Shakespeare adaptations

Belling Shakespeare’s cat

Fertile Ground 2021: Sue Mach's "Madonna of the Cat" imaginatively fills in the 16-year gap in Shakespeare's romance "The Winter's Tale"

According to a common rule of thumb about Elizabethan plays, tragedies end in deaths, comedies end in weddings. Romances, those fanciful neither-fish-nor-fowl creatures that became Shakespeare’s late-career specialty, find their happy endings often at the altar as well, but festooned with symbolic blooms of reunion, reconciliation and restoration.

So it is in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, which finds a pair of royal families ruptured by  irrational passions until, first, divine intervention, and then, human agency can set things right. 


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Adapted from a 1588 novel called Pandosto, by Robert Greene, The Winter’s Tale concerns  two longtime friends, King Leontes of Sicilia and King Polixenes of Bohemia. The trouble starts in Sicilia when Leontes comes to the mistaken belief that his wife, Hermione, is cheating with his friend. Polixenes slips back to Bohemia, and Leontes puts Hermione on trial, where amid the shock of it all she collapses and is pronounced dead. The complicated path to a resolution of this mess takes 16 years, a change of scenery to the sea coast of Bohemia (never mind that the region is actually quite landlocked), a shepherd girl of mysterious origin, young love, Leontes’ grieving repentance, Polixenes having a snit of his own, and much plotting by various parties. 

Augustus Leopold Egg (1816-1863), “Scene from ‘The Winter’s Tale’ (Act IV, Scene 4),” Guildhall Art Gallery. Photo: City of London Corporation

And of course, there’s that bear. But more on him later.

Proper order is restored at last when Paulina, the wife of a Sicilian lord, reveals that she has kept Hermione alive and hidden all this time, awaiting the proper moment for love and forgiveness.

Continues…