“The Winter’s Tale,” from The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, by W. Shakespeare

I’d heard a lot about The Winter’s Tale, but don’t know anybody offhand that’s read it, and haven’t seen it advertised as being on stage in a while. For a fantasy romance, I suppose it works, and it’s definitely far-fetched with the way family is split and reunited and all that stuff (hey, when the gods are called upon for advice, you know that’s going to be the case).

Anyhoo, The Winter’s Tale is a bit like Pericles in the setup, in that the story doesn’t revolve around all that happens to one person, but a whole family. There’s King Leontes of Sicilia and his wife, Hermione, their son Mamillius, and eventually Perdita, the daughter. The action begins with Leontes and a pregnant Hermione entertaining his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, and requesting that he not go back home yet. But Polixenes has missed his home and his wife the past nine months, and only Hermione convinces him to stay a bit longer. Somehow, this leads to Leontes becoming jealous and wary of the two, and he ends up convinced the two are lovers and the child she’s carrying isn’t even his.

Leontes accuses her of adultery, arrests her, and tells his servant, Camillo, to poison Polixenes to get rid of him. Instead, the two man flee to Bohemia and protection there. The lords and ladies of the court plead with Leontes to see reason and to listen to the queen, but he’s hardened against her. When Hermione gives birth in prison, the daughter’s presented to him in hopes it softens his heart, but in fact he gets more enraged and demands the child sent somewhere desolate and the mother put on trial.

This is all before the messengers from the Oracle at Delphi arrive to tell him the truth.

I won’t spoil how things turn out from here, except to say that the story will follow the family in some way: the girl grows up to become a shepherdess and Polixenes’ son, Florizel, falls in love with her. Leontes tries to find Perdita and atone for what he’s done, and Hermione has some interesting words to say at one point.

I have to wonder about Leontes and his jealousy, which I suppose lends to the far-fetchedness of the story. He gets jealous so quickly, and is so hard-headed that I wanted to bash my own head against the wall and yell at the pages for him to listen to somebody and see reason. Maybe I was distracted, but considering he wanted his friend to remain, only to grow from friend to jealous fiend in nothing flat…well, that makes me really wonder.

Oh well, the rest of the timing seems pretty spot on after that.

It’s a neat little story of righting wrongs and quick judgement going awry. If there’s a moral to the story, it’s probably “stop and think.” I think just about everybody needed that in this one.

Still, plenty of reasonable characters around to enjoy, and I especially liked the supporting character of Paulina. I noticed I was laughing at her sharp tongue when she tried to get Leontes to see reason, and I hoped like hell she would succeed. She’s the story’s firecracker, and I adore her.

Worth a shot to read, and probably even better on stage.

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