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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: August ::
The Ending of the Winter's Tale
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0459  Wednesday, 26 August 2009

[1] From:   Julia Griffin <
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     Date:   Monday, 24 Aug 2009 12:51:56 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

[2] From:   Dale Lyles <
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     Date:   Monday, 24 Aug 2009 15:19:31 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

[3] From:   Bruce Young <
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     Date:   Monday, 24 Aug 2009 14:10:54 -0600
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

[4] From:   Evelyn Gajowski <
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     Date:   Monday, 24 Aug 2009 17:00:33 -0700
     Subj:   RE: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

[5] From:   David Evett <
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     Date:   Monday, 24 Aug 2009 21:47:38 -0400
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

[6] From:   Lynn Brenner <
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     Date:   Tuesday, 25 Aug 2009 20:15:09 EDT
     Subj:   Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Julia Griffin <
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Date:       Monday, 24 Aug 2009 12:51:56 -0400
Subject: 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

I wholeheartedly agree with David Lindley.

"Fantasy" suggests that this just Leontes being self-indulgent -- that 
this is some sort of dream of flipping back the calendar.  For what that 
might look like, I recommend the end of Greene's James IV, in which 
Dorothea dismisses her now-repentant husband's attempts to murder her as 
"a little fault" hardly worth talking about.  Leontes, by contrast, has 
had to suffer for 16 years, and does not get those years back.  Hermione 
does not shrug off his guilt -- she forgives him:

POLIXENES   She embraces him.
CAMILLO                               She hangs about his neck.

Perhaps it's not our business what they say to each other.

Attaching glib qualifiers ("male", "heterosexual" -- how did that one 
get in there?) is a betrayal of that great scene.

Julia Griffin

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Dale Lyles <
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Date:       Monday, 24 Aug 2009 15:19:31 -0400
Subject: 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

I have to agree with David Lindley. My theatre did Winter's Tale more 
than 10 years ago. We were (and are) a small community theatre, and our 
audiences for the most part had never read nor seen the play. We were 
intrigued by what their reactions would be. When we got to the 
reconciliation scene, audiences audibly gasped as the "statue" came 
alive. (It helped that our Hermione was a brilliant mime and the entire 
cast was completely and honestly taken aback by her physicality every 
single performance.)

It also helped that our Leontes was capable of gut-wrenching grief. The 
last scene was one of powerful emotion, and our audiences stuck with us 
for all four hours, even though the Braves were winning the World Series 
in the bar next door.

All in all a very satisfying experience for us and for them.

Dale Lyles
(former artistic director)
Newnan Community Theatre Company

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Bruce Young <
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Date:       Monday, 24 Aug 2009 14:10:54 -0600
Subject: 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

David Lindley's defense of the happy ending of The Winter's Tale raises 
some intriguing issues.

(1) I endorse Lindley's defense, but I find it interesting how often 
recent criticism has resisted the happy ending. At the core of this 
resistance is a view I think Woody Allen nicely summed up: "In real 
life, people disappoint you. . . . They're cruel, and life is cruel. I 
think there is no win in life. Reality is a very painful, tough thing 
that you have to learn to cope with in some way. What we do is escape 
into fantasy, and it does give us moments of relief" (qtd. in Stephen 
Farber, "No Laughing Matter," Vis a Vis 1.2 [Apr. 1987]: 80).

When I teach the play I quote Allen as a way of getting my students to 
think about whether The Winter's Tale is anything more than a fantasy. 
In an essay I wrote on the play, I challenge and I think refute Allen's 
view. My essay ("Teaching the Unrealistic Realism of The Winter's Tale") 
is part of the MLA collection Maurice Hunt edited: Approaches to 
Teaching Shakespeare's The Tempest and Other Late Plays. In a nutshell, 
I argue that the play precisely exposes our resistance to happiness and 
shows it to be pathological.

(2) Lindley also takes on the view expressed by Adrian Kiernander that 
the end of The Winter's Tale, with its happiness and reconciliation, 
represents a specifically "male fantasy." I add this: if the forgiveness 
at the end of the play is a "male fantasy," then what are we to make of 
Hermione embracing her husband and blessing her daughter or of Paulina 
"lock[ing] [Perdita] in embracing as if she would pin her to her heart, 
that she might no more be in danger of losing"?  Are these female fantasies?

Of course, it can be argued that, because Shakespeare was male, 
EVERYTHING in Shakespeare's plays is "male fantasy." Yet I think Janet 
Adelman had a point when she argued that The Winter's Tale opens a 
"female space" that allows for the agency and independent value of 
women, making it possible, among other things, for Hermione to offer 
"her own version of her story" (Suffocating Mothers 234-35). The 
interest of female spectators and readers in the play from Shakespeare's 
time onward seems to me a confirmation of Adelman's view.

