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A Remarkable Epic of Romance and Renewal
Sep 28 - Nov 04, 2012
Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square
Run Time: 2 hours & 38 minutes (including intermission)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jesse Berger
A royal family is ripped apart when King Leontes imprisons Queen Hermione on suspicions of infidelity and exiles his newborn daughter.
But callous hearts are redeemed, and broken ones mended, when the king’s abandoned orphan falls in love with a Bohemian prince. In a surprising Shakespearean twist, this beautiful and bittersweet tale transcends wrath and regret to achieve romance and renewal in a miraculously cathartic conclusion.
The Winter's Tale Playbill
King Leontes of Sicilia begs his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, to extend his visit to Sicilia. Polixenes protests that he has been away from his kingdom for nine months, but after Leontes’s pregnant wife, Hermione, pleads with him he relents and agrees to stay a little longer. Leontes, meanwhile, has become possessed with jealousy. Convinced that Polixenes and Hermione are lovers, he orders his loyal retainer, Camillo, to poison the Bohemian king. Instead, Camillo warns Polixenes of what is afoot, and the two men flee Sicilia for Bohemia.
Furious at their escape, Leontes publicly accuses his wife of infidelity, and declares that the child she is bearing must be illegitimate. He throws her in prison, over the protests of his nobles, and sends to the Oracle of Delphi for what he is sure will be confirmation of his suspicions. Meanwhile, the queen gives birth to a girl, and her loyal friend Paulina brings the baby to the king, in the hopes that the sight of the child will soften his heart. He only grows angrier, however, and orders Paulina’s husband, Lord Antigonus, to take the child and abandon it in some desolate place. While Antigonus is gone, the answer comes from Delphi—Hermione and Polixenes are innocent, and Leontes will have no heir until his lost daughter is found. Leontes refuses to believe the Oracle. Suddenly, word comes that Leontes’ son, Mamillius, has died of a wasting sickness brought on by the accusations against his mother. Hermione falls in a swoon, and is carried away by Paulina, who subsequently reports the queen’s death to her heartbroken and now repentant husband.
Antigonus abandons the baby on the Bohemian coast, reporting that Hermione appeared to him in a dream and told him to name the girl Perdita and to leave gold and other tokens on her person. Antigonus is killed by a bear, and Perdita is raised by a kindly Shepherd and his son, a Clown. Sixteen years pass, and the son of Polixenes, Prince Florizel, falls in love with Perdita. His father and Camillo attend a sheep-shearing festival in disguise and watch as Florizel and Perdita are betrothed. Tearing off the disguise, Polixenes intervenes and orders his son never to see the Shepherd’s daughter again. With the aid of Camillo, however, who longs to see his native land again, Florizel and Perdita take ship for Sicilia, wearing the clothes of a local rogue, Autolycus, as a disguise. They are joined in their voyage by the Shepherd and his son the Clown.
In Sicilia, Leontes—still in mourning after all this time—greets the son of his old friend effusively. Florizel pretends to be on a diplomatic mission from his father, but his cover is blown when Polixenes and Camillo, too, arrive in Sicilia. The Shepherd tells everyone the story of how Perdita was found, Leontes realizes that she is his daughter, the two old friends Leontes and Polixenes are reconciled, and Florizel and Perdita are accepted as a couple. Paulina invites them all to see a statue of Hermione which has been recently finished.
“It is required You do awake your faith.”
– Paulina, Act V, Scene 3
As we continue our journey with Shakespeare’s glorious play moving from Boise to Cleveland, this line continues to ring out to me as an underlying principle for our production. A critical line for the characters when the line is said, it is also a clarion call to all who encounter this play. We must check our skepticism at the door, and awake our faith in the power of language and story and imagination. Shakespeare’s play is indeed a true Tale. In order to fully appreciate its power, we need to listen as children, naturally open to a great story. Shakespeare’s play also deals with very adult matters, like all the great folk tales, and this combination of perspectives makes it remarkably accessible to audiences of all ages.
The story on which Shakespeare based his play was an Elizabethan best-seller called Pandosto, meaningfully sub-titled The Triumph of Time. Time always conquers, and Time always reveals Truth. This idea made such an impact on Shakespeare that he included Time as an actual character in The Winter’s Tale. Along with Time, Shakespeare weaves the myths of Persephone, Pygmalion, and Alcestis into the thematic background of his play: a tale of two friends and kings, their wives and children, how a lack of faith breaks them and their families apart for sixteen years, and how a return to truth and faith restores them.
What kind of faith are we talking about here? Faith in Friends. In Fate. In the Gods. In the perfection of Nature. In the power of Art. Imagination. And—perhaps above all—Faith in Love. Only with faith—not blind trust, but true faith, hard-earned through experience and overcoming fears—can one achieve a balance of the winter and summer within one’s self, and—perhaps—reach a harmony with others and the universe itself. How does one achieve this kind of faith? One must first know, and trust, one’s self. And one must learn to trust time.
Leontes and Hermione’s young boy, Mamillius, says “A sad tale’s best for winter; I have one of sprites and goblins.” And indeed, The Winter’s Tale does have great sadness and nightmare monsters in it, almost drawn directly from a child’s imagination. But the play also carries as hot a summer as the winter is cold, and there is incredible joy and humor on the other side of that sadness and terror. If the court of Sicilia is formal and refined and – after Leontes catches the disease of jealousy – fraught with distrust, the fields of Bohemia are open and warm and full of music and passion—and yet irrational fears and behavior exists there, too.
Shakespeare’s genius, working at the highest level of his art, is able to share with us both these worlds fully and full of life, to explore their strengths and weaknesses, and then bring them together to a point where the hot of Bohemia and cold of Sicilia can re-unite through the character of Hermione in the line “O, she’s warm!” in a moment of sublime harmonic beauty.
Yin cannot exist without yang, love and hate are as inextricably yoked together as winter and summer are, as life and death are. It takes great strength of faith to trust that death is necessary for rebirth and to be able to live in a balanced state of existence. But the balance is all. What is shaken out of order in the beginning of our story is restored to balance at the end. It is not without pain and sorrow, nor is it without pleasure and joy – or magic. This poignant, bittersweet and beautiful balanced truth of life is made into a gloriously real fable for all ages in Shakespeare’s wondrous romance.
-Jesse Berger, Director, "The Winter's Tale"
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