Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Shakespeare Study: The Winter's Tale

Well, my three-year Shakespeare study is almost finished. I've been reading one play each month, and then watching as many film versions as I can get my hands on, and reading as many books about the play as I'm able. December 2012, the 36th month of my study, was The Winter's Tale.

Related Books:



- The Winter's Tale  by Wilbur Sanders  -  This is a volume in the Twayne's New Critical Introductions To Shakespeare series. Author Wilbur Sanders writes, "Hermione's palpable goodness has proved something of a snare to criticism. Commentators have tended to exclaim raptly, ''Tis Grace indeed!' and then to subside into mindless adoration of a notably theological tinge. The apotheosis of femininity swiftly follows. As we've seen, Hermione suffers this misappropriation quite enough at the hands of other people in the play, without the critics joining in. And incidentally, editors have no business compounding the offence by giving grace a capital 'G.' It's true that the Folio compositor tends to capitalise every second noun in his text, and 'grace' is one of them; but that's no reason for removing all the other capitals, leaving grace enjoying a special prominence - wearing a halo, as it were" (page 36-37).  In the chapter titled "The Hypothesis of Hope," Sanders writes, "The love that stirs in Leontes for his daughter is not antithetical to, but continuous with, his love for her mother. Love, on all its possible levels, is an undivided whole: the entire catastrophe was the result of trying to divide it into warring factions" (page 109).  And then in the chapter titled "An Art Lawful as Eating," Sander writes (regarding Hermione's return), "When she explains the ending of her long seclusion, she does not attribute it to the desire to be reunited with her husband. It would not be true. They could have been reunited any time this last sixteen years. She has preserved herself, in truth, as she says, to see the issue of the oracle concerning Perdita, and only to Perdita does she speak" (page 116). Published in 1987.




- The Winter's Tale  by Bill Overton  -  The book is a volume in The Critics Debate series. Author Bill Overton writes, "Most of all he denies Bethell's suggestion that the statue scene is 'stagey', claiming that its brilliant effectiveness can only be grasped when it is realised that the play is 'about a crisis in the life of Leontes, not of Hermione, and her restoration...is something which happens not to her, but to him'" (page 18). Later he writes, "Perdita's 'nature', as the audience will be aware, actually is royal. So, though he means it in a different sense, Polixenes is doubly right to say that 'The art itself is Nature' (IV.iv.97)" (page 29). Regarding the grouping of Shakespeare's last plays, Overton writes, "Stanley Wells gives a further useful caution. Not only is the word 'romance' unknown in Shakespeare's writings, but it seems never to have been used to describe a play at the period" (page 36). Regarding Leontes' jealousy, Overton writes, "For what the language and action suggest is that Leontes's jealousy is precipitated by the very fullness of Hermione's hospitality" (page 57).  About the title, he writes, "A winter's tale was an idle story, of the sort Mamillius begins to tell his mother ('A sad tale's best for winter' [II.i.25]) when Leontes enters in fury. As has often been suggested, this entrance identifies Leontes with the man who, in the story, 'Dwelt by a churchyard' [30]. The gambit is to juxtapose with an acknowledged fiction, a mere tale, a dramatic fiction which, by its startling intrusion, carries all the appearance of reality" (page 69).  Published in 1989.



