Queering The Winter's Tale in Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time


In her 2015 contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare Series, The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson reimagines Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The novel queers Shakespeare’s play in the richest possible construction of that term: not only by featuring homoerotic relationships but also by playing with traditional narrative form. In The Gap of Time, Shakespeare’s Leontes and Polixenes become Leo and Xeno, who were lovers in their adolescence. As adults, Leo is a successful financier in post-2008 London, while Xeno is a video game art designer. The contrast between Leo’s career and Xeno’s stands in for that between Shakespeare’s rigid Sicilia and free-spirited Bohemia. The latter does have a local habitation in the novel: an American city named “New Bohemia”—a thinly-veiled reference to post-Katrina New Orleans—where Xeno’s son Zel lives. While not Shakespeare’s bucolic pastoral setting, New Bohemia is an arts haven. Here, Perdita is raised by her Black adoptive father and brother, Shep and Clo, in the halls of a blues bar. This thread of creative expression runs through the entire novel—Perdita’s mother, Mimi, was a talented singer; in his grief over lost friendship and (presumed) loss of Mimi, Xeno designs a video game to memorialize her; Zel is a creative engineer who loves working on cars; and Perdita shares her mother’s musical talent, learning the music and culture of Creole New Bohemia. This paper explores how Winterson’s novel replaces the seasonal logic of Shakespeare’s play with the language of creativity, queering narrative form and richly investing in notions of performance. The novel uses the language of technology and art to help translate the play’s complex dramatic genre to fiction. Winterson’s language of creativity implies a meta- narrative of the creative process of adaptation, which in turn evokes the reconciliation and renewal that are the ends of Shakespearean romance drama.

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