By T. Hangari
(Note to the reader: this work was prepared for a group of colleagues with whom I was studying The Tempest).
I: Plot – Summary of the Events of The Winter’s Tale
Given that we have already studied the plot of the Tempest both individually and in concert, I find it of no use to recount the events of the play here. I will, however, provide a brief summary of the plot of The Winter’s Tale by way of supplemented quotation from Simon Forman, in his Booke of Plaies and Notes thereof per formans for Common Pollicie (square brackets mine):
“In The Winter’s Tale […] observe how Leontes the King of Sicilia was overcome with jealousy of his wife [Hermione] with the King of Bohemia [Polixenes], his friend that came to see him, and how he contrived his death and would have had his cupbearer [Camillo] to have poisoned, who gave the King of Bohemia warning thereof and fled with him to Bohemia.
Remember also how he [Leontes] sent [noblemen] to the oracle of Apollo [to determine Hermione’s guilt], and the answer of Apollo, that she was guiltless and that the King was jealous, etc., and how except the child [a daughter who Hermione gave birth to after being accused of adultery, and who was subsequently sent away by Leontes, who ordered a nobleman, Antigonus, to let her die on a desert shore] was found again that was lost the King should die without issue, for the child [named ‘Perdita’] was carried into Bohemia and there laid in a forest [by the sympathetic Antigonus] and brought up by a shepherd. And the King of Bohemia his son [Prince Florizel, in disguise as a shepherd] married that wench, and how they fled [due to Polixenes and Camillo, disguised, spying on Florizel and disapproving of his marriage to an apparent shepherd’s daughter] into Sicilia to Leontes, and the shepherd having showed the letter of the nobleman by whom Leontes sent [away] that child, and the jewels found about her, she was known to be Leontes’ daughter, and was then sixteen years old.
Remember also the rogue [Autolycus] that came in all tattered like colt-pixie [mischievous hobgoblin], and how he feigned him[self] sick and to have been robbed of all that he had, and how he cozened the poor man of all his money, and after came to the sheep-shear with a pedlar’s pack and there cozened them [shepherd and his family] again of all their money, and how he changed apparel with the King of Bohemia his son [so Florizel could disguise himself on the way to Sicilia], and then how he turned courtier, etc. […]”
Forman does not mention a few salient points.
Leontes, who groundlessly suspects his heavily pregnant wife Hermione of being engaged in an affair, tries her for treason. He denies the oracle’s exoneration of her, leading to the death of his son Mamillius, the Prince of Sicilia, followed by that of Hermione. It is only after these tragedies that he begins to grieve and understand his error.
Perdita returns to a loving father, after sixteen years of separation, in a deeply emotional scene. Her adoptive family, the Shepherd and Clown, also appear.
Paulina, the wife of Antigonus (the unfortunate nobleman killed by a bear whilst in Bohemia), is steadfast in professing Hermione’s innocence, and is fiercely critical of Leontes. She later has a statue of Hermione erected, and at the end of the play, through some magic, brings it to life so that Leontes can be reunited with his love.
II: Plot – The Similitude of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale
What unites the plots of these two late romances is the topic of this section. Close analysis of both plays reveals that they can be arranged into the following common elements:
A. Conflict between men of royal rank.
B. A betrayal by one close family member of another.
C. Conspiracy to murder a high-ranking nobleman.
D. A noble female child being sent to live in exile.
E. A shipwreck.
F. Festive celebration.
G. A marriage between the matured, exiled noble female and a prince.
H. Irredeemable antagonists.
I. Intervention by magical or supernatural characters.
J. Travelling between different lands.
A discussion of a sample of these elements will show that the narrative parallels outlined are veracious.
A. Conflict between men of royal rank.
Prospero is involved in a conflict with two men of royal rank. His brother, Antonio, and the King of Naples, Alonso. Leontes, King of Sicilia, is also involved in a conflict with Polixenes, King of Bohemia.