- The Winter’s Tale: A Commentary On The Structure  by Fitzroy Pyle  -  Fitzroy Pyle goes through the entire play, scene by scene. Regarding Leontes’ so-called sudden jealousy, Pyle writes, “Is it not dramatically essential that we should see Leontes in his true likeness before he is distorted, so that when he comes to himself, purged, we may recognize him? If he is to be saved, he must be seen to be worth saving” (page 13).  He then writes, “Polixenes has announced his departure. Leontes has entreated him to stay longer, and, not succeeding, has drawn his wife into the conversation, enlisting her help. She starts well, as Leontes notes with satisfaction – ‘Well said, Hermione’ (33) – and then for fifty lines there is no further word from him. What is he doing? He cannot be standing by or he would be included in the conversation. He cannot be just having an aimless word with Camillo or another courtier. It must be that he is intended to play with Mamillius, the only other member of the royal party, who if he were not drawn into the action at this point would be left unoccupied for more than half the time he is on the stage” (page 14). And then, still regarding Leontes’ jealous, Pyle writes, “The aside, ‘At my request he would not,’ marks the point by which the seeds of mistrust have been sown” (page 18). And then: “We may note in passing that Leontes does not say ‘This confirms what I have seen in the past’ (as he would if he had started the scene a jealous man), but ‘There they are. It is plain for all to see’, which is dramatically far more effective, putting the audience in full possession of the facts, so that nothing may be taken on hearsay” (page 21). Regarding Leontes’ reaction to Perdita and Florizel in Act V, Pyle writes, “A moment before, Leontes wondered at Polixenes for having exposed ‘this paragon’ (Perdita) to the perils of the sea (152), ironically reminding us of his own ill usage of her as an infant” (page 106). And regarding the return of Hermione, Pyle writes, “The scene has two parts, mystification and resolution, one passing into the other in the lines that separate Hermione’s revival from her recovering the power of speech” (page 132). Published in 1969.


- The Winter’s Tale: Text And Performance  by R.P. Draper  -  This is a volume in the Text And Performance series, and is divided into two sections, the first being about the text itself, and the second using four productions to highlight certain aspects of the play. The four productions discussed include three RSC productions (from 1969, 1976 and 1981), as well as the BBC television production. About Leontes in the scene with the oracle, Draper writes, “He immediately repents, making a speech which acknowledges his ‘great profaneness’, and declares his willingness to reconcile himself with Polixenes, ‘new woo’ his queen, and recall Camillo; but such quick relenting is suspiciously superficial. His command (presumably to Paulina and the ladies) to carry Hermione off the stage indicates a comparatively trivial view of her condition – (‘Her heart is but o’ercharged; she will recover’ [148])” (page 25). Regarding the scene with Autolycus and the Clown, Draper writes, “There is no stage direction in the Folio, but tradition – going back at least as far as the eighteenth-century editor Capell – has Autolycus’s theft take place between his double moan of ‘Softly, dear sir’ and ‘good sir, softly’, thus lending a comic ambiguity to ‘You ha’ done me a charitable office’ [75] and to his following pretence of pained virtue in refusing the Clown’s offer of money – ‘Offer me no money, I pray you; that kills my heart’ [81-2]” (page 30). Regarding Leontes’ jealousy, Draper writes, “In the RSC production of 1981, however, Patrick Stewart gave a performance of Leontes which put all the emphasis on neurosis. His jealousy seemed inherent in the man from the very first, betraying itself in the manic enthusiasm of his initial distortion of playfulness into violent horseplay. His twisting of Polixenes’ arm behind his back, as if to ‘force’ him into staying a little longer in Sicilia, and his roughly ‘affectionate’ treatment of Hermione, could be seen as evidence that he was already deeply disturbed by what the audience were subsequently to recognise as jealousy – in accordance with the critical view which sees Leontes as, in fact, jealous from before the play opens” (page 59). Published in 1985.


- William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale  adapted by Vincent Goodwin; illustrated by Rod Espinosa  -  This is a volume in the Graphic Shakespeare series, and as the book is only 48 pages, it’s little more than an outline of the play. Leontes doesn’t ask Hermione to persuade Polixenes to stay. She does it on her own. Antigonus leaves the baby, but is not killed by the bear. And we don’t see the Shepherd and Clown retrieve the baby. In fact, the Clown is cut entirely from this adaptation. Several characters are cut, but it’s really ridiculous to lose both the Clown and Autolycus. (And the bear.)  Hermione really looks like a statue, being completely white, which of course doesn’t make sense, especially with the speech about the colors not being dry. Though the line is changed to “It’s not dry” (page 39). And though the statue is outside in a courtyard, Leontes still says, “Do not draw the curtain” (page 39). There is no curtain. And at this point he and Perdita have already touched the statue, which makes no sense. When Leontes kisses Hermione, it’s like the plaster covering her body shatters. Are we to believe she was really a statue in this version? Published in 2011.


- The Winter’s Tale: Shakespeare On Stage  by David A. Male  -  Interestingly, the three stage productions discussed in this book are the same three that R.P. Draper focused on in The Winter’s Tale: Text And Performance. Regarding the bear, Male writes, “A very stylised approach was chosen for the 1976 production. The Bear was to be a symbol of Death. No attempt was made to suggest a real animal, but an actor wearing a bear mask, carrying a staff decorated with human skulls, confronted Antigonus who at first was transfixed and then realised that his own death was near” (page 16). And regarding the oracle scene, Male writes, “Note: although Paulina stays silent through most of the scene, her attitude through the trial is important since her subsequent speech is going to be vitally influential” (page 30). Published in 1984.


- William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale  retold by Bruce Coville; illustrated by LeUyen Pham  -  This book is an adaptation of the play aimed at children, and includes much more of the plot than the graphic novel does. Published in 2007.


Film Versions:


- The Winter's Tale  (1981) with Jeremy Kemp, Robert Stephens, Anna Calder-Marshall, Margaret Tyzack, David Burke, Rikki Fulton, Arthur Hewlett, Paul Jesson, Robin Kermode and Debbie Farrington; directed by Jane Howell. This film version has a fairly strong cast. It uses a strange white, sparse set for the first act. Hermione (Anna Calder-Marshall) is visibly pregnant in the first scene. After the “verily,” Leontes (Jeremy Kemp) moves away, so that Polixenes (Robert Stephens) and Hermione can talk more privately. Polixenes seems a bit on the effeminate side, and if I were Leontes I wouldn’t worry much about him with my wife. Asides in this film version are spoken directly to the camera, and thus to the audience. In Scene ii, Leontes says “Are you so fond of your young son as we/Do seem to be of ours?” rather than “young prince.” Leontes is great on “Satisfy? Th’entreaties of your mistress? Satisfy?” Polixenes’ speech “This is strange: methinks/My favour here begins to warp. Not speak?” is spoken to the camera.
In Act II Scene I, Mamillius does not sit down when Hermione tells him to. Hermione’s “What is this? Sport?” is spoken seriously, gravely. When she says, “You thus have published me,” she looks at the other men present. Leontes seems a bit unsure when Hermione says “I never wished to see you sorry: now/I trust I shall,” which is nice. Antigonus (Cyril Luckham) is wonderful in Scene iii. Leontes’ “While she lives/My heart will be a burden to me” is spoken directly to the camera.
In Act III we return to the white set. Act III begins with Hermione’s indictment being nailed to a tree. Some red is added to the set for Scene ii, the trial scene. Hermione is really good in this scene. I particularly like her reading of “Now, my liege,/Tell me what blessings I have here alive/That I should fear to die.” Act III Scene iii uses the same set, or at least the same configuration, but painted differently – with darker colors. Interesting. Antigonus’ speech is at first spoken to himself, and to the baby, not the camera. Then for some later lines in the speech, he does speak to the camera. He doesn’t actually exit, pursued by the bear. Rather the bear, in close-up, approaches the camera, as if we were Antigonus. Clown seems amused by what he’s seen, rather than horrified or bothered by it. And so when he opens the coffer and finds gold, his demeanor doesn’t change. Finding gold and seeing a man eaten by a bear seem somehow equal to him.
In Act IV Time is dressed in white. The set is prettier for Autolycus’ entrance – greener. While Clown goes over what he needs to buy, Autolycus changes his coat behind him, preparing to rob him, which is a nice touch. When Autolycus says, “false of heart,” he glances toward us, including us in his fun. Autolycus (Rikki Fulton) is great. Perdita (Debbie Farrington) is pretty, and is adorable when she says, “I think they are given/To men of middle age.” The dance continues while Polixenes talks to Shepherd. Mopsa and Dorcas are delightful. Florizel (Robin Kermode) is good too, with a believably excited youthfulness. In Scene iv when Camillo speaks his speech to the camera (“What I do next shall be to tell the King…”), Autolycus comes over to say something to him, but doesn’t want to interrupt him, and then he too looks into the camera, as if to see who Camillo is talking to. It’s a truly funny moment. Autolycus is also great when talking with Shepherd and Clown. The Shepherd and Clown are also really good, especially in that scene. Autolycus urinates against a tree during his last speech of the act.
In Act V when Florizel says that Polixenes loves Leontes, you can see the joy and relief in Leontes’ expression. It’s a great moment. Scene iii is done in a dark room, so that it’s more believable that they take Hermione for a statue. And we see her in wide shots, not close-ups, adding to the believability of their credulity. There is a distance between Hermione and the others. The camera slowly moves in on Hermione as Paulina bids her to move. At the end they all walk out into the light. (173 minutes)


- The Winter’s Tale  (1999) with Antony Sher, Estelle Kohler, Alexandra Gilbreath, Ken Bones, Geoffrey Freshwater, Jeffry Wickham, Emily Bruni, Ryan McCluskey, Ian Hughes; directed for stage by Gregory Doran; directed for video by Robin Lough. This is a filmed stage production by The Royal Shakespeare Company. Most of the cast is excellent, the major exception being Alexandra Gilbreath as Hermione. At the beginning we see the audience settling in, but basically after that the focus is on the stage (though you can hear someone coughing from time to time). Sound is a bit of an issue, as sometimes the footsteps on the stage are prominent.
The production begins with a solemn, serious moment before breaking into the first scene. Mamillius (played a woman, Emily Bruni) is in a wheelchair, an odd choice because then the idea is that he is sick already, and so his illness can’t be thought the result of his mother’s infidelity. Hermione is already far into her pregnancy in her first scene, and she quickly seats herself. She pats the seat next to her so that Polixenes would sit. Some music plays while Polixenes talks about his childhood, and he and Hermione dance during this dialogue. Leontes’ “At my request he would not” is delivered in a surprised, comical way. Hermione has this weird, affected way of dragging out words that is incredibly off-putting. During Leontes’ speech, Polixenes and Hermione are behind him, and she struggles with the weight of her pregnancy. Telling Mamillius to go play when he’s in a wheelchair is more than a bit cruel. Leontes (Antony Sher) walks to the edge of the stage and speaks directly to certain audience members on his “And many a man there is even at this present” speech (this is one of the few moments when we see the audience). He is great in the speech to Camillo, particularly on “My wife is slippery.” Camillo (Geoffrey Freshwater) is really good too. This scene is fantastic.
In Act II, Hermione telling Mamillius “sit by us” also seems odd with him in a wheel chair. So another character pushes his chair over to her. So then “Come on, sit down” is cut. And then her “Nay come, sit down” is spoken to the women, not to Mamillius. After “You have mistook, my lady, Polixenes for Leontes,” Leontes pushes Hermione to the ground. On “now I trust I shall” she reaches her hand out to him to help her up, but though he steps forward he does not help her. In Scene iii we hear laughter before Leontes’ line “Camillo and Polixenes/Laugh at me.” Leontes has the right humor on “I knew she would.” Leontes collapses backwards after “A just and open trial.” It’s kind of an odd moment. He then says, “Leave me,” so there is a slight re-ordering of the lines, so that “While she lives/My heart will be a burden to me” is the last line of the scene.
In Act III Leontes is hesitant, weak at the beginning of the trial scene. Hermione is a mess when she enters, no longer dressed regally. So the courtiers have even more sympathy for her. There is a good deal of religious ceremony regarding the oracle. The Officer is more of a religious figure than a political one. Paulina physically attacks Leontes when she re-enters with the news of Hermione’s death. That’s a bit much, a bit unbelievable, as she actually knocks him down. In Scene iii Antigonus (Jeffry Wickham) is wearing a big full-length fur coat and fur hat and so looks a bit like a bear himself. And then when talking about his dream, after he says, “the fury spent, anon/Did this break from her,” there is a lighting change and we hear Hermione speak the words that Antigonus says were spoken in his dream. It’s an interesting choice, because it makes it more real than a dream would be, for it becomes as real as anything else on the stage for the audience. There is a large sheet like a sail on stage, and it begins to billow. And then a large shape behind it rushes toward Antigonus, and just for a moment you can make out bear claws behind it. And then he’s gone, replaced by the Shepherd (James Hayes). An interesting way of solving the bear problem. Although if you hadn’t read the play, would you know that this was supposed to be a bear? When the Shepherd hears the baby cry, he first thinks it’s a sheep calling, and tries calling back to it – a funny moment. The Clown (Christopher Brand, credited as Young Shepherd) is also quite good.
The play’s intermission is at the end of Act III.
In Act IV a good chunk of Time’s speech is cut. It goes from “Of that wide gap” to “Your patience this allowing.” When Time mentions Florizel, Florizel (Ryan McCluskey) joins him on stage. So too Perdita  when she is mentioned. (Perdita is played by Emily Bruni, who also plays Mamillius.) Camillo’s line “It is fifteen years since I saw my country” is changed to “sixteen years” to align it with what Time has said. Autolycus (Ian Hughes) is revealed waking up with several women (and one man), and they sing that song with him. The Clown’s money is hidden under his hat, so it takes Autolycus a bit of time to find it. But he doesn’t stop there. It’s a great comedic scene. Polixenes actually combines two flowers during his speech. Florizel and Perdita both say “corpse” rather than “corse.” There is some wild dancing and tomfoolery in Scene iv. Autolycus pulls out records rather than parchments, when talking about the ballads he has for sale. There is some funny business with a series of wallets.
In Act V, oddly Autolycus does not appear in Scene ii, and instead it is one of the gentlemen who talks with the Clown. And so he says, “I humbly beseech you, sir, to pardon me,” leaving off the rest of the sentence: “all the faults I have committed to your worship, and to give me your good report to the prince my master.” And so the line about amending his life is also cut, as is all the stuff about swearing. Clown and Shepherd together say “our kindred” pointedly. Hermione is on a small platform some distance from everyone, and it is somewhat dark, making it believable that they would believe her a statue. Unfortunately the film gives us a medium close-up early in the scene, and the actor playing Hermione blinks. Why use that shot? The moment Hermione first moves is excellent. In Leontes’ final speech, the line “This your son-in-law,/And son unto the king – whom heavens directing/Is troth-plight to your daughter” is cut. We do get the curtain calls. (time: 171 minutes)

