Earlier this month, when I attended the Wooden O Symposium, I was lucky enough to listen to Nicholas Brush, from the University of Central Oklahoma, present his paper on bromance in Romeo and Juliet, and how a back-to-back-line sequence there, using the phrases “gentlemen” and “very friend,” can be seen as a meta-textual allusion to an earlier play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. It was fascinating (especially when another presenter pointed out the phrase “pure gold” appears in only two plays…those two plays). And of course, it got me thinking–not as straightforwardly as Nick but tangentially–about The Winter’s Tale.
Last month, when Lisa and I were on a weekender vacation in Palm Desert, she read Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, that author’s take on The Taming of the Shrew, one of Hogarth’s series of Shakespeare-based novels (and yes, honey, I’m still waiting for your guest correspondent review). Jeanette Winterson has also written a book, hers based on our play The Winter’s Tale, which she titled The Gap of Time.
Now “gap of time” is a reference to a phrase used in the final two lines of Leontes’ play-closing speech: “this wide gap of time since first / We were disserved” (V.iii.154-5). And looking at the last speech, I was thinking that I had seen it before.
And if I had, I couldn’t place it. Thanks to the search function at OpenSourceShakespeare.org, however, I was able to find it. In Antony and Cleopatra, at the end of the first act, Cleopatra tries to devise something to keep her occupied during “this great gap of time / [Her] Antony is away” (A&C I.v.5-6).
The only problem (well, not only, but more on that in a not-so-wide gap of time) is that I wasn’t thinking of that play. No, I was sure there was another usage of the phrase, within The Winter’s Tale itself. OpenSourceShakespeare, though, says that the phrase “gap of time” only those two plays. Maybe it was the adjective before the phrase…
So I looked for “wide gap” (since there was no way “wide gap of time” would appear in more than two places in The Winter’s Tale if the phrase “gap of time” only occurred once [that would be the other quasi-problem]). And there it was.
In Act Four, Scene One’s chorus by Time, we get
To me or my swift passage that I slide
O’er sixteen years, and leave the growth untried
Of that wide gap, since it is in my power
To o’erthrow law and in one self-born hour
To plant and o’erwhelm custom.
- Winter’s IV.i.4-9 (emphasis mine)
And that is the only other place in the Canon that “wide gap” is used. So that phrase is used twice in the Canon, both in this play, once by Time the other by Leontes, and both about time. [btw, “great gap” is also used in just two plays, the aforementioned Antony and Cleopatra and King Lear, though not about the same subject–time vs. honor]
Is this a metatext by Shakespeare to somehow connect Leontes’ last speech and that weird temporal chorus?
I’m not sure.
It feels–almost–like a direction regarding casting. Should the actor playing Leontes also play Time? And if so, why?
Again, not sure here.