Written after Cymbeline (pr. c. 1609-1610, pb. 1623) and before The Tempest (pr. 1611, pb. 1623), The Winter’s Tale is as hard to classify generically as is the fully mature dramatic genius of its author. Partaking of the elements of tragedy, the play yet ends in sheer comedy, just as it mingles elements of realism and romance. William Shakespeare took his usual freedom with his source, Robert Greene’s euphuistic romance Pandosto: The Triumph of Time (1588). Time remains the most crucial element in the play’s structure, its clearest break with the pseudo-Aristotelian unities. The effect of time on Hermione, moreover, when the statue is revealed to be wrinkled and aged, heightens the pathos and credibility of the triumphant discovery and recognition scene. To allow that final scene its full effect, Shakespeare wisely has Perdita’s discovery and recognition reported to the audience secondhand in act 5, scene 2. In keeping with the maturity of Shakespeare’s dramatic talent, the poetic style of this play is clear, unrhetorical, sparse in its imagery as well as metaphorically sharp. Verse alternates with prose as court characters alternate with country personages.
Mamillius tells his mother, who asks him for a story, that “a sad tale’s best for winter.” Ironically the little boy’s story is never told; the entrance of Leontes interrupts it, and Hermione’s son, his role as storyteller once defined,...
(The entire section is 1085 words.)
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