Bruce Young

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Evelyn Gajowski <
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Date:       Monday, 24 Aug 2009 17:00:33 -0700
Subject: 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale
Comment:    RE: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

Because he no longer subscribes to SHAKSPER, I'm channeling Adrian 
Kiernander's response to David Lindley below.

^^^^^^^^^^
In case anyone is interested in my response. (I'm not on the SHAKSPER 
list anymore because of time.) I'm happy for you to post it on my behalf.

I'm willing to accept "limited" (though I don't think I've ever claimed 
that a fantasy of forgiveness is all that is going on at the end of the 
play), but I think "churlish" and 'grudging" are a little unfair.

The "error and terrible wrongs" enacted against Hermione are those of an 
irrationally and unjustifiably jealous man whose rage arises precisely 
from a perceived threat to his (male heterosexual) position as husband. 
Just because the play fulfills a fantasy of forgiveness for this 
character doesn't mean that the scene won't be theatrically powerful and 
moving. On the contrary, the fulfillment of the desire for forgiveness 
is likely to be very affecting, even if (or, perhaps, especially 
because) the forgiveness is undeserved; and most audience members are 
sufficiently well practised in reading stories from a male heterosexual 
point of view to allow this to work even for those who are not 
themselves male and heterosexual.

Furthermore I'd argue that a complex response to the ending, where the 
spectator is torn between immediate pleasure at the 'magical' 
reconciliation and a lingering outrage at what has led to it (the abuse 
of Hermione, the deaths of Mamillius and Antigonus), is at least as 
valid as an unalloyed afterglow of satisfaction. I don't believe that my 
kind of response in any way denies or diminishes the effect of the 
scene. (I might however point out that one audience member who, as far 
as we can tell, was unaffected by the ending was Simon Foreman.)

All the best,
Adrian Kiernander
Professor of Theatre Studies
University of New England
AUSTRALIA

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[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       David Evett <
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Date:       Monday, 24 Aug 2009 21:47:38 -0400
Subject: 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

"I find this to be a somewhat churlish, grudging and limited view of 
the ending of this play. Silence in the text does not, of course, mean 
something unaffecting on the stage -- it depends how it is played. Yes, 
the play is about the 'fantasy' or the wish, or the desperate desire 
that time might be redeemed, that error and terrible wrongs might be 
expiated, that we might replay the past. But I would have  thought that 
the 'fantasy' is neither exclusively male, nor exclusively heterosexual, 
but rather a desire that all of us might share.

This line is, of course, consistent with that of a number of critics in 
the past twenty years who have wished to diminish, or to deny the effect 
of what, surely, is one of the most theatrically powerful and  moving 
scenes in the whole of Shakespeare -- I can even see why, 
intellectually, it has some force. But put me in a theatre, with even a 
half-decent performance, and it just isn't true to the emotional 
experience that I and most of any audience, male or female, will have."

What oft is thought . . . .

'Nother David

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:       Lynn Brenner <
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Date:       Tuesday, 25 Aug 2009 20:15:09 EDT
Subject: 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale
Comment:    Re: SHK 20.0455 The Ending of the Winter's Tale

I wholeheartedly agree with David Lindley:

The ending of The Winter's Tale is "one of the most theatrically 
powerful and moving scenes in Shakespeare."

Even in an indifferent production, it's breathtaking -- and undoubtedly 
because it speaks to so universal a longing.

Watching an 'ironic' staging of this scene is a strangely revolting 
experience. Also, it doesn't work.

Edward Hall's all-male production of Winter's Tale a few years ago 
offered such a staging, in defiance of the script.

The Winter's Tale is a play about redemption. (As Paulina says, "First, 
you must have faith.")

But in the Hall production's final scene, it was about a male fantasy -- 
or at least, Leontes' fantasy:

Leontes played the final scene in tears of joy, as written.

Everyone else stared stonily at him, or gazed at him with appalled 
expressions. Hermione looked frozen in disbelief; Perdita's face was 
full of horror at his belief they could now be a happy family. In fact, 
everyone on stage looked at Leontes as if he was even crazier than he 
had been in Act I.

Each of them coldly turned away as he tried to embrace them.

He was left alone onstage with Mamillius (the actor having quickly shed 
Perdita's gown behind a scrim). Leontes, weeping, reached longingly for 
Mamillius, clearly begging for forgiveness.

Mamillius refused the embrace, and blew out a candle in Leontes' face.

Blackout. The end.

Ugh.

It was horrible if you knew Winter's Tale. But if you didn't know the 
play, it was just bewildering. It didn't feel right; it didn't feel like 
an ending conceived by a playwright --  and it wasn't. It was a 
director's comment -- and a comment that made the play much smaller.

Lynn Brenner

P.S. I saw the same all-male company in a marvelous production of 
Midsummer Night's Dream a few seasons earlier. I was the more disappointed.

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