Yesterday, I talked a bit (and a bit scatteredly) on some of the dualities and opposites in The Winter’s Tale. One such subject was the idea that the first half of the play (save for the last, pivotal scene on the Bohemian seacoast) was in the Sicilian palace, and the fourth act (save for a first interlude in the Bohemian palace) was completely outdoors in the Bohemian midsummer, with the final act taking place back in Leontes’ palace. Civilization vs. Nature, court vs. rural. But I also noted that there was a fly in that particular ointment.
In Shakespeare, you’re always going to find dichotomies, oppositions (you know, to be OR NOT to be), that’s not a question. Now, Macbeth is filled with verbal oppositions (so fair and foul a day, etc.). The Winter’s Tale, however, contains some incredible situational oppositions as well.
In The Winter’s Tale, much like in Pericles (but not SO much like Cymbeline), we have a question of protagonist, hero. Who is this play about? If we’re talking main character here, then Leontes is probably your answer.
[EXPLICIT CONTENT, ADULT LANGUAGE AND SOPHOMORIC SEX HUMOR AHEAD… SKIP IF EASILY OFFENDED.]
Eric Partridge, in his study of and dictionary for the bawdy in the Bard, Shakespeare’s Bawdy, has this to say about our play: “Cymbeline in many ways resembles The Winter’s Tale, which is slightly less bawdy but rather more sexual. They are of much the same quantitative order as All’s Well.” (Shakespeare’s Bawdy, Partridge, Eric. New York: Routledge Classics, 2001; page 58).
Well, All’s Well’s got some dirt, but isn’t that dirty. Cymbeline, pretty much the same…let’s see if Partridge is right.
Now, I don’t know how long it’s been, but as long as I can remember, I’ve thought/been told that the order of the last few plays by Shakespeare, all romances, goes Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, and The Tempest (with the fourth romance, Pericles, preceding Cymbeline’s predecessor, Coriolanus). But now I’m discovering that there are some dissenting views.
In The Winter’s Tale, we get another male lover who fears cuckoldry. Leontes follows a line of others: Ford (Merry Wives, completely comic), Claudio (Much Ado, comic with tragic tinges), Othello (just plain tragic), and Posthumus (Cymbeline, ditto). A couple of months back, I wrote a paper on military homosociality and the fear of cuckoldry in Much Ado and Othello. Tomorrow, I deliver a talk on it at the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s Wooden O Symposium (and nervous as hell, to be completely honest with you…but that’s besides the point).
So the timing’s right to take a look at this concept (briefly before I catch my flight)…
The Winter’s Tale has, arguably, the most famous stage direction in history: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” Now, I wasn’t around in Shakespeare’s day, but legend has it that bear-baiting bears were used, or possibly a man in one of the deceased bear-baiting animal skins. Now, in a film, you could actually have him pursued by a bear (though that BBC version opts for the man-in-a-bear-suit route…with one of the most ridiculously fake bear suits I’ve ever seen). But in a theater? With real-life audience members (who you would like not to become late audience members)?
Now, as part of a BBC Radio show, actor David Tennant discussed the problem for “Just a Minute”…pretty entertaining and a great summing up of the issue:
It’s now August and a Friday, which means a new summer blockbuster is being released: The Dark Tower which might be cool (dig Idris Elba, but man, those early reviews have been BRU-tal…anyways…)…but that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today, we take a look at one of the only widely released films of The Winter’s Tale, the BBC Complete Works entry from 1981.
As I’m re-reading The Winter’s Tale (while in my final days in Ashland, watching some really good Shakespeare, and while attempting to write a paper on King Lear with a medical diagnosis of narcissism–the former successfully and happily; the latter…not so much), I’m noticing some words coming up with more frequency than I expected: “fardel” and “bear.”