“Shakespeare may have died over 400 years ago, but he is still very much alive today”

I continue my online learning journey with Bard101x, Shakespeare Matters by University of Adelaide. During the online course I also learnt about the following plays:

If you’re interested to join the online course, here’s the link: “Bard101x, Shakespeare Matters“.

The Winter’s Tale

In a tiny nutshell, the play is about a king who gets so jealous on one of his friends that his actions lead to the death of his son, the fake death of his wife, and the disappearance of his daughter. That’s the tragic half of the play.

Sixteen years later, there’s the hopeful side of life: the king’s daughter gets back to the palace, and the “dead” wife (who was disguised in a statue) forgives her husband and reunites the whole family. What a plot twist!

the winters tale shakespeare readers high tea
Queen Hermione during performance at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Image from ft.com

“The Winter’s Tale” is significant in Shakespeare’s work because it is a tragicomedy. By combining the two genres, tragedy and comedy, Shakespeare focuses on depicting the cyclical nature of human life and the restorative power of time.

Did you know that a winter’s tale is a spoken story with an imaginary / unrealistic plot that concludes with happy ending? During Shakespeare’s times, the winter tales were used to entertain people during the long winter nights, and they were not intended to be actually believed.

Shakespeare’s tragicomedy

“The Winter’s Tale” is a tragicomedy – half tragedy, half comedy. Only other 3 of Shakespeare’s plays that are considered tragicomedies: “The Tempest”, “Cymbeline”, and “Pericles, Prince of Tyre”. They are sometimes named Shakespeare’s ‘late plays’, as they were written at the end of The Bard’s career. And all of them focus on jealousy as key emotion.

Shakespeare’s tragicomedies have certain specific features:

  • jealousy, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation
    within the family unit as main themes
  • female characters play prominent roles
  • focus on time across generations and its relation to growth, death, decay, and regeneration
  • meditations on chance, fate, and the influence of supernatural forces on human agency
  • romance, as in a plot that includes lost children and mistaken identities, the power of gods and prophecy

tragicomedy mask

The clash of genres

The transition (or clash of genres) happens in the middle of the play – Act 3, Scene 3. There are 2 elements used by Shakespeare to make the transition: a bear and the figure of Time. Here’s how it happens …

The bear

The new-born princess is brought to a forest by Antigonus, by king’s orders. After abandoning the baby, Anigonus is chased by a bear, scene that is accompanied by Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction:

“Exit, pursued by a bear.”

The figure of Time

Shakespeare used the figure of Time to fast-forward 16 years in the future, making the shift to the comedy part of the story. For this, Shakespeare used a dramatic tool called “Chorus” – a group of performers who comment on the action of the play.

Literary insights

Some literary concepts discussed were alliteration, caesura, and ambiguity.

Ambiguity was an interesting topic – Shakespeare used words with double meanings to add the ambiguity touch and leave his audience wondering what to believe. Below are some examples of ambiguous words, as they were understood in Shakespeare’s time.

thebard101x shakespeare the winter's tale ambiguity
Words with ambiguous meanings. Image from the online course Bard101x, Shakespeare Matters by University of Adelaide

Another insightful concept was the above-mentioned Chorus, which could also act at times as a kind of conscience, interpreting the play for the benefit of the audience. The Chorus could also narrate parts of the story that were not visible to the audience.

Speak the Speech activities

These activities proved again very useful in helping me read Shakespeare’s language:

  • “Too hot, too hot!” – when King Leontes starts believing that his wife cheated on him
  • “Is whispering nothing?” – in which King Leontes explains to Camillo, his advisor, that there are clear signs of infidelity from the Hermione and Polixenes “couple”
  • “Sir, spare your threats” – when Queen Hermione defends herself at the trial
  • “O, she’s warm” – when Queen Hermione shows herself (“the resurrection”) after 16 years
  • “O, peace, Paulina” – the closing speech of the play by King Leontes
king leontes the winters tale shakespeare readers high tea
King Leontes during performance at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. Image from facebook.com/ShakespearesGlobe

Wrap-up

I explored “The Winter’s Tale” with much excitement and I was amazed by the instruments used by Shakespeare to add a different touch to his plays! Next play to be explored is “Henry V”, the final play of the course.

‘Till next time … happy reading Shakespeare and stay safe!

Georgiana


PS: I am writing about this course at my own will. I was not paid to promote the course nor have I received any other compensation.

6 thoughts on “Bard101x, Shakespeare Matters – The Winter’s Tale

    1. It is weird, indeed! 🙂 Before starting this online course I had the wrong impression that Shakespeare’s plays are boring … The Winter’s Tale definitely challenged that perspective!

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    1. Thanks a lot for your comment! I did see some parts of “The Winter’s Tale” performed by The Globe (online streaming) and I liked it, I really do hope that I will get the chance to see a live performance as well 🙂

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