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[personal profile] capriuni
This truly is my favorite Shakespeare play -- or, at least, it's tied for "favorite" with King Lear. I'd argue it is the most underappreciated play in the Shakespeare Canon, going by the imbalance between the play's native merit and its fame (or lack thereof).

Therefore, consider this fair warning: I am going to be spamming you all with this topic for the next several days -- maybe for the whole week; in order to restore the balance, I will be making several shorter posts instead of one massive one.

Part One: Synopsis ("Once upon a time...").

Part Two: Themes and context, with quotes (aka: Shakespeare drops the hammer on the patriarchy -- as far as he was able).

Part Three: The leitmotif of Time and aging; the changing relationship between parents and children -- Wherein I back the truck up and dump quotes on you.

Part Four: More Quotes and subtle details (aka: How to create plot and character with words)

Part Five: Links and such that I could find.



Okay, first off: In Shakespeare's day, "Winter's Tale" was the name for a genre. Today, we call that genre a "Fairy Tale." So -- that's how I've rendered the synopsis. I've not bothered to record the most of the characters' specific names (except the name of the Fair, Lost, Princess), and instead, referred to each character by type, because that's how fairy tales are told (and it's fewer details to worry about).

Now. You ready? You all snuggled in and comfy? Good!




Once upon a time, there were two young princes who were fostered and educated together since nearly the day they were born, and they loved each other as brothers. And then, they grew up, and married, and took on the responsibilities of kings, in separate kingdoms far away from each other.

One king ruled a rich and cosmopolitan land, with bustling trade posts and sea ports where ships from around the world brought the finest foods, and wines and arts within his reach. The other king ruled a land of shepherds and wilderness, and his castle stood close by a rocky and nearly deserted sea coast, where vicious beasts would attack and devour the unwary traveler.

But even though the two kings now lived far apart from each other, and the realms in which they ruled were so very different, they nonetheless continued to love each other as brothers, and sent many gifts back and forth, and many letters. And it was as if they had never parted since the days of their childhood. Each king also had the joy of being father to a young prince.

And, furthermore, the wife of the City King would soon bear him a second child. So it seemed that the future of each kingdom would be as happy as its past.

And in this time of peace, the Country King came to stay at the court of the City King, and he stayed for nine whole months, when, at last, he decided he could stay no longer. But the City King did not want him to say “goodbye.” He begged and he begged the Country King to stay just one week longer. But the Country King still insisted he had to leave first thing, the very next day.

And so the City King asked his Queen, who had been listening, and saying nothing, to try her hand at convincing his friend to stay. So the Queen spoke up, and she assured the Country King that all was well in his kingdom, and that, compared to nine months, a week was hardly any time at all. If the Country King had admitted that he wanted to go home because he missed his son, she told him, she would chase him back to his ship herself. But since he had only given affairs of state as his excuse, then he could afford to stay for seven more nights. And finally, she said, that if he refused to stay as a guest, she would keep him as a prisoner.

This, at last, convinced the Country King to stay, because if he were a prisoner, that meant he had committed an offense against her, and he did not want to offend her.

So the City King got what he wanted. But instead of being happy, he fell into an insane jealousy. Because his wife had succeeded so easily where he had failed, he was sure that his Queen and the Country King had been having an affair, and that the child she was carrying was not his own.

And so he asked a lord of his court to slip a poison into the Country King’s wine, so that he would die, and die slowly, so no one would suspect that it was murder. And to his face, the lord promised his king he could do that (even though he knew in his heart that the Queen was innocent), as long as the City King promised to love his wife and child with all his heart after the Country King was dead.

And the king promised his lord that he would love them as he always had (even though, secretly, he wanted to burn his wife at the stake for her infidelity).

But the lord could not keep his promise to the City King, because he knew the Country King was innocent. And so, when he next saw the Country King, he warned him of his beloved friend’s assassination plot against him, and helped him and all his people flee, back to the wilderness kingdom. And he joined them, knowing that if he stayed in the City King’s court, he would be killed as a traitor.

