The Spider and the Statue: Poisoned Innocence in ‘The Winter’s Tale’

Yan Brailowsky. Paris: PUF, 2010, collection CNED. 210p. ISBN: 9782130581789.

Much maligned and disfigured over the centuries, Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale has become a treasure-trove for actors, directors and critics alike, attracted by the play’s curious blend of tragedy, comedy and pastoral, in a two-part structure separated by sixteen years—and a bear.

From Leontes’ jealous frenzy, represented by some of the most obscure passages in Shakespeare, to Perdita’s fabled speech on art and nature, or Hermione’s statue, the play illustrates the magical power of poiesis, while probing into the human condition.

Discussing the play’s key issues, notably the relevance of genre and performance, context and reception, time and truth, eloquence, innocence, knowledge, diversion and recreation, this book provides a useful theoretical, historical and critical background to perform close, personal readings of The Winter’s Tale, using both stage- and text-centered criticism.

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I. From source to performance: determining genre and expectations

1. An arch-rival plagiarized? Dramatizing Greene’s Pandosto … 14

a. Sources and inspiration: adapting old talesaccording to taste … 14
b. Incorporating “dramatic” changes … 20

2. Shakespeare and anti-Aristotelian theater, or the generic impasse … 33

a. Of the uses and limitations of genres and subgenres … 35
b. An editorial choice or accident? … 38

3. From page to stage: unsettling expectations, trusting performance … 41

a. Symbolic and structural theatricality … 42
b. The power of performance (I): Leontes’ jealousy … 43
c. The power of performance (II): Hermione’s resurrection … 46
d. From “old tale” to ritualized performance … 47

II. Context and reception. Is there a context to this play?

1. The Winter’s Tale and the Jacobean Context … 52

a. Early performances: a revised text? … 53
b. Family politics: exploring royal succession … 55
c. Of tyranny, royal prerogative and patriarchy … 58
d. The Winter’s Tale, the Shakespearean canon and Jacobean drama … 62

2. Post-Jacobean reception … 72

a. Shakespeare “improved”: the example of Garrick’s dramatic pastoral … 73
b. Bardolatry and archaeology: praising Shakespeare for the “wrong” reasons … 77

III. Temporis filia veritas

1. An ill-timed play? … 82

a. Fortune and “The Triumph of Time” … 82
b. Temporal ambiguity in act 1 … 86
c. From “mis-shapen” to poetic time … 95

2. ‘The time is worth the use on’t’: The Chorus and the Oracle … 98

a. The Chorus and the power of poiesis (reading 4.1) … 99
b. The Delphic Oracle, the Vates and the voice of Apollo (reading 3.1) … 108

3. From syncretism to didacticism … 114

a. Seasonal pastimes, syncretic time, and topological readings … 114
b. “Hovering temporizer”: Of the timely use of advisors … 121

IV. Poisoning knowledge

1. Ignorance, sin and self-knowledge … 128

a. “Innocence for innocence”: childhood and original sin … 128
b. The paradox of “tongue-tied” eloquence … 131
c. Identity and difference: from mimetic desire to destructive jealousy … 137

2. The parable of the spider … 143

a. “Affection” and “infection” … 143
b. Angling and (in)direct speech … 151

V. Diversion and recreation

1. Diversion I: Antigonus’ dream and ‘Exit, pursued by a Bear’ … 158

2. Diversion II: The Mercurial Thief … 166

3. Diversion III: Music, dances and satyrs … 176

4. Statuesque recreation (diversion IV) … 179

a. Recognition narrated … 179
b. Art and nature … 181
c. Perspective, paragone and ekphrasis … 187

Conclusion: A comedy of loss, redemption and remarriage?

Select bibliography (199-205)