The trouble with a three-day holiday weekend is that it is more difficult to tell what day it is than if it were a two-week vacation. Most of the day yesterday I thought it was Saturday since I knew I didn’t have to work the next day. In the evening my Bookman asked me if I had done a blog post already and I started to tell him it was Saturday, which around here we call blog-off day, but then realized I was wrong. Between being discombobulated as to day of the week and having two hundred pages to read for school this week, I decided to have a holiday.
In spite of everything, I did manage to finish reading Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The play is a comedy but also classified as a Romance like The Tempest. The earliest edition we have of the play is the one that appears at the end of the 1623 Folio. The play is based on a novella by Robert Greene called Pandosto. As with everything Shakespeare borrowed he liberally changes up the story while still managing to keep a good deal of it intact.
In this play we have a little bit of everything. There is the jealous King Leontes who accuses his pregnant wife, Hermione, of having an affair with his bestest friend King Polixenes of Bohemia. Hermione gets tossed in jail and no matter what anyone says, including the Oracle at Delphi which the king sent for to discover the truth, he refuses to believe Hermione is innocent. She has a baby girl which Leontes sends off to be exposed. Hermione dies – of does she? The baby, Perdita, gets left on the shores of Bohemia where the ship that brought her there sinks and the man who left her to the elements is eaten by a bear.
Perdita is rescued by a simple shepherd who raises her as his daughter. She is most beautiful and naturally exudes a good natured nobility. Florizel, the son of the King of Bohemia and therefore prince and heir to the kingdom, falls in love with Perdita. They plan to marry but the plan is foiled by his father. But eventually they all end up at the palace of King Leontes where everything comes aright and all’s well that ends well except for the guy that got eaten by the bear.
With all the plot twists, the disguises, the unknown identities and whatnot, you’d think it would be a better play than it is. Perhaps seeing it acted where the visuals can help create interest, humor and tension would make the play better. Just reading it however, I found it entertaining to be sure, but overall I was not wowed.
The part of the play that struck me most was an exchange between the disguised King Polixenes of Bohemia and Perdita who is bedecked in festival finery for the sheep sheering feast. She greets the guests and gives them spring flowers. The King asks her if she has gillyvors in her garden. Gillyvors, what we know as pinks or carnations, are bred flowers. In other words, they are cultivated flowers that are crossed with wild flowers to improve the stock. The King argues with Perdita that such crossing is both natural and improving. Perdita counters that she would never grow such flowers since they are used to color cosmetics and are therefore artificial.
Perdita’s argument ends up being the true one, at least metaphorically, because later when Florizel tries to marry Perdita, the King stops the marriage and threatens to disinherit his son. So much for wild stock improving the breeding of cultivated stock. Instead, the giilyvors point out the king’s hypocrisy. But of course this all becomes irrelevant later when we discover that Perdita is actually the daughter of King Leontes and can marry Prince Florizel with everyone’s approval.
I’ve got the BBC production of the play in my Netflix queue and will watch it when my school schedule permits. Even though the play is not going to be anywhere near the top of the list of my favorite Shakespeare plays, I am still glad I read it not just because it was entertaining, but also because it makes me want to read more Shakespeare.