The City King heard of their escape the next morning, and took that as further proof of his wife’s affair with the Country King. He ordered her thrown in prison immediately, and forbid her to have any contact with her son, any more.

And from that moment on, his young prince, who had been strong and healthy, was stricken with fever, and he can neither sleep nor eat. The king thought this must be because his son, too, was ashamed of his mother’s sin.

To appease his subjects and his courtiers, the City King orders a trial, in order to determine his wife’s guilt or innocence. But he tells the people that anyone who speaks as a witness on the Queen’s behalf will be guilty of treason. He also sends two servants to an oracle, to ask the god Apollo if she is guilty or innocent, and promises to abide by the oracle’s message. But he is as certain that Apollo will agree with him as he is of everything else.

While awaiting trial in prison, the Queen gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, who is the spitting image of the City King – surely, the baby herself is proof of the Queen’s innocence, and the innocence of the Country King.

A lady of the court, and the Queen’s best friend, offers to bring the princess to the king that he may see her for himself, and maybe the innocence of the child would soften the king’s heart.

But, alas! The king would not even look at the baby, and he threatened to burn the lady at the stake for being a witch. He threatened, too, to dash the baby’s brains out with his own hands. But his courtiers beg him to show just a drop of mercy to the child, for they feared such a violent act from the king would bring bad luck to the kingdom.

And so the City King relented just a tiny bit, and ordered the lady’s husband to take the baby to a foreign and wild place, far away, and leave it exposed to the elements without protection, so that wild animals could either eat the child or raise it as their own.

And so, with heavy heart, the lady’s husband took up the babe and boarded a ship to sail to some place far away.

No sooner had this lord left the City King’s sight than the ship carrying the king’s two servants back from the Oracle of Apollo is spotted in the harbor.
The trial is called to order, and the Queen, still weak from childbirth, is made to stand in court and testify to her own innocence. But because it is she who is speaking, the king refuses to believe a word she says – and he has forbidden anyone else from speaking on her behalf.

Just then, the two servants, with the sealed up judgment of Apollo, arrive at the court. The judgment is opened and read aloud:

The Queen is chaste.
The Country King, blameless.
The king’s lord a true subject.
The City King is a tyrant.
And his innocent babe truly begotten.
And the City King will live without an heir
If that which is lost be not found.

All the people gathered there began to rejoice, for they believed the Queen’s innocence was proven, and she would be set free.

But the City King rejects the oracle, because it is not the answer he wanted, and claims it is all a lie.

Just then, a servant runs into the court to tell the king that his young prince, who has been sick with fever this entire time, has died.

The Queen, hearing this news, faints, and is carried off to be looked after by her faithful friend, the Lady. The Lady returns a few minutes later, however, to inform the king that the Queen, too, has died of a broken heart.

Too late, the City King realizes the oracle was true after all, and he repents. But his repentance cannot bring back the dead, and so he vows to build a chapel to the memory of his wife and son, and grieve there, every day. And the Lady further extracts from the City King a promise never to marry again, no matter what, until she can pick his future bride, and give him permission to wed.

Meanwhile, that night, on the ship that is sailing to some distant shore, the Lady’s husband dreams of the good Queen’s ghost. She stands, weeping, at the foot of his bunk where he was sleeping, and tells him to sail to the kingdom of the Country King, and to leave the young princess there, on the shore. And she tells the Lady’s husband to name the princess “Perdita,” which means “lost one.”

And so the Lady’s husband tells the ship’s captain to sail to the kingdom of the Country King, that he may leave the baby on the shore. The ship pulls in to that rocky coast, and sets anchor. And at that moment, a strange and violent storm begins to rise. The Lady’s husband has just enough time to put the baby in a basket, on the ground, along with a handkerchief embroidered with her royal crest, a letter with her name on it, and a small purse of gold.

No sooner had he done these things, however, than a hungry bear chased him down and ate him alive, tearing out his shoulder blade and devouring his entrails even as he called out for help. And even as he died, the storm sank the ship that brought him there, and all the sailors aboard her drowned. So that every person who had a hand in obeying the tyrant City King’s command had perished.

