The Winter’s Tale: stage directions

Is it any surprise that in the play with arguably the most famous stage direction ever, we find a down-tick in dialogue-based stage direction? Of course, nothing about The Winter’s Tale surprises me now…

The first stage direction that I found comes in the second scene as Leontes watches and comments upon what he sees as his wife Hermione and Polixenes interact. “But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers” (I.ii.116), he frets. So obviously Hermione and Polixenes must touch. And the fretting must be obvious as well, as Hermione notes, “He something seems unsettled” (I.ii.148). Unsettled? No kidding. He sees (at least in his tortured mind’s eye) more physical interaction: “How she holds up the neb, the bill to him, / And arms her with the boldness of a wife / To her allowing husband” (I.ii.183-5).

In Act Two, Scene One, before Mamillius tells his story, he must be standing, as his mother says, “Nay, come sit down; then on” (II.i.29).

Two scenes later, it seems that Leontes (or one of the men there) must physically attempt to remove Paulina, as she says, “I pray you do not push me” (II.iii.124). Later in the same scene, those men in attendance physically show their allegiance to the king: “We all kneel” (II.iii.152).

In Act Three, Scene Two, the message from the oracle at Delphos must come in a sealed missive: “Break the seals and read” (III.ii.130).

In the problematic final scene, we learn how the revived Hermione physically greets her husband: “She embraces him. / She hangs about his neck” (V.iii.111,112). Within a handful of lines, Paulina directs Perdita to “Kneel” (V.iii.119) to Hermione, and then Hermione to “Turn” (V.iii.120) to see her daughter.

Not really all that much there…

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