B. A betrayal by one close family member of another.
Prospero and Miranda are betrayed by Prospero’s brother – Miranda’s uncle, Antonio. This is not precisely analogous to the injustice present in The Winter’s Tale. In the latter case, Hermione is betrayed by her husband on manufactured charges, and therefore wronged without bearing any personal responsibility for being so wronged. Contrarily, there is a reasonable case to be made that Prospero was, at least partly, responsible for his downfall even by his own account. Aside from the differing content of the betrayals, there is also their form to consider. Prospero’s sudden ejection from Milan is the result of political intrigues between Antonio and Alonso, about which he knew nothing. Hermione, on the other hand, is tried for treason and therefore receives the privilege of defending herself. There is a further difference in the predictable consequences of each of these forms of betrayal. Antonio and Alonso were fully aware that they were banishing Prospero and his daughter to what they believed to be certain death, or otherwise permanent neutralisation of their persons. Conversely, Leontes cannot have been aware that Hermione would immediately die during the trial itself, even if a conviction would have meant death. We may therefore say that Leontes bears less responsibility for his wife’s tragic end than Antonio and Alonso do for an action they believed would be the end of Prospero and his child, in spite of the fact that in the one case, the betrayed actually died, while in the other, the betrayed miraculously survived.
C. Conspiracy to murder a high-ranking nobleman.
Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo together seek to violently murder Prospero and usurp his de facto dictatorship on the island. Camillo is ordered by Leontes to poison Polixenes – on the false charge of adultery with Hermione. While these two occurrences are superficially similar, they present several internal variations when analysed in detail. Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo are of very low social station, and stereotypically present themselves as such by their drunkenness and crass speech, aside from their nominal roles as slave, butler and jester. Indeed, Caliban’s simplification of his language from verse to prose in the company of the other two demonstrates this clearly. They are also motivated by a desire for power. This is different from Camillo, a distinguished gentleman who acts on the basis of his oaths rather than destructive passions. Furthermore, Camillo pursues the moral course of deciding not to murder Polixenes by choice, and warns him before they flee. The only reason The Tempest’s conspiring trio do not carry out their murder is because of their incompetence, and Prospero foiling their ill-conceived scheme. We may see a similarity between the base motivations of both Leontes and the trio. The former believes that he must take violent action out of jealousy and vengeance, while the trio act on a desire both for vengeance (in Caliban’s case) and a hunger for supremacy. We may further regard these drives to be on the same iniquitous plane, even if they are not identical.
D. A noble female child being sent to live in exile.
Miranda lives and grows up on an island away from her native Milan. Perdita lives and grows up in Bohemia, away from her native Sicilia. Moreover, both live in comparative squalor to what would have been lavish early lifestyles, and are of similar ages once they have grown, Miranda being fourteen and Perdita sixteen. Nevertheless, some qualifications should be made to differentiate the two cases. Miranda lives on a deserted island with only two other characters she interacts with more or less regularly, whereas Perdita lives in a poor community in the countryside, with some social interchange with visitors and others, though her immediate ‘family,’ consists of just two others (the Old Shepherd and his clownish son), as does Miranda’s. Still, Miranda maintains a noble contact in the form of her father and can recall the luxury she used to enjoy. In Perdita’s case, we cannot be sure that she remembers anything about her early life, given the speed at which she was thrown out of Sicilia. Moreover, her only meaningful contact with the aristocracy occurs later in her life, in the form of Prince Florizel, yet even then he is disguised in order to obscure that fact. Perdita is therefore probably much more disconnected from aristocratic practice than Miranda.
Quite apart from the elements of the plot contained in the narrative construction of the play, there are also some structural similarities between The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale as regards performance. Namely, both plays use a considerable quantity of music and song, the latter more so than the former, with Act 4 containing no less than six songs by my count.