But also right at that moment, an old shepherd and his son, who were out searching for two lost sheep, found the baby princess instead, and they found the gold as well, and knew that their fortunes had changed for the better. They decide to take the baby in and raise her as part of their own family.

Sixteen years pass, and young Perdita grows into the most beautiful and gracious woman in the whole country, even though she is just a poor shepherd’s daughter.

And during all that time, as well, the lord who had helped the Country King escape assassination remained a servant of the Country King. And although he longed to go home (having since received word that the City King repented his sins and jealousies), the Country King refused to let him go, saying he was too valuable a servant.

One day, when the young prince of that country – the son of the very same Country King, whom Perdita’s true father once schemed to kill (now all grown up into a fine and handsome young man) – was out hunting, his hawk caught a rabbit near Perdita’s cabin. And so the two met, and they fell in love. And, from that day forward, the young prince would disguise himself as a peasant lad, and sneak off to visit the shepherd’s daughter for days at a time.

Meanwhile, the prince’s father, the Country King, became suspicious of his son’s absences, and so he and his servant lord go in disguise to the shepherds’ spring sheep sheering festival, to spy on him and discover who it is who has stolen him away from his royal duties.

The young prince does not recognize his father, the king, and confesses to the ‘stranger’ that he intends to wed the shepherd lass in secret, and never tell his father, for he does not care what his father thinks.

This so enrages his father, the Country King, that he takes off his disguise and threatens to hang Perdita, the old shepherd and the shepherd’s son for treason, for daring to sully the lineage of the royal line.

But the young prince told Perdita not to despair, for he had long been planning to run away from home, and had a ship all ready to sail.

The lord, who had long wished to go home, now sees his chance, and he tells the prince that he will find a friendly reception at the court of the City King, and the lord offers to help him devise a story that this is an official visit of friendship from the Country King. He sends the prince and his “shepherd lass” to the port, to embark.

And then, the lord tells the country king where his son and the girl have gone, so the Country king sets sail after them, with the lord with him, and the lord gets to go home, as he has long wished.

Meanwhile, the shepherd and the shepherd’s son, hoping to spare their own lives, intend to show the Country King all the things they found with the baby by the seashore, sixteen years earlier: the handkerchief embroidered with the royal seal, the letter with her name written on it, and the little purse of gold, all in order to prove that they are not really her blood relations, and therefore, should not be considered guilty of treason.

And so it was that the true princess and the prince, the shepherd and the shepherd’s son (with proof of the princess’s true identity), and the Country King all arrived within an hour of each other at the chapel where the City King was grieving.

And they met, and recognize one another, and there was much rejoicing – except for the Lady, who was friend to the Queen, who learns how her husband was eaten by the bear.

And then the Lady brings them all to see a statue of the Queen, which she had been keeping in secret for sixteen years – not as the Queen was when she died, but how she would look if she had been allowed to live in the intervening time, with all the added wrinkles, and gray hair.

And only after the Lady hears the City King express his guilt and his regret directly to the image of the Queen, does she command the statue to step down from its pedestal, and speak, and live again.

The Queen spoke first to Perdita. And she admitted that, upon hearing the Oracle in court, sixteen years prior, kept alive her hope that her child would survive, and thus kept herself alive, in secret, through the intervening years.

And the Lady gave the City King permission to wed his Queen again. And the City King gave the Lady permission to wed his lord, the one who first refused to do his unlawful bidding.

And so it was that all those who lived lived happily ever after.



Shakespeare's (main) Character and Place Names:

City King: Leontes
His Good Queen: Hermione
His Young Prince: Mamilius
His Abandoned Daughter: Perdita
His Honest Lord, who would not murder: Camillo
Wise Lady, friend to the Queen: Paulina
Wise Lady's Husband (who exits, pursued by a bear): Antigonus
His nation/city: Sicilia

Country King: Polixenes
County King's Son, in love with the princess: Florizel
Perdita's Foster Father and Brother: Shepherd and Clown
The Prince's Court Servant (fired for being a thief): Autolycus
The Wilderness Kingdom: Bohemia
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