productions bear as a masterpiece of zoological art, and its Time as Chronos, father of Zeus, in a visual display which apparently had all the effect of an exquisite piece of sculpture (1 May 1856). Charles Kean, Princess Theatre, 1856: Pictorial realism The Allegory of Time (4.1), designed for Keans 1856 production by Thomas Grieve. Charles Kean, Princess Theatre, 1856:
Pictorial realism Charles Kean, Princess Theatre, 1856: Pictorial realism Charles Kean, Princess Theatre, 1856: Pictorial realism Mr Charles Keans principle of making the stage a vehicle for historical illustration was never carried out so far as in his revival of the Winters Tale. In the play itself, as every one knows, there is nothing to suggest excessive splendour of decoration. Yet, as we have said, this antihistorical work has been used by Mr. Charles Kean as the theme for
one of the grandest archaeological comments that ever took a pictorial form. Leontes may not use a cup that is not of a proper pattern; his child, Mamillius, may not draw about a toy-cart that has not its terra-cotta prototype in the British Museum. (Times, 1 May 1856) A write-up in Punch poked fun at this tendency: Mr Punch has it upon authority to state that the Bear at present running in Oxford Street in the Winters Tale is an archaeological copy from the original bear of Noah's Ark. Anything more modern would have been at variance with the ancient traditions reproduced in the drama. (10 May 1856)
Harley Granville-Barker, Savoy Theatre, 1912: Rejecting illusionism Thrust stage Bold, non-illusionist design Dennis Kennedy describes this as one of the four or five most important Shakespeare productions of the 20th century (1985: 136). Brian Pearce argues that this is somewhat overstated: To show that Barker was in some ways traditional in his staging and interpretations is not to undermine his achievement but to provide a more comprehensive, less one-sided view of his work (1996: 397). Barkers Preface to The Winters Tale, 1912: As to scenery, as
scenery is mostly understood canvas, realistically painted I would have none of it. Decoration ? Yes. The difference is better seen than talked of, so I leave Norman Wilkinsons to be seen. (1993: 90) Harley Granville-Barker, Savoy Theatre, 1912: Rejecting illusionism Harley Granville-Barker, Savoy Theatre, 1912: Rejecting illusionism Time (Herbert Hewetson)
was presented as a cruelly decadent Aubrey Beardsleyish figure, with twisted locks on end like golden snakes, a mask-like face, and hideously reddened lips and eyes (Globe, 21 September 1912). Harley Granville-Barker, Savoy Theatre,
1912: Rejecting illusionism I was in direct, almost personal, contact with the players. Gone was the centuries-old, needless and silly illusion of a picture stage. (John Palmer, Saturday Review, 28 September 1912) LEONTES. There have been, Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now, And many a man there is, even at this present, Now, while I speak this, holds his wife by tharm, That little thinks she has been sluiced ins absence, And his pond fished by his next neighbour, by Sir Smile, his neighbour. (1.2.191-7)
Leontes moves from a character in the play, involved in the reality of his own situation, to a perspective like the audiences, from which he surveys his role in the play, to a point beyond the audience, from which he can show them what they themselves are doing. (Hartwig 1970: 15) Realism or artifice? These historical productions sketch out some of the key choices facing modern directors and designers. Stephen J. Miko describes The Winters Tale as a play that plays with the art of simulation (1989: 268).
