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The Winters Tale

NutsyClassic FilmsPresents:

William ShakespearesAn Introduction

HistoryThe Winter's Tale is a play by William Shakespeare, originally published in the First Folio of 1623. Although it was grouped among the comedies, some modern editors have re-labeled the play as one of Shakespeare's late romances. Some critics consider it to be one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", because the first three acts are filled with intense psychological drama, while the last two acts are comedic and supply a happy ending.

GenreThe Winter's Tale is one of Shakespeare's final plays. Composed and performed around 1610-11, it joins Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Tempest in the list of genre-defying later plays that are usually referred to as romances, or tragicomedies. Each of these productions has a happy ending that sets them apart from earlier histories and tragedies, but each emphasizes the danger and power of evil in the world, and death, while never finally victorious, is an ever-present force in the stories. In The Winter's Tale, we are given a joyous ending, but the playwright demands that we endure the savage madness of Leontes, and the deaths of three innocent people before we reach the happy resolution.

SourcesThere is no one source for The Winter's Tale, although Shakespeare relies heavily on the works of Richard Greene, a London writer in the 1580s and '90s. From Pandosto, Greene's 1588 prose romance, Shakespeare borrowed most of the characters and events of the first three acts; and the character and habits of Autolycus seem to be drawn from Greene's pamphlet accounts of criminals in Elizabethan London. A play called "The Winter's Tale" would immediately indicate to contemporary audiences that the work would present an "idle tale", an old wives' tale not intended to be realistic and offering the promise of a happy ending.

Main CharactersLeontes The King of Sicily, and the childhood friend of the Bohemian King Polixenes. Hermione The virtuous and beautiful Queen of Sicily. Perdita The daughter of Leontes and Hermione. Polixenes The King of Bohemia, and Leontes's boyhood friendFlorizel Polixenes's only son and heir.

Other CharactersCamillo An honest Sicilian nobleman.Paulina A noblewoman of Sicily.Autolycus A roguish peddler, vagabond, and pickpocket. Shepherd An old and honorable sheep-tender.Antigonus Paulina's husband. He is given the unfortunate task of abandoning the baby Perdita on the Bohemian coast. Hes eventually eaten by a bear.Clown The Shepherd's buffoonish son, and Perdita's adopted brother.

The StoryKing Leontes of Sicilia begs his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, to extend his visit to Sicilia. Polixenes protests that he has been away from his kingdom for nine months, but after Leontes' pregnant wife, Hermione, pleads with him he relents and agrees to stay a little longer. Leontes, meanwhile, has become possessed with jealousy--convinced that Polixenes and Hermione are lovers, he orders his loyal retainer, Camillo, to poison the Bohemian king. Instead, Camillo warns Polixenes of what is afoot, and the two men flee Sicilia immediately, and return to Bohemia.

The StoryFurious at their escape, Leontes throws his wife in prison, and sends to the Oracle of Delphi for what he is sure will be confirmation of his suspicions. In prison, the queen gives birth to a girl, and her loyal friend Paulina brings the baby to the king, in the hopes that the sight of the child will soften his heart. He only grows angrier, however, and orders Lord Antigonus to take the baby girl and abandon it in some desolate place. While Antigonus is gone, the answer comes from Delphi--Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, and Leontes will have no heir until his lost daughter is found.

The Story ContinuedAs this news is revealed, word comes that Leontes' son, Mamillius, has died of a wasting sickness brought on by the accusations against his mother. His wife, meanwhile, falls down fainting, and is carried away by Paulina, who subsequently reports the queen's death to her heartbroken and repentant husband. Antigonus meanwhile abandons the baby on the Bohemian coast, reporting that Hermione appeared to him in a dream and bade him name the girl Perdita and leave gold and other tokens on her person. Shortly thereafter, Antigonus is killed by a bear, and Perdita is found and raised by a kindly Shepherd.

Time PassesSixteen years pass, and the son of Polixenes, Prince Florizel, falls in love with Perdita.However, they are thwarted in their love by his father, and so, with Camillo and Autolycus, Florizel sails off to meet with the still-grieving King Leontes.The King is overjoyed to meet the son of his estranged friend, and after the Shepherd tells everyone his story of how Perdita was found, Leontes realizes that she is his daughter. A statue of Queen Hermione has been recently finished. The sight of his wife's form makes Leontes distraught, but then, to everyone's amazement, the statue comes to life--it is Hermione, restored to life. As the play ends, Paulina and Camillo are engaged, and the whole company celebrates the miracle.

Memorable Quotes"You pay a great deal too dear for what's given freely". - William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 1.1"Two lads that thought there was no more behind / But such a day to-morrow as to-day, / And to be boy eternal."- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 1.2"We were as twinned lambs that did frisk i' the sun, / And bleat the one at the other: what we changed / Was innocence for innocence; we knew not / The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dreamed That any did."- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 1.2"A sad tale's best for winter: I have one / Of sprites and goblins."- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 2.1"It is a heretic that makes the fire, / Not she who burns in 't."- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 2.3"I am a feather for each wind that blows."- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 2.3"What's gone and what's past help / Should be past grief."- William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 3.2"Exit, pursued by a bear."William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 3.3To unpathed waters, undreamed shores. William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, 3.3

The Winters Tale on FilmDue to the difficult nature of the plays dramatic structure, there have been few attempts to film The Winters Tale.The first film of The Winters Tale was a silent picture made in 1910.Since then, there have been four television adaptations, and only one feature film version made, in 1967.There has also been a half-hour stop-motion animated adaption made expressly for children.However, The Winters Tale has proven popular with theater audiences, and it is revived regularly on stages around the world.

A Nutsy The Squirrel ProductionCopyright 2013 Oak Hills Media CenterAll Rights Reserved.


MUSICWinter, Snow Various Artists; Classical Study Music, Autumn Hill Records, 2010.

Winter, SnowVarious ArtistsClassical Study Music, track 10, 42010New Age230963.3