In the interests of time and equal attention to all parts of the plays under consideration, this marks the end of my analysis of plot, though a similar level of detail could be applied in analysing each of the other plot elements mentioned and may at some other time be completed.
III: Characters – of The Winter’s Tale
Having enumerated the most vital of characters in The Winter’s Tale in section I, the undertaking that follows shall be to explain their qualities further and then engage in comparison with The Tempest.
Leontes, King of Sicilia
Perhaps the main protagonist of the play, Leontes’ first appearance in Act 1 Scene 2 demonstrates his talent as a host and his essential kindness. However, between becoming suspicious of Hermione later in the scene, and until Act 3 when she and his son Mamillius die, he is presented as nothing other than a paranoid, demanding and petulant ruler who alienates all at his court (the majority happen to be convinced of Hermione’s innocence, while Leontes remains in the minority). Despite this, Leontes undergoes a great transformation in Act 3, accepts responsibility for his actions and engages in severe repentance and grieving, until he is reunited with both Perdita and Hermione in Act 5.
Polixenes, King of Bohemia
A fairly bland character. As a friend of Leontes since childhood, he is horrified to hear about the allegation of adultery against him, along with the plot to murder him, and promptly flees. He takes a less important role for rest of the duration of the play until he finds his son, Florizel, fraternising with Perdita and reprimands him severely, hinting at a short temper. Polixenes does appear in the final scene, and we can assume he is reconciled with the other characters by that time.
Hermione, Queen of Sicilia
Throughout the play, Hermione appears as a paragon of traditional femininity while maintaining a palpable internal and external strength. She is loyal to Leontes, forgiving and loving, as well as a caring mother. Yet, she is able to display bravery, confidently defending herself at trial. She is also key to the movement of the plot.
Perdita, Princess of Sicilia
Following from her mother, she is beautiful and innocent but does not get to speak very much. Her primary function exists in her relationship with Florizel, and studying her independently is not particularly interesting.
Paulina, wife of a Sicilian Nobleman
The most impressive female character in the play. She does not hesitate to confront powerful male characters, including Leontes, and is notably polemical. Unrivalled in her respect for Hermione, she is perhaps her most effective advocate, and turns out to be one of the most intelligent characters in the play insofar as she predicts and tries to pre-empt the terrible consequences of Leontes’ initial actions. It is perhaps for this reason that Leontes swears an oath to her, promising not to get married without her consent, in an odd reversal of gender roles. She is also the only magical character in the play, having the power to bring a realistic statue of Hermione to life.
Florizel, Prince of Bohemia
A young man more interested in love than conforming to social standards, he is more than willing to take Perdita’s hand when he thinks her a shepherd. In disguising himself over a long period as Doricles, he shows humility and purity of heart. He is probably one of the more righteous characters in the play.
Camillo, Sicilian Nobleman
Camillo is an honest and diligent man, who distinguishes himself as an intelligent operator in the courts of both Polixenes and Leontes. He is one of the first to state his scepticism with regard to Leontes’ irrational fear of Hermione’s unfaithfulness, and follows his conscience rather than the maniacal order to kill Polixenes. Steadfast in his moral principles, he assists Florizel and Perdita, advising them to escape to Sicilia, despite being in service to Polixenes. Hence, while he may defy the traditional mode of following royal orders, he does so out of moral duty, and helps actively to facilitate the play’s positive conclusion.
Autolycus, a Rogue
With a name that translates to ‘the wolf himself,’ Autolycus is an unapologetic criminal, able to happily take from the very poorest in the social hierarchy, consisting of the Old Shepherd and his son, as well as the richest. Ironically, he inadvertently ends up helping the poor family by directing them to join Florizel and Perdita in Sicilia. He formerly served Prince Florizel in some high-status capacity.
Note that this is not an exhaustive list of the characters that appear in The Winter’s Tale, but rather my selection of those most purposeful for the part that follows.
IV: Characters – The Similitude of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale
This section shall concern those characters in both plays that can be best aligned in personality, position and development.
