Article Title

The Winter's Tale and Early Religious Drama


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

Even a cursory comparison of the story line of The Winter's Tale with that of its source, Greene's Pandosto, reveals just how strongly Shakespeare was seeking in the play to underline the idea of redemption. He was prepared to make important changes with respect to the portrayal of the erring king and victim queen, allowing both to survive at the end of the play. In the source story, Pandosto not only had compromised whatever moral ground he had regained through his remorse for his sin by developing a lust for his daughter Fawnia and by his intended cruelty to the girl, her adoptive father, and the servant, but also ultimately had committed suicide. The source story is therefore fairly straightforwardly a tragedy; Shakespeare does not allow this tragedy to occur and also makes the effective climax to Greene's story, the discovery of the lost daughter and the resolution which that brings with it, take place offstage while what takes its climactic place in the play is the "resurrection" of the queen, a scene which both makes powerful use of visual image and is infused with feelings of reverence and blessing. By reducing all the intrigue found in Pandosto to the barest minimum in the play, he both makes the didactic point more clearly and elevates the important characters to a plane consistent with their role in the drama of redemption. However, if he is prepared to make important changes to the source story in order to avoid the ultimate tragedy, Shakespeare does not take the opportunity to remove all the tragic events in order to make The Winter's Tale a proper comedy unmarred by enduring loss: Mamillius' death and that of Antigonus are both the results of Leontes' sin which are neither omitted nor resolved by miraculous means. Indeed, in comparison with the prose story, the sense of loss is increased in the play by the fact that both Mamillius and Antigonus are made very endearing characters. Yet their loss is important to the drama of redemption. Unlike pure comedy where potentially tragic consequences are avoided, there must be a serious result of sinful action against which the process of redemption works: real redemption implies real initial loss.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.