The Winter’s Tale — authorship

The authorship question for The Winter’s Tale is pretty much a slam-dunk. It’s Shakespeare, through and through.

What’s interesting (at least to me) is the sub-question of order…

Now, I’ve got The Winter’s Tale being later than Cymbeline. But as I’ve discussed before, my ordering is nothing but a guess, given the possible first performance dates, publication dates, and contemporary evidence. And I know that many scholars place them in the same order.

The New Oxford Shakespeare reverses the order of the two, however, with The Winter’s Tale coming out before Cymbeline. They admit, “Stylistically, narratively (loss, separation, reunion, and redemption), and generically (Romance), they seem to have been written in the same period” (Taylor and Loughnane. “The Canon and Chronology.” The New Oxford Shakespeare: Authorship Companion, Oxford University Press. 2017. 579.).

So why place this one first?

Well, Cymbeline has no allusions to Plutarch whereas The Winter’s Tale does. This (among other reasons), they argue, places this play closer to the Plutarch-heavy plays of Timon, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra (579). They take this to mean that as Shakespeare moved further away from those plays, he used fewer and fewer allusions to Plutarch, putting The Winter’s Tale first.

I love this sort of stuff.

3 thoughts on “The Winter’s Tale — authorship”

  1. It’s interesting how much I’d prefer Cymbeline to be the earlier play! Probably especially as a writer myself, I’ve enjoyed thinking that Shakespeare was experimenting with his new-found “romance” genre as he wrote Pericles and Cymbeline, and then, using what he’d learned from those two rather messy prototypes, he nailed it with The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. Of course, learning an art and perfecting a craft doesn’t always take a straight path, but isn’t it just as likely that Shakespeare’s references to Plutarch could have been a bit of a throwback to his earlier style?

    1. Jean,

      I see where you’re coming from. Here’s where the two sides of my brain duke it out… on the math side, I love the use of word counts, allusions, changes in quantifiable stylistic elements to determine “things” (be they order, dating, influences, and the like). But it’s… well, kind of cold. Rote. Sterile. The literature side of my brain struggles against that, knowing (or at least intuiting) that sometimes life is not as mathematically logical as we’d like it to be.

      The great thing is that there can be no definitive answer (as he didn’t leave any sort of journal or catalog of when he wrote the works). So the debates (even the ones just in my head) can continue and thrive!

  2. I agree that the debates are interesting, and I think it suggests lots more about me than anything else that I’d like to believe that even WS had to practice and learn his chops when tackling something new.

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