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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: March ::
Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale

The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0134  Friday, 26 March 2010

[1]  From:      Felix de Villiers < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

     Date:      March 20, 2010 11:28:39 AM EDT
     Subj:      Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale 

[2]  From:      Gabriel Egan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 16, 2010 12:16:07 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0115  Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale 

[3]  From:      John W Kennedy < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
     Date:      March 16, 2010 2:04:31 PM EDT
     Subj:      Re: SHK 21.0115  Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Felix de Villiers < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 20, 2010 11:28:39 AM EDT
Subject:      Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale

Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale

I found Brian Bixley's comment of 21.0115 Tuesday, 16 March 2010 on conflicting botanical metaphors very interesting. On rereading that part of the play it seems obvious to me that Perdita does not want bastard or hybrid plants in her garden, not because she doesn't like them, but because she is warding off her fear that her children -- if she were allowed to have them -- would be considered as bastards due to the apparent class distinction between Florizel and her. I'm sure I'm not the first person to have made this observation. One can't really confuse poetic imagery with scientific botany. There is a difference between art and nature and what Shakespeare produces is art, even if his blending of them into one another is nature on a higher plane.

Brian himself seems to get a bit confused about blossoms and seeds:

"Later, one assumes, Perdita will be so fertilised by Florizel, and she will then produce 'seed' (children)..." The children are not the seed but the buds or blossoms. The seeds are those little creatures that Florizel will eject into his lady's womb, and scientifically they are not seeds but spermatazoids. So seed is already being used as an image as it is in a phrase like "the seed of Abraham," meaning his progeny. In poetry of all arts, we can't fix meanings scientifically but have to read them in context. Polixenes also uses the word 'bark' for progeny, appearance or character.

What I don't quite understand is why Polixenes claims that marriage between a gentler scion and the wilder stock conceives a bark of baser kind and then goes on to encourage Perdita to make her garden rich in gillyvors without calling them bastards. Maybe I'm missing something obvious?

Regards,
Felix

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Gabriel Egan < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 16, 2010 12:16:07 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0115  Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0115  Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale

I'd be interested to learn if Brian Bixley finds convincing and/or helpful the following account of grafting/hybridity in the problematic scene from _The Winter's Tale_ that he draws our attention to.

The exchange starts with Polixenes's praising Perdita's choice of suitable flowers for himself and Camillo: "POLIXENES Shepherdess, | A fair one are you. Well you fit our ages | With flowers of winter" (4.4.77-9). Perdita's cryptic response invokes the cyclical processes of nature, thereby effectively denying the allegory since old men are not renewed, and relocates the principle of appropriateness in suiting the season, not suiting the receiver:

PERDITA  Sir, the year growing ancient,
         Not yet on summer's death, nor on the birth
         Of trembling winter, the fairest flowers o' th' season
         Are our carnations and streaked gillyvors,
         Which some call nature's bastards.
            (_The Winter's Tale_ 4.4.79-83)

At this transitional moment of cyclical change, nature itself cannot easily generate these flowers, and Perdita will have nothing to do with genetic engineering: "Of that kind | Our rustic garden's barren, and I care not | To get slips of them" (4.4.83-5). That is, the only way Perdita might cultivate these flowers is by getting a cutting from an existing plant (OED slip n.2 1), and this she is loath to do.

Pressed to explain why, she responds:

PERDITA  For I have heard it said
         There is an art which in their piedness shares
         With great creating nature.
            (_The Winter's Tale_ 4.4.86-8)

Editors generally gloss this is as Perdita's objection to grafting, but that is not at all what Perdita means.  She objects to "carnations and streaked gillyvors" not because they are artificially created, but because even though naturally created (by cross-pollination from proximity) they look like hybrids that result from human interference in nature. Even though she knows them to be entirely natural, they are to her impure by likeness. Like many editors, Polixenes misses her point and responds as though she were objecting to human interventions in natural processes:

POLIXENES                      Say there be,
           Yet nature is made better by no mean
           But nature makes that mean . . .
           The art itself is nature.
             (_The Winter's Tale_ 4.4.88-97)

It is not capitulation but resignation in the face of his miscomprehension that makes Perdita reply blankly "So it is" (4.4.97). From Polixenes's point of view, his explanation that nature's over-arching (or all-embracing) universality naturalizes art has trumped her distinction of nature and culture. This can be summed up as a statement of the facile thesis that nature embraces everything. Human beings are products of nature, so anything they do must perforce be a natural act. This claim is rather like the one, popular in recent literary criticism, that everything is political and/or ideological. Such attempts to deny that there are areas of human existence outside the realm in which one is interested necessarily drain all force from the distinctions that make the terms intelligible in the first place. If everything is nature (or politics, or ideology), then nothing is, for the word has nothing from which to distinguish itself.