- Shakespeare The Animated Tales: The Winter’s Tale  (1994) with Anton Lesser, Jenny Agutter, Sally Dexter, Michael Kitchen, Adrienne O’Sullivan, Stephen Tompkinson; screenplay by Leon Garfield; directed by Stanislav Sokolov. This film is done with puppets, and has a great look and a fairytale feel. A sweet, playful winter scene starts the film. The first line is Leontes’ “Too hot,” so it begins at the moment his jealousy springs to life. He is at a window looking out at Hermione and Polixenes. Mamillius is playing in the room. A narrator then lets us know about his jealousy. Leontes tears up the oracle’s judgment. Hermione is not taken out, so we see her when Paulina says that she is dead. All of it is rushed, of course, as this is a very short adaptation. We actually see Antigonus’ dream of Hermione. It’s presented as a vision rather than a dream. She appears to him while he’s in the boat. It’s still winter when Antigonus puts the baby down; it’s still snowing. In this version, there really is a chase with the bear. We also see the Clown beholding the chase as well as the shipwreck. And then, instead of seeing the Clown tell his father what he saw, we get a brief flashback – which is odd, as we just saw that stuff. Time is female. Clown actually trips over Autolycus. The narrator fulfills the function of the gentlemen who tell of the reunion of Leontes with his daughter. Even though this version is very short, we still are treated to an abbreviated conversation with Autolycus and the Shepherd and Clown. Hermione is dressed all in white, and the curtain is also white. (time: 25 minutes)

No comments:

Post a Comment