The Winter’s Tale:
The Pack of Autolycus
The first half of The Winter’s Tale, we said, is
like a tragedy, or, well, like a Winter’s tale:
• “You have an unspeakable comfort of your
young Prince Mamillius” (Arch., 1.1.35-38)
• “A sad tale’s best for winter.” (Mam, 2.1.25)
• “There was a man . . . / Dwelt by a
churchyard.” (Mam, 2.1.28-31)
• “Commend it [this brat] strangely to some
place, / Where chance may nurse or end it.”
(Leontes, 2.3.160, 181)
• “The Prince, your son . . . / Is dead.”
(Servant, 3.2.140-143)
• “This news is mortal to the Queen.” (Paulina,
When Camillo defends Hermione to
Leontes, saying it were “sin” to accuse her
of adultery, Leontes offers the following
“proofs”: p. 16, 1.2.284-296
What is the significance of Leontes’s
repetition of the word “nothing” (repeated
nine times) in this speech?
What does “nothing” here mean?
The female genital
Without substance
A and C
All of the above
Leontes rather ironically asks Camillo,
Dost think I am so muddy, so unsettled,
To appoint myself in this vexation? Sully
The purity and whiteness of my sheets—
. . . .?
Would I do this? (1.2.325-332)
The answer is, of course, yes.
The tragedy of The Winter’s Tale is that it is
like a sad tale or fictional story:
• Like such fictions, it is made up out of
“nothing” –made up out of Leontes’s
unfounded “jealousy” (1.2.452) and his
deep-seated suspicion of open or frank
female sexuality (O) that together make
him imagine dirty sexuality everywhere
and in everything.
• The tragedy here is akin to a re-enacting or
re-discovering out of “nothing” the fact of
original sin.
• It’s precedent is a previous fiction of a prelapsarian world of boyhood innocence,
imagined in pastoral terms.
• Polixenes to Hermione, 1.2.66-71:
We were as twinn’d lambs that did frisk I’th’sun,
And bleat the one at th’other: what we chang’d
Was innocence for innocence: we knew not
The doctrine of ill-doing, nor dream’d
That any did.
Like Eve in the garden, women in this very
male pre-lapsarian vision are accused of
being at fault for man’s fall from innocence:
By this we gather
You have tripped since.
O my most sacred lady,
Temptations have since then been born to’s, for
In those unfledged days was my wife a girl:
Your precious self had then not crossed the eyes
Of my young playfellow. (1.2.75-79)
This even though Hermione speaks with dignity
in her defense, and another court woman,
Paulina, dares to speak freely in accusing the
king of a “tyrannous passion” (2.3.26), and
even threatens with violence those that would
silence her:
“Force her hence.”
“Let him that makes but trifles of his eyes
First hand me.” (p. 36; 2.3.60-62).
Death is literally the result of man’s original
sin. Who does NOT die or is thought to be
dead as a result of Leontes’s fall into sin?
Gesturing toward Comedy
• Stage Direction: Exit, pursued by a bear
• Antigonus: “I’ll pawn the little blood which I
have left, / To save the innocent.” (2.3.1645)
• Shepherd [to his son, the Clown]:
“. . . thou met’st with things dying, I with
things new born.” (3.3.111-113)
“’Tis a lucky day, boy, and we’ll do good
deeds on‘t.” (3.3.137-138)
Enter Time as Chorus: pp. 57-584.2.1-32
Shakespeare’s source for his play was
Robert Greene’s Pandosto (1588), titled in
Pandosto. The Triumph of Time. Wherein
is discovered by a pleasant History, that
although by the means of sinister fortune,
Truth may be concealed, yet by Time, in
spite of fortune it is most manifestly
Why does Shakespeare make Time a
character in his play?
Shakespeare also adds another
character to his play not in his source:
Who is Autolycus?
A) A former servant to Florizel
B) A stealer of sheets
C) A peddler of trinkets and ballad singer
D) B and C
E) All of the above
Why does Autolycus get so much stage time
in Act 4 of the play?
• Autolycus’s first set of songs are “When
Daffodils begin to peer” and “But shall I go
Mourn?” (pp. 60-61; 4.3; #69 and #8 on
• Though a rogue, he enters like a breath of
fresh air, singing of “the sweet of the year”
(spring, the time of rebirth after winter)
How is it significant that, Autolycus steals
sheets: “My traffic is sheets” (p. 61;
Autolycus as “innocent” rogue produced by the
court but vital to the countryside (and court):
• Autolycus has been born of the court world inhabited
by the likes of Leontes and even Polixenes and
Florizel, whom Autolycus once served (p. 61;
• But he is now “out of service” like so many retainers
of the 17th century – let go in cost-saving measures,
creating a growing population of itinerant wagelaborers, men and women who necessarily moved
from job to job, place to place, fitting their work to
the needs of the moment, sometimes working,
sometimes stealing, sometimes begging. These are
make-shift men, shifting with the changing times.