He argues that Shakespeare deliberately pushes dramatic conventions comic and tragic to breaking point: For example, how seriously can we take (and therefore treat) Leontes jealousy? Or, for that matter, the statue scene? Or, again, the notorious bear? Do the packages of ideas (and rules) that come with tragicomedy, romance, or pastoral really help us when we find the play incoherent, or embarrassing, or perhaps even incomprehensible? (1989: 259) Ronald Eyre, RSC, 1981: Self-conscious theatricality
The dominant visual motif of 1981, directed by Ronald Eyre, was that of the theatre, of performing a story. Before [Camillo and Archidamus] finished their conversation, the tone shifted and the static stage picture gave way to one filled with action. Actors entered from the wings, chose props and costumes and assumed their places. Hermione picked up a sheaf of wheat; Leontes and Polixenes put on robes and crowns that had been displayed on the dummies. Voices off, a drum roll and a trumpet heralded a masque, directed by an energetic Leontes and performed on the central platform. Leontes darted anxiously about the stage, wearing a clown's red bulbous nose, blowing a toy trumpet and carrying a
jester's bladder. Entering first, Autolycus, clad in black suit and top hat, led in an enormous black bear. (Tatspaugh 2002: 42-3) Ronald Eyre, RSC, 1981: Self-conscious theatricality Ronald Eyre, RSC, 1981: Self-conscious theatricality Annabel Arden, Complicite, 1991: Playful storytelling
Physical theatre style Cast of nine The doubling, according to the productions Associate Director Annie Castledine, served a theatrical rather than thematic purpose: the idea was that it should be impossible for the audience to sustain any one response to the play. Marcello Magnis Autolycus, an Italian clown who elaborated his lines in Italian or English (the two indistinguishable in his accent), so that three-pile (4.3.14) became an Armani suit. Picking lecherously on women in the audience, Magni tapped into a full tradition of commedia styles, playing out the
timeless lazzi of trickery. (Holland 1997: 125) Annabel Arden, Complicite, 1991: Playful storytelling Annabel Arden, Complicite, 1991: Playful storytelling Annabel Arden, Complicite, 1991: Playful storytelling McBurneys Leontes was more
neurotic and funnier than usual. The jealousy was allowed a full quota of overtones of the comedy of cuckoldry. The risk, treating Leontes as a trivially comic butt, was also offset by a violence predicated on his power as King. Brilliant and unnerving, McBurneys performance was impossible for the audience comfortably to pigeonhole. (Holland 1997: 124125)
Annabel Arden, Complicite, 1991: Playful storytelling In a haunting, slow-motion procession, with the nine-strong cast changing into costumes of mourning as they march, the production takes us back to Leontess tragic court. There is a stillness in these final scenes which forms a fine contrast with the earlier manic activity, a real sense of wonder as the dead come to life and the divided family are miraculously reunited. (Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph, 2 April 1992) Deconstructing Shakespeare is a scandal in the best sense of the word. Refusing to be servile to the text, Theatre de Complicit plants The Winters Tale (Lyric, Hammersmith) with abundant visual surprises. Bawdy, exuberant, an updated commedia dellarte, Complicit
(directed by Annabel Arden) seems happier with comedy than tragedy, until the last scene brings a sudden bloom of pathos. Hermiones slow, aged descent from the plinth is preceded by Paulinas heart-rending summons, which emphasises the frailty of the body and the will to overcome it. Seeing her tears draws out your own. (Aleks Sierz, Tribune, 9 April 1992) there are numerous signs of the plays meaning being sacrificed to Complicites selfdelighting cleverness. I think they should remind themselves that the actors are the servants of the play and not the play the servant of the actors. (Michael Billington, Guardian, 4 April 1992) Gregory Doran, RSC, 1999: Psychological realism Antony Shers comments on playing
Leontes : My route is often through research, and so I went to talk to a whole range of experts in mental disorders I spoke to psychiatrists, psychotherapists, all sorts of people and eventually it was Maria Ron, from the famous Maudsley Hospital, who I talked to She absolutely defined it as a medical condition called morbid jealousy, a condition thats well known, that afflicts
particularly men, particularly in their forties, in exactly, detail for detail, what Shakespeares written. (Lough 2005) Edward Hall, Propeller, 2005: A sad tales best for winter http://www.youtube.com /watch?v=XmbZE_6_-EQ Mamillius / Perdita / Time Irresolution
Edward Hall, Propeller, 2005: A sad tales best for winter Edward Hall, Propeller, 2005: A sad tales best for winter Edward Hall, Propeller, 2005: A sad tales best for winter Choric speaking (e.g. 1.1 and 5.2) The penultimate scene of the play is self-conscious narration in Shakespeares text:
