The Winter’s Tale:
Magic, Art, and Belief
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,
3.2.144)
Act 5 re-invokes the idea of a “winter’s tale”:
• “The oracle is fulfilled; the King’s daughter is
found; such a deal of wonder is broken out within
this hour that ballad-makers cannot be able to
express it. . . . This news, which is called true, is so
like an old tale that the verity of it is in strong
suspicion.” (2nd Gentleman, 5.2.24-31)
• “Like an old tale still.” (re: the news of Antigones
being torn to pieces by a bear) (3rd Gentleman,
5.2.65)
• “That she [Hermione] is living, / Were it but told
you, should be hooted at / Like an old tale.”
(Paulina, 5.3.115-118)
How is the notion of a “winter’s tale” different
at the end of the play than in its first half?
Why is so much of the action of the final act
(the discovery of Perdita’s identity and
telling of Antigones’s death, with their
accompanying “proofs”; the reconciliation
between Leontes and Polixenes and
Camillo; the reunion and assimilation into
the Sicilian court of Perdita’s adopted
father and brother, the Shepherd and his
son) occur off-stage, narrated by
anonymous “gentlemen”?
The On-Stage Statue of Hermione:
On first reading the play, did you think the
statue of Hermione was:
A) Just a very realistic piece of art?
B) The real-life Hermione pretending to be a
statue?
C) A very realistic piece of art that was
magically turned into a living human
being?
D) You were confused and weren’t sure
what was going on.
E) None of the above.
The On-Stage Statue of Hermione:
Do you think Shakespeare’s intention and the
reaction of his audience at the time to the
statue scene was to see the statue as
A) Just a very realistic piece of art?
B) The real-life Hermione pretending to be a
statue?
C) A very realistic piece of art that was
magically turned into a living human
being?
D) Confusion over what exactly was
happening.
E) None of the above.
In the first act of the play, Paulina is
accused by Leontes of witchcraft:
• “Out / A mankind witch!” (Leontes, 2.3.6566)
• “I’ll ha’ thee burned” (Leontes, 2.3.111).
In the last act of the play, the specter of
witchcraft resurfaces:
•
•
•
•
•
“O there’s magic in thy [the statue’s] majesty, which
has / My evils conjured to remembrance, and /
From thy admiring daughter took the spirits, /
Standing like stone with thee.” (Leontes, 5.3.38-42)
“Do not say ‘tis superstition that / I kneel [before the
statue].” (Perdita, 5.3.43-44)
“It is required/ You do awake your faith; then, all
stand still. / Or those that think it is unlawful
business / I am about, let them depart.” (Paulina,
5.3.94-97)
“Start not; her actions shall be holy / As you hear
my spell is lawful.” (Paulina, 5.3.104-105)
“If this by magic, let it be an art / Lawful as eating.”
(Leontes, 5.3.110-111).
Why this preoccupation with and fear of
accusations of witchcraft?
So what are we witnessing in the final
scene with the statue?
A) An act of the art of witchcraft to transform
and bring to life or make natural
inanimate artifice.
B) An act of the power of faith in the nature
of God’s grace to work miracles.
Who is the most powerful female
character we have seen represented in
the plays we have read this quarter?
A)
B)
C)
D)
E)
Kate in The Taming of the Shrew
The Duchess of York in Richard II
Portia in The Merchant of Venice
Gertrude in Hamlet
Paulina in The Winter’s Tale
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The Winter`s Tale: Magic, Art, and Belief