• Later in this same scene (4.3), when
Autolycus pretends to the shepherd Clown
that he has been robbed, he describes the
robber as himself, as
“once a servant of the Prince. . . . since an
ape-bearer, then a process-server, a bailiff:
then he compassed a motion [puppet show] of
the Prodigal Son, and married a tinker’s wife
within a mile where my land and living lies;
and, having flown over many knavish
professions, he settled only in rogue. Some
call him Autolycus.”
• So the court world has quite literally, in letting
Autolycus go, produced the shape-shifting
trickster of this play, a man who lives in a
fallen condition, but who turns it creatively to
his profit.
• And, quite significantly, one of the ways
Autolycus profits is through stealing sheets—
reminding us of the bed sheets Leontes
wrongly imagined had been sullied by the
guilty “stolen” sex of his wife and friend.
• Those wild imaginings by Leontes of sullied
sheets, one might say, produce real sheets
that get stolen by Autolycus.
The Ballad Sheet
• And they produce another kind of sheet
Autolycus traffics in—ballad broadsheets,
which Autolycus, in his guise of peddler,
sells along with other tantalizing trinkets:
“ribbon, glass, pomander, brooch, tablebook, ballad, knife, tape, glove, shoe-tie,
bracelet, horn-ring,” etc. etc. (4.4.602-04)
• The shepherds in their innocence think all
these trashy trinkets are wondrous
valuables, especially the ballads: pp. 75;
• Ballads belong with the other trinkets Autolycus
sells because they were equally cheap—sold only
for a penny—and were pretty artifacts that could be
pasted up on cottage walls.
• Their art was crude but decorative, like the swirling
letter of the black-letter or gothic font their texts
were printed in.
• And they were sung to familiar tunes that invited
everyone to join in and enjoy the song, whether it
told of some sensational happening, such as a
monstrous birth, or other topical event, or simply
tales of marriage, love, and sex.
• All were eagerly listened to, bought, and sung by
their audiences (e.g. “Get you Hence” CD #28)
• Autolycus’s claim that he has a ballad “to a
very doleful tune of how a usurer’s wife
was brought to bed of twenty money-bags
at a burden” (p. 75; 44.263-265) is but a
slight exaggeration of some of the
sensational news stories that circulated in
ballad form as “true.”
• see Pepys 1.44-45, “The Lamenting Lady”
• Many such ballads also sing of bawdy
love, i.e., sex, with frank and exuberant
embrace, even if such sex occurs outside
of the marriage bond.
• See “A Pleasant Jigg Betwixt Jack and his
Mistress” (Pepys 3.14)
• Autolycus exults in how he captivates the
senses of his listeners when he sings such
ballads and can thus filtch their purses:
My clown, who wants but something to be a
reasonable man, grew so in love with the
wenches’ song, that he would not stir his
pettitoes till he had both tune and words, which
so drew the rest of the herd to me that all their
other senses stuck in ears: you might have
pinched a placket, it was senseless; ‘twas
nothing to geld a codpiece of a purse; I would
have filed keys off that hung in chains. No
hearing, no feeling, but my sir’s song, and
admiring the nothing of it (p. 88; 4.4. 609-618)
Why the focus on such ballad sheets with
their imaginative, vibrant—even sexually
vibrant—fictions that steal the senses of
the listeners with their art, their stories,
and their songs?
• Ballads recover for the audience and the
world of the play what has been tainted and
thrown out of the court of Leontes: false
imaginings or “nothings”
• Ballads show the power of the imagination
to create fictions that may not be true—may
belong to a fallen world of chicanery and
deception—but which have value in their
very ability to stimulate the imagination in
ways that don’t provoke guilt but rather
entertain, enliven, and bring people
• This is the value of Autolycus, trickster,
peddler, and ballad seller, and it is no
coincidence that it is Autolycus who
functions in the play as the intermediary
between people, between the lower order
world of the country, where homespun
people live, and the world of the courts in
both Bohemia and Sicilia.
• Like his ballad songs, Autolycus brings
people of all shapes and sizes together.

The Winter`s Tale Autolycus PPT 2