One of Shakespeare’s most thought-provoking comedies, The Winter’s Tale tells the story of Leontes, who believes his pregnant queen is guilty of an adulterous affair with one of his best friends.
While not one of the three ‘problem’ plays originally identiﬁed by Boas, The Winter’s Tale soon attracted the same label. The ﬁrst half of the play seems set for tragedy. Leontes suspects his pregnant queen of an adulterous affair with his best friend. He tries to kill his friend, orders the new baby to be abandoned to die, and puts the queen on trial, refusing to believe an oracle that proclaims her innocence. Only when his beloved son dies of grief does Leontes realise his error. Sixteen years pass, and the fourth and ﬁfth acts of the play turn into a pastoral comedy. The baby was found and raised by a shepherd and the prince of Bohemia falls in love with her. The wronged queen is discovered to be alive and everyone is reconciled.
The play’s combination of fairy-tale logic with the psychological realism of much of its drama has troubled many critics. The deaths of the young prince Mamillius and Antigonus (victim of the most famous stage direction in any play: ‘exit, pursued by bear’) cast long shadows. It is a stark message that only the unreal magic of the stage or a winter’s tale can return the dead to life; reality permits no such happy ending.
Published by Oxford University Press and bound in hardback buckram by The Folio Society, The Oxford Shakespeare series offers authoritative editions of Shakespeare’s plays. The early printings have been scrupulously re-examined and interpreted by eminent scholars, who also provide introductory essays covering all relevant background information, together with an appraisal of critical views and of the plays in performance. The exhaustive commentaries pay particular attention to language and staging. Reprints of sources, music for songs, genealogical tables and maps are included where necessary; many of the volumes are illustrated, and all contain an index.
Each book has an individual editor, with the whole series overseen by Stanley Wells.
Stephen Orgel is Jackson Eli Reynolds Professor of Humanities at Stanford University.
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