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INTRODUCTION TO THE WINTER'S TALE.
JHE earliest notice we have of this play not only affords a
furnishes an account of the fable. Dr Simon Forman (the famous conjuror and astrologer of Lambeth implicated in the conspiracy against Sir Thomas Overbury) was in the habit of attending the theatres and taking notes of the performances, which he entered in his Diary, still preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. On the evening of May 15, 1611, Forman was at the Globe Theatre, and witnessed the representation of this piece. “Observe there,' he writes, 'how Leontes, 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 cup-bearer to have poisoned [him], who gave the king of Bohemia warning thereof, and fled with him to Bohemia. Remember also how he sent to the oracle of Apollo, and the answer of Apollo that she was guiltless, and that the king was jealous, &c.; and how, except the child was found again that was lost, the king should die without issue : for the child was carried into Bohemia, and there laid in a forest, and brought up by a shepherd; and the king of Bohemia's son married that wench, and how they fled into Sicilia to Leontes ; and the shepherd having shewed the letter of the nobleman whom Leontes sent, it was that child, and [by] the jewels found about her, she was known to be Leontes's daughter, and was then sixteen years old. Remember also, the rogue that came in all tattered like Coll Pipei, and how he feigned him sick, and to have been robbed of all he had ; and how he cozened the poor man of all his money, and after he came to the sheep-shear with a pedler's pack, and there cozened them again of all their money. And how he changed apparel with the king of Bohemia's son, and then how he turned courtier, &c. Beware of trusting feigned beggars or fawning fellows.?
Forman seems to have been too intent on the plot of the (Irama, and on the lesson to be drawn from the roguery of Autolycus, to be impressed by the beauty of Perdita and her flowers—the principal charm of the play. When he saw it performed at the Globe in May 1611, The Winter's Tale was most likely a new play. In November 1612, it was represented before the court at Whitehall; but it was not published until included in the folio of 1623.
The source of the plot was a tale by Robert Greene, Pandosto, the Triumph of Time, 1588. On the title-page of his work Greene thus complacently describes it: 'Wherein is discovered, by a pleasant history, that although by the means of sinister fortune, truth may be concealed, yet by time, in spite of fortune, it is most manifestly revealed : pleasant for age to avoid drowsy thoughts, profitable for youth to eschew other wanton pastimes, and bringing to both a desired content. The public seems to have confirmed Greene's favourable opinion of his story, for fourteen editions of it, if not more, were published. The narrative is simple and pleasing, with touches of picturesque fancy and tenderness, such as are found in most of Greene's stories and poems, but without the energy of strong passion or forcible delineation of character. There are several verbal resemblances to the novel in the play. The names of the characters are changed ; and Shakespeare, as Mr Collier has remarked, reverses the scene ; his play opens in Sicily, and Perdita is exposed on the coast of Bohemia; while Greene's novel begins in Bohemia, and Fawnia is found by the old shepherd on the coast of Sicily. The dramatist has also given a happier termination to the plot. Greene makes the jealous monarch commit suicide, struck with remorse for the fatal fruits of his jealousy. The blunder of making Bohemia a maritime country originated with Greene. Shakespeare copied it, as he copied similar mistakes from the old models he selected, reserving himself for the development of character, for comic action (always original with him), and for the other peculiar features of his drama. To understand his superiority fully, we must, as Coleridge says, compare him with the other dramatists and writers of his age, and then calculate the surplus which is entirely his own. In The Winter's Tale, there seems to have been no effort at probability: it is, as the title indicates, of the nature of a legendary romance or tale for the fireside. Pagan and Christian rites are blended, and an Italian painter of the fifteenth century is made contemporary with the oracles of Apollo. The closing scene of the statue is one of the finest and most striking in the whole Shakespearean drama.
Although, on the whole, this play is exquisitely respondent to its title, and even in the fault I am about to mention, still a winter's tale, yet it seems a mere indolence of the great bard not to have provided, in the oracular response (Act II. sc. 2), some ground for Hermione's seeming death and fifteen years’ voluntary concealment. This might have been easily effected by some obscure sentence of the oracle, as for example : “Nor shall he ever recover an heir, if he have a wife before that recovery."
• The idea of this delightful drama is a genuine jealousy of disposition, and it should be immediately followed by the perusal of Othello, which is the direct contrast of it in every particular. For jealousy is a vice of the mind, a culpable tendency of the temper, having certain well-known and welldefined effects and concomitants, all of which are visible in Leontes, and I boldly say, not one of which marks its presence in Othello: such as, first, an excitability by the most inadequate causes, and an eagerness to snatch at proofs ; secondly, a grossness of conception, and a disposition to degrade the object of the passion by sensual fancies and images ; thirdly, a sense of shame of his own feelings exhibited in a solitary moodiness of humour, and yet from the violence of the passion forced to utter itself, and therefore catching occasions to ease the mind by ambiguities, equivoques, by talking to those who cannot, and who are known not to be able to understand what is said to them in short, by soliloquy in the form of dialogue, and hence a confused, broken, and fragmentary manner; fourthly, a dread of vulgar ridicule, as distinct from a high sense of honour, or a mistaken sense of duty; and, lastly, and immediately consequent on this, a spirit of selfish vindictiveness.'-COLERIDGE.
“The calculation of probabilities has nothing to do with such wonderful and fleeting adventures, when all end at last in universal joy: and, accordingly, Shakespeare has here taken the greatest license of anachronisms and geographical errors ; not to mention other incongruities, he opens a free navigation between Sicily and Bohemia, and makes Giulio Romano the contemporary of the Delphic oracle.
“The jealousy of Leontes is not, like that of Othello, developed through all its causes, symptoms, and variations ; it is brought forward at once full grown and mature, and is portrayed as a distempered frenzy. It is a passion whose effects the spectator is more concerned with than its origin, and which does not produce the catastrophe, but merely ties the knot of the piece. In fact, the poet might perhaps have wished slightly to indicate that Hermione, though virtuous, was too warm in her efforts to please Polixenes ; and it appears as if this germ of inclination first attained its proper maturity in their children. Nothing can be more fresh and youthful, nothing at once so ideally pastoral and princely, as the love of Florizel and Perdita ; of the prince, whom love converts into a voluntary shepherd ; and the princess, who betrays her exalted origin without knowing it, and in whose hands nosegays become crowns. Shakespeare has never hesitated to place ideal poetry side by side of the most vulgar prose ; and in the world of reality also this is generally the case. Perdita's foster-father and his son are both made simple boors, that we may the more distinctly see how all that ennobles her belongs only to herself. Autolycus, the merry pedler and pickpocket, so inimitably portrayed, is necessary to complete the rustic feast, which Perdita on her part seems to render meet for an assemblage of gods in disguise.'-SCHLEGEL.