Prospero as an Enigma
Trying to produce a concrete link between Prospero and one of the characters of The Winter’s Tale presents some challenges. Chief among these is that Prospero himself is such a synthesis of varied traits that the potential for comparison with nearly every character is endless. For instance, we may attempt to align Prospero best with Leontes. Both are the apparent main protagonists of their respective plays, yet, their position in the plot varies immensely. Leontes is never actually betrayed, but Prospero is. Should this bring him in closer proximity to Hermione? If we pursue that comparison, it will likely eventuate in the admission that Hermione cannot be said to have the same temperament as Prospero, nor is she ever thrust into a similar position of abandonment – instead she is always believed morally pure by the entire court of Leontes, with the exception of Leontes himself, though even that changes by Act 3 of the play. Perhaps Prospero could be compared with Polixenes, another important royal, as one who is wronged unjustly and has a short temper. Yet Polixenes never loses his high status, a key part of Prospero’s development. All of this confusion has proceeded without introducing the understanding of Prospero as a magician, in which respect he can only be compared with Paulina, but this does not even begin to help shed light on how he uses his magic to force other beings to carry out his will. If this comparative analysis is to be based upon the personality, position and development of characters, it seems that we will not find a significant or helpful link for Prospero that involves all of the abovementioned categories. Rather, it seems that Prospero is unique insofar as characters from The Winter’s Tale can only be compared with a few of his attributes and not his whole self.
She is evidently parallel to Perdita. They are of similar ages, are forced to leave their homes, are of noble lineage, live in poor conditions, marry wealthy princes, and are traditionally feminine in portrayal, being primarily kind and emotional characters. Neither of them is a particularly important character in terms of plot: both receive relatively few lines. In terms of the minor differences between them, it is possible to assert that Miranda is more powerful and confident than Perdita, as she is courageous enough to reprimand her powerful father and defies his wishes in seeing Ferdinand and trying to assist him. Perdita does not appear so assertive.
Antonio and Sebastian
The best analogue for Antonio and Sebastian, in The Winter’s Tale, is probably Autolycus. This is because of their status as ‘irredeemable antagonists,’ mentioned in part II on plot. These characters are completely unapologetic about the evil in which they have indulged and remain selfish until the end. The one significant difference may be that Autolycus professes this candidly to the audience, revelling in his immorality, whereas Antonio and Sebastian are more secretive. The pair’s silence at the end of The Tempest is open to interpretation.
Leontes is most like Alonso. Both cause a rival to flee to a different land, both are kings, and both come to regret the actions they took and become truly repentant about them. The content of these characters is therefore more or less the same, though we do not ever seem to see Alonso’s more abrasive side in the same way that we can observe that of Leontes between Act 1 Scene 2 and Act 3 of The Winter’s Tale. It is also true that both, though they grieve and develop, never permanently lose anything of importance, like family, but recover what they have lost after having learnt their lessons.
Closest to Florizel. Both are princes, both end up marrying the noble women who have been living in exile. Their personalities are similar; essentially, the pair are eloquent, righteous and loving. But regardless of these facts, they are separated by two main qualities. First, one works against the wishes of their father (Florizel), while the other does not. Second, one may have been coerced into love, by magic or otherwise (Ferdinand), while the other has not been forced to love in any way.
As experienced courtiers of renown, little separates Camillo and Gonzalo. Aside from the honesty, wisdom and kindness that both display, they are also clearly guided by a moral compass, which sometimes differs from the demands of authority. Camillo will not poison Polixenes, in the same way that Gonzalo will not send away Prospero without his books, provisions and garments. Although some superficial differences in behaviour can be found between the two – for instance, Camillo is slightly more ethically responsible in refusing to do wrong, going so far as to abandon his country for over a decade, while Gonzalo takes no such extreme action – they are still pure characters at the core.
Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano
Once more we are presented with a medley of different character traits which make it difficult to establish clear comparisons. There are no slaves in The Winter’s Tale, the closest parallel would be the multiple servants who attend the royalty in the play. The Clown and Trinculo may be compared, though the former is certainly of higher moral status than the latter, to the extent that they are not as similar in content as they are in form. Caliban, with his unique heritage and colonised condition has no real likeness in The Winter’s Tale. Stephano does not seem to be easily comparable to any of the major characters in The Winter’s Tale either. If we are to reduce the attributes of these characters down to being of low rank, then perhaps we can make some comparisons. The Old Shepherd, the Clown etc. are virtuous, and this is perhaps recognised by the fact that they gain the title of gentlemen by the end of the play, indicating their basic goodness. This is not the case for the low-ranking characters of The Tempest.
It is difficult to produce a comparison for Ariel due to him being a supernatural creature. In terms of his simple moralism, he may be compared with the Clown. If we seek to treat him as part of a metaphysical plane, beyond material reality, then we may compare him with the character of Time.
V: Themes of The Winter’s Tale and their Correspondence with Themes of The Tempest
The motor of the entire plot of The Winter’s Tale is the jealousy of one man: Leontes. One of the interesting characteristics of this emotion is that it intersects various levels of Leontes’ existence: his marriage, his friendship and even his status as a ruler.
This can be explored further by looking at what Polixenes says in reference to his thanks for the hospitality shown him in Sicilia:
“Nine changes of the watery star hath been
The shepherd’s note since we have left our throne
Without a burden: time as long again
Would be filled up, my brother, with our thanks;
And yet we should, for perpetuity,
Go hence in debt: and therefore, like a cipher,
Yet standing in rich place, I multiply
With one ‘we thank you’ many thousands more
That go before it.” (I.2.I-9)
This mention of a “debt,” so exceedingly large such that it cannot be paid, is likely the cause of Leontes’ sudden schizophrenic suspicion – the “debt,” perhaps being seen by Leontes as a cryptic reference by Polixenes to his non-existent crime. At any rate, this quotation indicates that hospitality is not merely a matter of generosity, but contains some form of economic or social calculation, and consequently is somehow competitive. Leontes’ best friend, Polixenes, is therefore not merely a friend, but a rival, creating a sense of insecurity for both.
How can we understand this given the themes of The Tempest? Jealousy certainly plays an important role: for one thing, why did Antonio overthrow Prospero? Aside from the assumed hunger for power, can we not ascribe some jealous motive to one charged with the responsibilities of leadership without receiving the full benefits of its title and ceremony? There is a serious argument to be made that Prospero was selfish to maintain his title as Duke while taking little to no practical role in governing his dukedom. Similarly, why does Prospero take punitive action against his persecutors? It is quite possible that he only wants revenge. But if he is truly uninterested in “worldly ends,” why would he be so eager to regain his former position? Is there not some jealousy in his motives? On the island itself, we find one of the clearest examples of a jealous character in the form of Caliban. He is, of course, victimised, and his envy of Prospero may be partly justified, but this does not change the fact that he is jealous. Caliban is unhappy with Prospero’s position as ruler and conveys this plainly. He mourns the possibility of having been his “own king.”
Redemption and Forgiveness
The Winter’s Tale concludes with what can only be described as a happy ending, whereby the troubles of the characters, irrespective of their faults, are resolved with impunity after short-lived grief.
“There was casting up of eyes,
holding up of hands, with countenances of such
distraction that they were to be known by garment,
not by favour. Our king, being ready to leap out of
himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that
joy were now become a loss, cries ‘O, thy mother,
thy mother!’ then asks Bohemia forgiveness; then
embraces his son-in-law; then again worries he his
daughter with clipping her; now he thanks the old
shepherd, which stands by like a weather-bitten
conduit of many kings’ reigns. I never heard of such
another encounter, which lames report to follow it
and undoes description to do it.” (5.2.46-55)
In the above quotation, one can see how all the decent characters of the play are joined together, in a wondrous display of mercy, forgiveness and ultimately love. This cuts across the classes of characters and excuses the moral implications of their actions in favour of sentimental unity.