In fact Perdita preempted the dissolving of the nature/culture binary herself. Nature too produces hybrids, she pointed out, and this offends her as much as cultural hybridity. Although the play leaves the connection implicit, we can see here a concern with incest as natural hybridity.  Looking back through historical time, the family trees of everyone alive today necessarily converge upon the vanishing point of a single ancestral pair; going sufficiently far back, we are all related. In the Christian tradition, the story of origins avoids early incest by inventing a wife for Adam and Eve's son Cain without explaining her parentage (Genesis 4.16-9). The same problem would recur 7 generations later with the Flood, which certainly condemns the unclean animals to incest since only 2 of each are preserved in the Ark (Genesis 7.2). Humankind is spared this fate because more are saved: "And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons' wives with him" (Genesis 7.7).

In the Greek version of the Flood, however, incest is inevitable because only Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha survive (Hornblower & Spawforth 1996, 'Deucalion'). At the end of the sheep-shearing scene, Polixenes threatens Florizel by invoking the Greek Flood to image the extent to which father could repudiate son: "Not hold thee of our blood, no, not our kin, | Farre than Deucalion off" (4.4.430-31). Ironically, of course, the point of Deucalion's story is that we are all related, that human kinship cannot be denied since we share a common ancestor.

In the version that Shakespeare would have known from Ovid's _Metamorphoses_ (Ovid 1916, Book 1 lines 313-415) the world is repopulated when Deucalion correctly interprets the goddess Themis's instruction that he and Pyrrha should throw behind them their grandam's bones. This, he realizes, means stones (the bones of mother Earth) and those thrown by Deucalion become men and those thrown by Pyrrha become women. As Francois Laroque has pointed out, this story of stone turned into human flesh must be at least part of what was in Shakespeare's mind when he wrote the scene in which what everyone (including the audience) thinks is a stone statue turns out to be the living person of Hermione (Laroque 1984).

Works Cited

Hornblower, Simon and Antony Spawforth, eds. 1996. _The Oxford Classical Dictionary_. 3rd edition. Oxford. Clarendon.

Laroque, Francois. 1984. "A New Ovidian Source for the Statue Scene in The Winter's Tale." _Notes and Queries_ 229. 215-17.

Ovid. 1916. _Metamorphoses_. Trans. Frank Justus Miller. Vol. 1: Books 1-8. 2 vols. The Loeb Classical Library. London. Heinemann.

(Extracted from Gabriel Egan _Green Shakespeare: From Ecopolitics to Ecocriticism_, Routledge, 2006, pp. 128-30)

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         John W Kennedy < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >
Date:         March 16, 2010 2:04:31 PM EDT
Subject: 21.0115  Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale
Comment:      Re: SHK 21.0115  Art and Nature in The Winter's Tale

From: Brian Bixley < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >

>But Perdita cannot, in a useful way, be metaphorically both
>the seed and the blossom. The blossom, a flower, produces
>seed when it is pollinated and fertilised.

But the seed becomes the blossom.

When Perdita says that she will have not have 'nature's bastards' in 'our rustic garden', what can she mean? 'Bastards' are hybrids, and are sometimes encouraged by gardeners because of 'hybrid vigour'. There are two ways in which hybrids may be created; they may be spontaneous, i.e., created without human intervention, or they may be deliberate, i.e., created by a human hybridizer. Nothing, one imagines, could be more natural than the hybrids that turn up in one's garden without the connivance of the gardener. Anyone who grows columbines knows all about that. If Perdita wants no intervention, she should be cheering for 'nature's bastards', not scorning them, and in most gardens, she will be getting them whether she wants them or not, which is about as 'natural' as one can be.

But she is clearly speaking of artificial hybrids, or "Art" would be out of the question.

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