Saturday, 20 May 2017

On the BBC's 1981 production of "The Winter's Tale" by William Shakespeare (c.1611)

The Winter's Tale is one of the oddest of all Shakespeare's plays, and in both its tragedy-turned-reconciliation narrative and its odd air of unreality one can detect a certain degree of similarity with Cymbeline; small wonder the two tend to be grouped together. I don't think The Winter's Tale is quite as messy as Cymbeline, but at points it's just as odd -- for four different reasons that I can tell: 

1) the mechanics of the plot depend on a sudden burst of jealousy on the part of Leontes, King of Sicilia, at the opening of the play; in brief, Leontes suspects his wife Hermione of sleeping with Polixenes, his childhood friend and monarch of neighbouring Bohemia (by now she's heavily pregnant, but Polixenes has been staying for nine months). This leads to all sorts of fun phrasings like 'it is a bawdy planet' and Leontes gets to confide his suspicions to the audience conspiratorially, which is rather enjoyable (Morgus from The Caves of Androzani, anyone?), but what doesn't seem to be remarked upon enough is that Leontes' entire motivation for suspecting Hermione of infidelity boils down to the fact that she asks Polixenes to stay on a little longer and he accepts, despite Leontes having tried to urge the same but to no avail. All well and good, except that Hermione only urges Polixenes to stay at Leontes' request, making his sudden fit of jealous pique when Hermione apparently does exactly what he asks and Polixenes does exactly as Leontes was hoping he'd do ... an utterly baffling reaction. More on this anon.