Chapter 4: The Winter’s Tale The last chapter of this dissertation will focus on a single play from Shakespeare’s late period, and that is The Winter’s Tale. Not mentioning and not taking into account the great Tragedies or the rest of Shakespeare’s Roman plays might be objected to. However, even though a number of these, if not the majority, show influences of ancient Roman authors, such as Plutarch, Ovid or, perhaps most importantly, Seneca, there is not enough evidence and common features to be found which would support the claim that Euripides (or any other Greek author) had a direct or indirect impact on them. Martindale uses Timon of Athens as an example:
When Shakespeare wrote Timon of Athens, with its Greek setting, he used Plutarch’s Lives and possibly the dialogue Timon the Misanthrope by Lucian (second century AD), which he would have read in French or Italian, or in Erasmus’ Latin version. [...] Shakespeare’s road to Greece (a Greece where, in Timon, Athens has a Senate and most of the characters have Latin names) was thus through post-classical authors and through the late romances (Martindale and Martindale 42).
Therefore, taking this suggestion into consideration, one has to examine the sources carefully, since not every reference to Greece or Greek culture in Shakespeare’s plays actually finds its origin in an ancient Greek source but may come from a much later text.
The reason for choosing The Winter’s Tale as the topic of this chapter is the fact that the drama seems to contain a significant number of Euripidean features, be it the story or the genre of the play. In comparison to some other Shakespeare’s plays which were discussed in this thesis, The Winter’s Tale seems to bear resemblance to not only individual features, but the story and genre of a particular Euripidean play: it seems to be based on Euripides’ Alcestis, from which it takes a part of the plot, as well as an inspiration for the characters’ depiction, and its genre indetermination, i.e. the fluctuation between tragedy and comedy resulting in labelling the play as a ‘romance’. Moreover, secondary sources seem to be in agreement about the play’s origins and background.
The aim of this chapter is to focus on the play’s story and genre, as well as to analyse its relation to the dramas which most likely served as the models for the play. The thesis will, first of all, comment on The Winter’s Tale’s plot and genre, and then it will discuss and analyse its ancient sources, as well as the Euripidean elements in the play.
The play’s plot can be divided into two halves: in the introduction to his edition of The Winter’s Tale John Pitcher suggests, that Shakespeare based the first half on Robert Greene’s novel Pandosto, which was written in his time, while "the philosophical and high aesthetic elements in the second half [...] he borrowed from the Greek dramatist Euripides and the Roman poet Ovid" (Pitcher 8). Since Shakespeare seems to be borrowing from other authors’ texts quite often, the fact that it is so also in the case of The Winter’s Tale is not surprising. However, the way he uses and puts together sources contributes greatly to the play’s unusual genre.
The first part of the drama develops quite steadily around the tragic events of the play, including the imprisonment and death of Hermione, whereas the atmosphere of the second part changes significantly and develops towards a happy ending, bearing also signs of comedy. Pitcher claims that "Euripides was present as the father of tragicomedy, the form every Renaissance dramatist dreamed of mastering" (9). Therefore, one may suppose that Shakespeare aimed to do precisely that; he might have wanted to imitate Euripides’ style, and prove his own skills as a playwright and as an equal to ancient Greek tragedians.
Pitcher adds that it was again Euripides who discovered that tragedy could develop into romance, when he inserted an episode in the genre of romance into his tragedy Iphigenia at Tauris, a recognition scene between Iphigenia and her brother Orestes (11 – 12):
ORESTES. And now, for proof, I shall tell the things I saw myself. In our father’s house was Pelops’ ancient spear, which he brandished in his hands when he killed Oenomaus and won Hippodamia, the maid of Pisa; in your maiden chamber the spear was hidden away.
IPHIGENIA. Dearest! Surely my dearest, nothing else. I clasp you Orestes, my darling, far from our native Argos, my dear one. (Hadas and Euripides 296)
As Pitcher adds, "the final part of the play, all narrated, is pure romance" (12). Shakespeare included the idea of a turning point in his play: in her article "The Alcestisand the Statue Scene in The Winter’s Tale" Sarah Dewar-Watson marks Paulina’s exclamation "Our Perdita is found" (Act V, Scene III) as the point of transition and affirmation of the new genre (79). It was most likely Shakespeare’s intention to introduce this play on words, since in Latin ‘perditus’ means ‘lost’. Thus, only thanks to this little insertion the whole atmosphere of the play changes and leads to an unexpectedly happy conclusion.
As was noted, Shakespeare seems to have used two ancient sources when writing The Winter’s Tale. The first one is Ovid’s tale of Pygmalion, the other one Euripides’ play Alcestis. "In a way it is the story of Pygmalion and Galatea over again; in another it is a reincarnation of the great scene that concludes the Alcestis of Euripides in which his dead wife is restored to Admetus" (Goddard Vol. II 272). The story of Pygmalion introduces a statue that comes to life: