The Winter’s Tale by William Shakespeare

I am working on a Maximum Shelf for the first book of Hogarth Shakespeare: The Gap of Time, by Jeanette Winterson. In preparation, naturally, I got myself a copy of The Winter’s Tale, which Winterson retells, so that I could see the connections clearly.

This is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, variously described as a romance, a comedy, or (as Winterson tells it) a play about forgiveness. It is indeed funny at times, although also tragic and pathos-ridden: in an echo of Othello, a jealous royal husband accuses his wife and best friend of being unfaithful together, resulting in deaths and betrayals he will deeply regret. The Winter’s Tale is indeed a more forgiving version, however, as the next generation gets a chance to correct these wrongs and start fresh; in fact, depending on your interpretation, even the jealous king himself gets a second chance.

There is the requisite Shakespearean clown, a lovable character known only as Clown; there is the requisite Shakespearean rogue, who successfully appears to the same people over and over in a variety of disguises. Which leads me to another Shakespearean requisite, the suspension of disbelief, as a father disguises himself successfully from his own son who knows him well, and a lost identity is easily provable after a lapse of 16 years. It’s all in good fun, though: these are accepted devices of the stage.

And fun it is, despite the unhappy scenes along the way. I also enjoyed a strong female character who stands up to the king and does not get damned for it: another shrew, if you will, but less ambiguously represented; this one is clearly a hero. The Winter’s Tale is a pleasing blend of humor and romance in the end, and I am excited to explore Winterson’s take on it. I only wish I could see it performed now that I’ve enjoyed Shakespeare’s telling. He remains a master.

Rating: 7 bears.

4 Responses

  1. I read (struggled to read, actually) “Winter’s Tale” some years back, in preparation for seeing it on the stage at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. I also used Cliffs Notes, and remember that it was called one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because it wasn’t easily classified as comedy or tragedy. I don’t remember much else about it, but don’t remember liking it terribly well.

    I’m intrigued by the Hogart Shakespeare idea — first I’d heard of it!

    • I think the “problem play” refers as well to the problem-and-solution plot structure, which is more pronounced here than in the comedies and tragedies – which nonetheless usually do wrap up! I can see where it isn’t one of his most traditionally pleasing. But I let it wash over me and enjoyed the language as much as ever; and the characters were less offensive than in, say, The Taming of the Shrew. I liked it. I’m sorry you had a harder time. But no worries; we can’t all like them all. I have still made no peace with Faulkner, although I have a short story of his here on my desk now…

      Yes, stay tuned. Hogarth Shakespeare is promising.

  2. […] Are Not the Only Fruit; Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?), a “cover version” of The Winter’s Tale. In Shakespeare’s original, the kings of Sicilia and Bohemia are great friends until one […]

  3. […] interested to check out what the new Branagh Theatre Live is doing – especially since I read The Winter’s Tale within the last year, preparatory to reading The Gap of Time, an excellent retelling. Recall that […]

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