This is reminiscent of the final scene of The Tempest, where the recently shipwrecked and residents of the island are gathered together, and compassion prevails over vengeance. But the same reconciliation does not seem to occur. What do Antonio and Sebastian think about all of this? What about Caliban? The answer is wholly ambiguous. The only certainty is that Prospero has decided to limit himself to the punishment he has already given his prisoners. In The Winter’s Tale, the process of redemption seems to be more collective.
Nature and Nurture
In The Winter’s Tale, one of the key tests for the conflict between nature and nurture is the character of Perdita. By nature, she comes from a royal womb – of a virtuous woman no less. By nurture, she has been raised all her life by a shepherd and his son. It is under these circumstances that Prince Florizel finds himself deeply attracted to her – but what is the part of her existence which dominates? The natural, noble part of her being, or the humble goodness that has been nurtured into her by the poor kind family with which she lives? Some indication of the answer is given by these lines:
“This is the prettiest low-born lass that ever
Ran on the green-sward: nothing she does or seems
But smacks of something greater than herself,
Too noble for this place.” (4.4.I56-I59)
Polixenes here suggests that something about Perdita is superior to the environment in which she lives or has been nurtured. In brief, this implies that nature is more important than nurture as a determinant of one’s characteristics, as nature supersedes nurture in appearance. This is affirmed in the following quotation:
“the majesty of the
creature in resemblance of the mother, the affection
of nobleness which nature shows above her breeding,
and many other evidences proclaim her with all
certainty to be the king’s daughter.” (5.2.35-40)
Once more, nature is what defines Perdita’s character. She has some innate disposition to “nobleness,” which is not a product of her upbringing by a good family but the product of her birth.
This theme also clearly exists within The Tempest. Miranda does play a similar role to Perdita, but perhaps more explicitly in this case. The test of nature and nurture in The Tempest is carried out with not one participant but two: Miranda and Caliban. Both have presumably been nurtured by the same father (at least initially), the same influence, who has taught them the same language etc., but they manifest wildly different life outcomes, the one being compassionate and free, the other being enslaved and turning evermore bitter. The explanation from Prospero is nature – Caliban is
“‘a born devil, on whose nature/Nurture can never stick.’ (4.I.179-I80)
At first sight, it therefore seems that in The Tempest, too, nature predominates. But Miranda has an interesting observation of her own, in relation to Antonio’s crime against his brother:
“Good wombs have borne bad sons.” (I.2.I20)
Antonio and Prospero were also born from the same mother, but one of them turned out bad, and the other ostensibly good. But is the difference between them so clear? If we hold fast to the predominance of nature, then they are either both good, which seems implausible, or they are both bad, which is far more plausible based on popular readings of the play. Nevertheless, Miranda’s statement offers multiple interpretations, not confined to ones asserting the primacy of nature. On the one hand, she could be claiming that nature is indeed essential, in acknowledging such a thing as a “good womb,” but that there is a margin for error in nature’s operation. On the other hand, she could be suggesting that nature is meaningless: a womb has no influence on the quality of the son, but rather the son’s character forms independently. If we are to proceed even further, we could claim that Miranda’s statement is itself confused, as whether “good wombs,” and “bad sons,” refer to natural qualities, or qualities borne out of personalities created in social environments, is left unclarified.
The above sections have endeavoured to trace, in some detail, the different parts of The Winter’s Tale while also providing a compendium of associations with its fellow late romance play, The Tempest. It follows that Shakespeare’s late solo-authored works are indeed to some extent conterminous, though identifying a sine qua non for a play’s entry into this genre of his work remains difficult without a complete analysis of the rest of the plays in this category.