FIRST GENTLEMAN. Here comes a gentleman that haply knows more. The news, Ruggiero! SECOND GENTLEMAN. Nothing but bonfires. The oracle is fulfilled. The Kings daughter is found. Such a deal of wonder is broken out within this hour, that ballad-makers cannot be able to express it. (5.2.20-5) SECOND GENTLEMAN. What, pray you, became of Antigonus, that carried hence the child? THIRD GENTLEMAN Like an old tale still, which will have matter to rehearse though credit be asleep and not an ear open. He was torn to pieces with a bear. (5.2.59-63)
Dominic Cooke, RSC, 2006: Communal experience Promenade performance: Spectators were cast as party guests at the opening New Years Eve party, and invited to dance and to join in with Auld Lang Syne; The audience were witnesses to Hermiones trial; They were cast as festival-goers at sheep-shearing (dancing once again); They were required to awake [their] faith in the final scene. Dominic Cooke: This idea came from noticing that the structure of the play is built around communal events: the trial scene, the sheepshearing and the unveiling of the statue. These were events that the
audience could be directly involved in. We also turned the opening scenes into another communal event, a New Year's Eve party. This again referred to the idea of time passing; the cyclicality of time, the idea that, like the country, the court has its seasonal rituals. (Bate & Wright 2009: 166) Dominic Cooke, RSC, 2006: Communal experience Dominic Cooke, RSC, 2006: Communal experience
Dominic Cooke, RSC, 2006: Communal experience Sam Mendes, Bridge Project, 2009: A play of two halves Sam Mendes, Bridge Project, 2009: A play of two halves Sam Mendes, Bridge Project, 2009:
A play of two halves The plays second half is largely set 16 years later in Bohemia, which has been envisioned as a sunny frontier land, in the style of the movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I assume that the contrast between these worlds is meant to make witty contrasting use of the Bridge Projects bi-national cast of British and American performers. But the hee-haw hoedown sensibility registers as a knee-jerk artistic choice Its impossible to think of these knee-slapping Bohemians being integrated into Leontess court, not because theyre socially inferior but because theyre so silly and superficial.
(Ben Brantley, New York Times, 23 February 2009) Renegade Theatre, Globe to Globe, 2012: Mythology and fable Restructured to make Leontes/Hermione plot a flashback Nigerian mythology: Leontes became Shango, the thunder god, while Polixenes became Ogun, god of iron.
Parallel between Leontes and Polixenes Audience participation Alternative ending: Hermione/Oya becomes goddess of the wind 2016 productions: The return of the fairy tale Exit, pursued by a bear
CLOWN. Ill go see if the bear be gone from the gentleman, and how much he hath eaten. They are never curst but when they are hungry. If there be any of him left, Ill bury it. (3.3.124-8) Tragic scene interrupted by comedy? Comic and tragic at once? the unexpectedness of an ungainly animal in pursuit of an old gentleman (especially one so tedious as Antigonus) can also seem wildly comic; the terrible and the grotesque come near to each other in a frisson of horror instantly succeeded by a shout of laughter. (Coghill 1958: 34-5) Through the eyes of the Clown we see Antigonus as a stranger, and
the distance that the Clowns impersonal perspective gains releases the audience from their sympathetic investment in Antigonus. (Hartwig 1970: 30-1) Exit, pursued by a bear Some bears: Frequently naturalistic (e.g. Granville-Barker 1912, Cooke 2006, Mendes 2009) Antigonus was chased off by a shaman in a bear-mask in John Bartons 1976 production; this figure subsequently became Time. The bear was cut entirely and replaced with a pirate in Renegade
Theatres 2012 production. It was an enormous billowing sheet in Doran 1999; a toy bear puppeteered by Mamillius in Propeller 2005; a gigantic puppet made of books in David Farrs 2009 production. Exit, pursued by a bear References Coghill, Nevill (1958) Six Points of Stage-Craft in The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare Survey 11, 31-41. Granville-Barker, Harley (1993) Granville Barkers Prefaces to
Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Winters Tale, Twelfth Night, London: Nick Hern Books. Hartwig, Joan (1970) The Tragicomic Perspective of The Winters Tale, ELH, 37: 1, 12-36. Holland, Peter (1997) English Shakespeares: Shakespeare on the English Stage on the 1990s, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kennedy, Dennis (1985) Granville Barker and the Dream of the Theatre, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. References
Lough, Robin (2005) [dir.] The Winters Tale: A Production Casebook on The Winters Tale: Complete Edition, DVD, London: Heritage Theatre, from the 1998 stage production by Gregory Doran. Miko, Stephen J. (1989) Winters Tale, Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, 29: 2, 259-275. Pearce, Brian (1996) Granville Barkers Production of The Winters Tale (1912), Comparative Drama, 30: 3, 395-411. Bate, Jonathan & Kevin Wright (2009) The Directors Cut in Jonathan Bate & Eric Rasmussen [eds] William Shakespeare: The Winters Tale, The RSC Shakespeare, Basingstoke: Macmillan,
162-80. Tatspaugh, Patricia E. (2002) Shakespeare at Stratford: The Winters Tale, London: Arden Shakespeare.
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