Approaching the end of the semester (and with it, my class that purely studies Shakespeare), I do say that this will likely be my last Shakespeare review for quite some time. Was it fun? Well, it was hit and miss, but for this last reading, we hit a bit of a higher note than some of the other plays I’ve reviewed thus far.
The Winter’s Tale is categorized as one of Shakespeare’s Romance plays, and, like Problem plays, it doesn’t really fall into a distinct classification as a straight tragedy, drama, or history. What is typical of the Romances, however, is their use of other-(worldliness and sometimes magical elements) to produce an effect. And unlike the other hard-to-categorize Problem plays, this work wasn’t really that much of a problem for me. In fact, I found it to be a lot more effortless in it’s unraveling than some of the previous Elizabethan works I have read. Predictable? Yes, it is ridiculously predictable, and I found myself saying, “because of course!” a number of times. But that predictability doesn’t really hinder it in the end, as this complements the easy course of action, giving the play a straightforward reading.
I will try to describe the plot in the barest, more basic way, as it has a very simple and foreseeable plot that can probably be guessed at if you only try: We begin with Leontes, the King of Sicilia, asking his visiting friend (and the king of Bohemia), Polixenes, not to leave after having spent the last 9 months in Sicily with Leontes and his wife, Hermione. When the pregnant Hermione tries to urge Polixenes to stay too, however, Leontes begins to wonder if she had not been having an affair with Polixenes, and if her unborn child is in fact that of Polixenes. Betrayal, anger, and banishment occurs within Sicilia, leaving the newborn daughter of the king and queen in a far-off place, being raised by a shepherd, but winning the affections of a prince who is intrinsically tied to the drama of the beginning. But of course, in the end, there must be a return back to Sicilia, ending with a large familial reconciliation.
What is enjoyable about this work, as I mentioned before, is the ease that comes with reading it. A lot of the time, Shakespeare’s works are far better watched than read, and much easier to understand that way; while I can’t really say what it would be like to see this play acted out, it is very easier to follow strictly in a textual way. The language used is still decorative and inventive, but not in a strict or complicated way. This may come from a large use of prose-like verses by the common folk in the shepherd town, and the placement of a large portion of the action within this pastoral “other world” that is the country aids in creating a simple, airy, and refreshing feeling to the action overall.
However, if there is something that made me roll my eyes, it is the seemingly random use of magical, suspended-belief within the last act of the play, in order to impose reconciliation between Hermione, Leontes, and Perdita. While the rest of the action appears to fall into place without much meddling, trickery, or forcing of circumstance, throwing one last hitch into the end in order to drive the final point of happiness home seems a bit… hammy. The rest of the work manages to balance its dramatic and comedic elements well, but this last little push just comes across as silly and melodramatic in comparison.
In the end, I would recommend reading The Winter’s Tale if you are a fan of Shakespeare. I would also recommend reading it if you are trying to get into Shakespeare, as it is a far easier read than some of his other, more commonly-recognized works. That being said, if you don’t really find yourself a fan of the bard, you might want to skip it, as it’s not like you will be missing out on any crazy twists or profound ideas if you don’t read it.
[Be sure to check out more reviews on the Cannonball Read group blog]