In this section:
- Shakespeare’s Language
- Shakespeare’s Sentences
- Shakespeare’s Words
- Shakespeare’s Wordplay
- Shakespeare’s Dramatic Verse
- Implied Stage Action
Shakespeare’s language can create a strong pang of intimidation, even fear, in a large number of modern-day readers. Fortunately, however, this need not be the case. All that is needed to master the art of reading Shakespeare is to practice the techniques of unraveling uncommonly-structured sentences and to become familiar with the poetic use of uncommon words. We must realize that during the 400-year span between Shakespeare’s time and our own, both the way we live and speak has changed. Although most of his vocabulary is in use today, some of it is obsolete, and what may be most confusing is that some of his words are used today, but with slightly different or totally different meanings. On the stage, actors readily dissolve these language stumbling blocks. They study Shakespeare’s dialogue and express it dramatically in word and in action so that its meaning is graphically enacted. If the reader studies Shakespeare’s lines as an actor does, looking up and...
(The entire section is 4644 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Sicily. Island off the southern tip of the Italian peninsula in which the play opens, with Polixenes, the king of Bohemia, visiting his old friend Leontes, the king of Sicily. In Shakespeare’s time, Sicily had a reputation for crimes of jealousy and revenge that Shakespeare used in this play by having Leontes turn against Polixenes when he suspects that his friend is having an affair with his wife. Leontes’ Sicilian heritage—and the play’s insightful analyses of a jealousy so intense that it is mad—puts in context his irrational behavior in rejecting his pregnant wife Hermione and their son Mamilius. Leontes consults the Greek oracle at Delphi and rejects its judgment against his delusions. Following his son’s death, Leontes finally accepts his guilt and undertakes familiar Christian penances, performed with saintly sorrow. The final scene is in a chapel, in which the statue of the supposedly dead Hermione comes alive in a resurrection that restores lost ones, so that the sad tale for winter has a happy ending.
*Bohemia. Mountainous inland country that now forms part of the Czech Republic. The play alludes to Bohemia’s having a seacoast, but it is accessible by water only on rivers. Known as a site of romantic adventure in Shakespeare’s time, Bohemia is a place where a bear eats a man shipwrecked in a storm, shepherds care for an abandoned infant, and young love thrives. Shakespeare...
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The Winter's Tale touches on issues which are as relevant to modern audiences as they were to those of Shakespeare's time. The first issue, the relationship between art and nature, serves as an introduction to a more serious issue, that of the relationship between people who perceive themselves to be of different social classes. The terms of that relationship between art and nature are laid out in the debate between Perdita and Polixenes at the sheep-shearing festival held at the home of the old shepherd. Perdita, who is acting as the hostess of that festival, greets Polixenes and Camillo and gives them flowers. She mentions that the "streak'd gillyvors / (Which some call Nature's bastards)" (IV.iv.82- 83) are more appropriate to the season than the flowers she gives them, but she does not plant those gillyvors in her garden, because she feels their variegated colors result from the art of hybridization practiced by human planters, not from nature. Polixenes replies,
Yet Nature is made better by no mean
But Nature makes that mean; so over that art
Which you say adds to Nature, is an art
That Nature makes. (IV.iv.89-92)
Polixenes's argument is that if the nests birds make and the hives bees create are considered natural because nature provides the birds and bees with the instinct to create those nests and hives, why, then, are the things man creates sometimes considered artificial?...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bieman, Elizabeth. "'By Law and Process of Great Nature . . . Free'd': The Winter's Tale." In William Shakespeare: The Romances, pp. 66-89. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Offers an act by act synopsis of the play, and analyzes the play's primary characters and themes.
Bonjour, Adrien. "Polixenes and the Winter of His Discontent." English Studies 50, No. 2 (1969): 206-12. Compares Polixenes's emotional outburst at discovering Florizel's and Perdita's relationship to Leontes' jealousy.
Burton, Julie. "Folktale, Romance, and Shakespeare." In Studies in Medeival English Romances: Some New Approaches, edited by Derek Brewer, pp. 176-97. Cambridge, England: D. S. Brewer, 1988.
Examines The Winter's Tale as part of tradition of folktale and Middle English romances concerned with the separation and reunion of family members. Burton compares The Winter's Tale with Robert Greene's Pandosto and argues that Shakespeare's play is much closer to the romance tradition.
Charney, Maurice. "The Winter's Tale." In All of Shakespeare, pp. 341-49. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
Provides a brief overview of the structure, plot, and themes of The Winter's Tale.
Colie, Rosalie L. "Perspectives on Pastoral: Romance, Comic and Tragic." In Shakespeare's Living Art, pp. 243-83. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Lloyd Evans, Gareth. The Upstart Crow: An Introduction to Shakespeare’s Plays. London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982. A comprehensive treatment of the dramatic works of William Shakespeare, with major emphasis on critical reviews of the plays. Also discusses the sources from which Shakespeare drew and circumstances surrounding the writing of the plays.
Muir, Kenneth, ed. Shakespeare—The Comedies: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. An anthology of essays by a variety of authors, discussing Shakespeare’s comedies from various points of view. Derek Traversi’s treatment of The Winter’s Tale is mainly concerned with the later scenes of the play and includes an intensive discussion of the characters’ motivations.
Overton, Bill. The Winter’s Tale. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press International, 1989. A critical evaluation of Shakespeare’s play from a wide variety of points of view, including Marxism, feminism, and psychoanalysis. Also discusses previous critical studies of the play.
Sanders, Wilbur. The Winter’s Tale. Boston: Twayne, 1987. A thorough critical evaluation of the play. Also includes information on the work’s stage history and original reception by critics. Sanders also discusses the psychological factors of the play...
(The entire section is 255 words.)