Time enough at last

No. This title doesn’t mean that I can really get down to work on this blog full-time. Damn. It’s a reference to one of my favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone. But this post has nothing to do with breaking my reading glasses after finding all the books I want to read when I have (you know) time enough at last. No, this still has to do with The Winter’s Tale.

And that choric character of Time.

At least in Pericles, Gower was all over that play, so that when he showed up and said, “Hey, guys, skip a dozen or so years…” Here, in The Winter’s Tale, we have no such choric figure. Just Time who shows up after Act Three ends having taken us to Bohemia, to tell us about our skipping of sixteen years.

How do you present that on stage?

Well, first of all, do you present it before the intermission? After the intermission? Split it?

I mean, you could–perhaps after the following section:

 Your patience this allowing,
I turn my glass and give my scene such growing
As you had slept between. Leontes leaving,
Th’ effects of his fond jealousies so grieving
That he shuts up himself, imagine me,
Gentle spectators, that I now may be
In fair Bohemia.
  • IV.i.15-21

Of course, this is kind of problematic. That would mean that the second half would begin with

 And remember well
I mentioned a son o’ th’ King’s, which Florizel
I now name to you, and with speed so pace
To speak of Perdita, now grown in grace
Equal with wond’ring.
  • IV.i.21-5

Beginning mid-speech would be weird enough, but beginning with a reference to something that never happened (that mention of a son of Polixenes). So that’s a little bizarre…and hard to explain away (of course, it’s hard to explain away even without the speech straddling the intermission…unless Time is a playwright-like figure, one who is actually controlling the action). However, having the second half begin like that might just work to show how Time can make our memories and perception a little less than historical.

OK, so let’s say we do split the difference–which I kind of like–that means we’ve conquered the question of “when?” but there’s one more question that I think also needs answering:


Who is Time? Or rather, who plays Time?

You could–of course–give the role to an actor who plays no other role, or one that plays minor roles throughout the play. As did Peter Wood, the director of a 1960 production: he went one step further and pulled a page from Pericles and presented a dumbshow, complete with an aging Leontes, and growing Florizel and Perdita.

And I like the approach taken by Darko Tresnak at the Old Globe in 2005: a female Time, presented almost as a Virgin Mary in the Pieta, holding a (Chirst-like?) Hermione. I kinda dig that.

So, yeah, you could do with an actor for just that role.

But what if you didn’t?

A couple of days back, I floated the idea of possibly having the actor play Leontes play Time–because of the repeated “wide gap” of time that is rhetorically used. It could work (for those reasons). Now according to the Oxford New Shakespeare’s Critical Reference Edition, the actor playing Leontes could play Time, as could any actor other than those playing the roles of Camillo, Polixenes, Clown Shepherd, Antigonus, or Mariner.

The 1976 Royal Shakespeare Company production directed by Trevor Nunn and John Barton cast the same actor for Time and the bear (actually Time with a bear mask). That could work.

But my mind keeps going back to that Old Globe production. So much so that it gives me an idea.

You could stage it so that Act Three, Scene Two didn’t end with Paulina and Leontes’ exit, but rather with a pitying and seated Paulina rocking a emotionally and physically spent Leontes in her arms (a la that 2005 production’s Pieta). They are left onstage as the third act’s Bohemia scene plays out. The bear–I’m still not completely clear on this–would be conveyed by an actor in a bear skin (not a bear-suit), who would then drape the bear skin over a shivering Leontes. The scene would end, lighting would shift, and Paulina, covering Leontes further on her lap, would become Time, presenting the first 21 lines of that speech. Blackout.

Coming out of the intermission, the lights would come up on an older Paulina, again seated with a bear skin-covered body across her lap. She begins the speech at line 15, so that the section with “Leontes leaving” is repeated. At the world “Leontes,” she would pull off the skin to reveal–now–Hermione on her lap, sixteen years older. Paulina kisses Hermione on the forehead, and the queen wakes, rises, and makes her way toward her exit. Paulina stands and continues the speech. When she hits the Florizel line, Hermione could turn back, and there would be a beat there, as Hermione remembers. As Paulina ends the speech, with Hermione listening all the while, the two exit together, hand in hand.

I think this could work, especially since I’m pretty convinced that the play’s reveal in its final scene is no miracle, merely (?) a revelation…and this would make that more transparent to the audience.

And now that I think about it…this gives me an idea on how to stage the bear…but for that, you’ll have to listen to Sunday’s podcast…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *