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The Winter’s Tale and tragicomedy 14 th March 2012.

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1 The Winter’s Tale and tragicomedy 14 th March 2012




5 The most precisely identifiable device [of stage illusion] appears when the old shepherd says to the young shepherd, ‘thou met’st with things dying, I with things new born,’ which is not only a species of role reversal but a quotation from Evanthius. His De Tragoedia et Comedia was commonly cited in sixteenth-century school editions of Terence and would have been familiar to every twelve- or thirteen-year old who had reached the third form of grammar school. Evanthius was defining tragedy and comedy: ‘in tragoedia fugienda vita, in comedia cappessanda exprimitur.’

6 We slue 26 Seales, and espied three white Bears; wee went aboord for Shot and Powder, and coming to the Ice againe, we found a shee-Beare and two young ones: Master Thomas Welden shot and killed her: after shee was slayne, wee got the young ones, and brought them home into England, where they are alive in Paris Garden. Purchas His Pilgrims, 4 vols., London, 1625, p. 562.

7 the waking of the statue is notoriously challenging to direct, not least for the obvious problem of how an actor ‘plays’ a statue and how the other actors respond to the moment of Hermione’s awakening; but also because of the complex cross-currents between the characters onstage, and the unexpectedness and bizarreness of the scenario itself.

8 ‘Whatever else a romance may be (or have been) it is principally a form of entertainment. It may also be didactic but this is usually incidental. It is a European form which has been influenced by such collections as The Arabian Nights. It is usually concerned with characters (and thus with events) who live in a courtly world somewhat remote from the everyday. This suggests elements of fantasy, improbability, extravagance and naïveté. It also suggests elements of love, adventure, the marvellous and the ‘mythic’. For the most part the term is used rather loosely to describe a narrative of heroic or spectacular achievements, of chivalry, of gallant love, of deeds of derring-do.’

9 ‘[Comedy] differs from tragedy in its matter, in that tragedy is tranquil and conducive to wonder at the beginning, but foul and conducive to horror at the end or the catastrophe…Comedy, on the other hand, introduces a situation of adversity, but ends its matter in prosperity…And, as well, they differ in their manner of speaking. Tragedy uses an elevated and sublime style, while comedy uses an unstudied and low style…’ Dante Alighieri (c. 1319) in Epistle to Can Grande in Comedy: Developments in Criticism, ed. D J Palmer, (Macmillan Casebook Series, 1984),p. 31.

10 A tragicomedy is not so called in respect of mirth and killing, but in respect that it wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy. John Fletcher, Preface to The Faithful Shepherdess (1608)

11 ‘Shakespeare’s plays are not in the rigorous and critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but compositions of a distinct kind; exhibiting the real state of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, joy and sorrow, mingled with endless variety of proportion and innumerable modes of combination; and expressing the course of the world, in which the loss of one is the gain of another; in which, at the same time, the reveller is hasting to his wine, and the mourner burying his friend; in which the malignity of one is sometimes defeated by the frolic of another; and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and hindered without design…An action which ended happily for the principle persons, however serious or distressful through its intermediate incidents, in the [opinion of the age of Shakespeare] constituted a comedy.’ The Plays of William Shakespeare, ed. Samuel Johnson (London, 1765)

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