The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0610  Friday, 28 March 2003

From:           David Bishop <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Friday, 28 Mar 2003 02:53:27 -0800
Subject: 14.0573 Re: WT - Act V scene 2
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0573 Re: WT - Act V scene 2

Joanne Gates raises an interesting point about why Autolycus misses out
on the goodies at the end of WT. Ivan Fuller gives a theatrical
insider's answer, which may be true but is still beside the dramatic
point.  Shakespeare may have wanted to keep Autolycus apart from
Leontes, but why did he do it in just this way? The gentlemen could have
recounted the scene by themselves, and then Autolycus could have entered
with the Clown and Shepherd, revelling along with them in his gentled

Autolycus is not positively excluded from the festive ending. The Clown
promises to recommend him to the prince, for what that's worth, and then
they set off to see the statue, though we never see them arrive. This
interlude wraps up a few loose ends, and gives us a little comic relief
between two passionate reconciliation scenes. But it also leaves some
ends loose, in the person of Autolycus.

Autolycus mentions that he missed out: "Now, had I not the dash of my
former life in me, would preferment drop on my head." What does that
mean? Were his crimes in court so bad he could not be forgiven? Surely
his part in bringing the Clown and Shepherd along deserves to be
rewarded. He anticipated a reward earlier: "there may be matter in it."
Now he recounts why his message didn't get through: Perdita and Florizel
were distracted by seasickness.  Then he muses, "But 'tis all one to me,
for had I been the finder-out of this secret, it would not have relished
among my other discredits." This takes us back to the reason Autolycus
did not inform the king of Florizel's escape: "I hold it the more
knavery to conceal it; and therein am I constant to my profession."
Gentling Autolycus would exact from him an implicit promise of reform,
which he might not live up to. Neither he nor the audience could quite
believe he would reform, and neither really want him to. We're
ambivalent about his knavery, which we enjoy, and also about gentling,
which is shown as a bit ludicrous. Autolycus not only likes his own
knavery, he's loyal to it on principle. The dash of his former life
can't be expunged. Along with wit, and a little good will, that dash is
in his nature--thank goodness. Is there any of Shakespeare's
comedies--or plays--that does not end with some loose end, some source
of trouble, or imp of the perverse, still on the loose? Every happily
ever after has a twist. Like Malvolio's revenge, Autolycus's knavery
escapes the frame. Even in this old tale, the story continues....

Best wishes,
David Bishop

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