Thoughts on “The Winter’s Tale”

This one definitely seems to be a drama, which should give it a leg up in terms of my enjoying it.  However, as I proceed towards the end of the plays I’m finding that the crafting of the plays is as good as if not better than any of his most classic plays, but the plot and characters are significantly weaker.

The basic idea here is that the king of Sicilia has invited the king of Bohemia to visit for an extended time, since they were raised together and were fast friends.  When it comes time for the king of Bohemia to leave, the king of Sicilia prevails upon him to stay, but he refuses … until the queen of Sicilia convinces him to stay longer.  For some reason that might involve his son not looking enough like him, the king of Sicila then suspects that his wife and the king of Sicilia have been having a long affair, and that not only his existing son but his unborn daughter are really the children of the king of Bohemia, and ends up trying to convince one of the queen’s servants to poison the king of Bohemia.  The servant instead tells the king of Bohemia, which causes him to immediately leave, which only makes the king of Sicilia more suspicious, so he imprisons his wife and sends to the Oracle of Delphi to prove to his lords that his suspicions are correct.  The queen gives birth to a daughter, which the wife of one of the lords brings to the king in the hopes that it will soften his stance, but it only hardens it and he orders the daughter and his wife executed, but the lords convince him not to, and one lord in particular is then ordered to abandon the infant in the desert.  The men he sent to the Oracle then return and the message from the Oracle exonerates the queen and says that the king will have no heir until his daughter is found.  The son, who was sick earlier, dies, which causes the queen to faint and die, leaving the king alone.  Meanwhile, the lord sees a vision from the queen saying to leave the child near Bohemia, where a shepherd finds it.  The play then fast forwards fifteen years, and the daughter who was raised as the shepherd’s daughter is being courted by the king of Bohemia’s son, and ultimately the king of Bohemia disapproves of that idea and so the two of them run away to Sicilia.  Eventually, everyone comes together and she is revealed as the daughter of the king of Sicilia, which makes the match acceptable, and the queen comes back to life somehow, and the play ends.

The characters in general really don’t work here.  The king of Sicilia suspects his wife for no good reason, and does that very strongly in a way that’s required to lead to the rest of the plot, but this makes him entirely unsympathetic.  The king of Bohemia is more sympathetic but then throws that all away with his over-the-top reaction to the prince’s courtship of the daughter.  The daughter is talked about as being great, but doesn’t get the character development necessary for us to really like her, and the same applies to the prince.  We definitely might want the two of them to get together, but that would be because it’s romantic and not because we really like those characters.  The shepherd and his friend the clown — literally — are too often idiotic and capricious for us to care about them, and they don’t play any real role in the final outcome other than revealing where the prince and the daughter went.  The lord who wanted to save the child and his wife would be interesting characters if he hadn’t fallen out of the story due to the Oracle’s prophecy and if she wasn’t really just there to lecture the king and reveal the miracle of the queen’s survival at the end, and so they don’t really play enough of a role to focus on, and they don’t really get a happy ending.  There’s also a rogue cahracter added who is a thief and swindler who wants to return to service with the prince, but he’s not a very interesting character and adds nothing to the play itself.

The plot itself doesn’t really work either. As noted above, there’s no real reason given for the king of Sicilia to suspect that his wife and the king of Bohemia are having an affair and he jumps far too quickly to just killing off his long-time friend, which spawns the rest of the plot, but the two of them seemingly at least somewhat reconcile far too quickly to have that sort of event between them.  By taking the lord out of the picture, it leaves him with no real way to reveal who the daughter really is, so it again moves very quickly based mostly on how she looks, it seems, but given how bad the judgement of the king was earlier we have no reason to trust his opinion.  If they had kept the lord alive and he had even, perhaps, disguised himself as the clown to keep an eye on the daughter and so could reveal himself at the end and confirm it, things would have worked out a lot better and there really was no reason for him to never return home.  And, of course, the queen’s sudden revival makes no sense at all.

Similarly to “Timon of Athens”, this play has a similar plot to the previous play “Pericles” but is lacking when compared to it, especially in terms of plot and characters.  And Pericles wasn’t one of the classic Shakespeare plays to begin with.  So as I head towards the end it really is the case that the plot and the characters are not at all impressing me.  I’ll see if Shakespeare can finish strong with the last two plays:  “The Tempest” and “King Henry the Eighth”.

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