The Winter’s Tale


There are many Biblical themes that run through Shakespeare’s plays, not the least of which is his willingness to face tragedy and evil with a brutal honesty.  It is the beautiful poetry that redeems the darkness of tragedies like Hamlet, King Lear and Othello.  Towards the end of his life he wrote a lesser known tragic love story, the Winter’s Tale, which is greatly satisfying because it achieves the full reconciliation that eludes many earlier plays.  I recently saw a production by the Brown University / Trinity Rep MFA students in which the acting was excellent.  My only disappointment was the contemporary musical accompaniment which I found jarring.

The play divides into two halves.  The first half sets up the consequences of the King’s jealous rage, which includes his wife’s apparent death, his son’s real death, his daughter’s banishment, and the loss of a longstanding friendship.  The second half, after 16 years of penance by the king, restores his old friend and his daughter to him, and restores his wife, Hermione, to him and to her daughter in a most moving resurrection scene.  Hermione plays a statue which comes to life.  The scene never fails to bring tears of joy to my eyes because life overcomes death, forgiveness heals the insanity of jealousy, and reconciliation is triumphant.  Hermione, is one of the most majestic heroines in all literature, and gives voice to Shakespeare’s mature conviction that women have so much more sense than men.  The defiant Paulina is another strong voice for women in the play.

A poignant device in the Brown / Trinity production was the way the same actress, Sylvia Kates, played the young prince who dies and the daughter, Perdita, who is found.  Perhaps Shakespeare himself would have appreciated the thought that a newborn child might ease the pain of the loss of a young son, since Shakespeare himself lost a son, Hamnet, at 11 years of age.

The countryside setting of much of the second half along with the antics of the shepherds and the rogue, Autolycus, and the poetry of the lovers is all delightful.  If you are not familiar with the play here is some of Perdita’s flower poetry:

Now, my fair’st friend,
I would I had some flowers o’ the spring that might
Become your time of day; and yours, and yours,
That wear upon your virgin branches yet
Your maidenheads growing: 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; violets dim,
But sweeter than the lids of Juno’s eyes
Or Cytherea’s breath; pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bight Phoebus in his strength–a malady
Most incident to maids; bold oxlips and
The crown imperial; lilies of all kinds,
The flower-de-luce being one! O, these I lack,
To make you garlands of, and my sweet friend,
To strew him o’er and o’er!  (Act 4, scene 3)

The Brown University / Trinity Rep MFA students will do two more Shakespeare plays this season: “As You Like It” on November 2-4, 2012 and “Romeo and Juliet”, May 7-19, 2013 at the Pell Chafee performance Center, 87 Empire St., Providence.  And the price is more than right: $10 a ticket or $5 for seniors!

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
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One Response to The Winter’s Tale

  1. Laura Fisk says:

    Excellent review of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, Dad!

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