Theme: Analyse the structure of Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”
The structure of William Shakespeare’s tragicomedy “The Winter’s Tale” can be separated into two parts: a tragic part -taking place in winter- and a comic part - taking place in spring and summer. Both these parts have their own structure including an exposition, a climax and an ending.
The tragic part starts with an expositional scene in which not only the background is told, but also the point of attack is. The action starts when Leontes suspects Hermione of being an adulteress and rises by the assassination of Polixenes and the arrest of Hermione. A comic relief shortly before the climax has its function in empha- sising this tragedy. The climax of this tragic part is when the Oracle is read aloud and Le- ontes does not trust the Oracle. After his repentance speech, Paulina reports the catastro- phic news: Hermione is dead.
Although this tragic part seems to be a “perfect” tragedy, there are two distinguishing points. At first, Hermione, as well as Mamillius, does not die on stage, but off-stage. The second distinction is rather more important: there is, at least partly, a way out of this catastrophe because Hermione’s daughter can still be found - as predicted by the Oracle.
Perdita is found in the next scene. But the main aspect of the scene of transition is that the tragic part ends and turns into a comic part. When Antigonus exits, pursued by a bear, there is certainly laughter in the audience - if not, there is still the Old Shepherd who speaks of his son meeting things dying, but he himself meeting with things new-born. This is a great metaphor for this change in the play. The audience knows now that this turns out to be a comedy and therefor that the secret of Perdita’s origin will be found out. The audience is ready to enjoy the comic part.
The comic part also starts with an expositional scene. The personification of time tells us about the time, the place and the beauty of Perdita (“grown in grace”). This is very important because one of her main features is that she’s beautiful - which is very hard to realise in Shakespearean Times with male actors also playing the female roles. The action starts when Polixenes and Camillo disguise to look after Florizel. Autolycus appears and emphasises the comic by his witty tricks and by his songs. This comic rises until the height is reached: the sheepsharing festival with music and - at its climax - the dramatically ironic dialogue between Florizel and Polixenes in disguise. Right at this point the atmosphere changes again, the dialogue is followed by a tragic relief. The function of it is to create additional suspense for the closure. Again the happy ending of the comic part, the recognition of Perdita and the meeting of the two kings, is only reported. Both endings are only reported to strengthen the following scene - otherwise it could be weakened.
The final scene gives a happy closure to the whole play, it combines the two parts directly with each other. Without the happy ending of the comic part, there could not be a happy ending of the whole play. The dramatic fact that Hermione is dead is turned into a dramatic lie. Hermione alive is the most unexpected surprise in this play. The conventional comic closure is completed by the three couples, by the fact that there is one heir for the two countries and that everybody is proposed for - even Autoly- cus! The fact that Mamillius died is weakened because there is a substitute for him in the name of Florizel.
It was shown in this essay that, for analysing the structure it was very helpful to separate this tragicomedy into two parts. But having analysed the struc- ture it is clear that the play as a whole is one piece of art which cannot be divided into two plays.