Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, pt. 2

As I mentioned last week, I’m currently playing the role of Paulina in a local production of Shakespeare’s lovely and slightly bizarre tragical comical romantical problem play, The Winter’s Tale.

(For more on the story of the play, and some neat RSC pics, see last week’s post: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, pt. 1. And for more neat pics, and some great historical theatre info, see the RSC website.)

I have skimmed Garrick’s odd mini-play version of The Winter’s Tale, which he called (at least in his published versions) Florizel and Perdita (which is pretty much just the second half of Shakespeare’s version, with Garrick additions and rejumblings), and am working on getting my hands on Kemble’s acting version of TWT (I thought I had it, but I was mistaken), so I will talk more about the different Regency-era versions of the text in a later post.

Here is a portrait by Gainsborough of Mary Robinson, also known as “Perdita,” who drew the eye of the young Prince of Wales (later Regent, still later George IV) when she played Perdita at Drury Lane in 1779.

Mary Robinson later wrote of her first encounter with the Prince during her performance in Florizel and Perdita (which she refers to as “The Winter’s Tale,” although it was the half-length version which Garrick had adapted):

The play of THE WINTER’S TALE was this season commanded by their Majesties. I never had performed before the royal family; and the first character in which I was destined to appear was that of PERDITA. I had frequently played the part, both with the Hermione of Mrs Hartley and of Miss Farren: but I felt a strange degree of alarm when I found my name announced to perform it before the royal family.

In the Green-room I was rallied on the occasion; and Mr Smith, whose gentlemanly manners and enlightened conversation rendered him an ornament to the profession, who performed the part of Leontes, laughingly exclaimed, ‘By Jove, Mrs Robinson, you will make a conquest of the Prince; for to-night you look handsomer than ever.’ I smiled at the unmerited compliment, and little forsaw the vast variety of events that would arise from that night’s exhibition!

I hurried through the first scene, not without much embarrassment, owing to the fixed attention with which the Prince of Wales honoured me. Indeed, some flattering remarks which were made by his Royal Highness met my ear as I stood near his box, and I was overwhelmed with confusion.

The Prince’s particular attention was observed by every one, and I was again rallied at the end of the play. On the last curtsy, the royal family condescendingly returned a bow to the performers; but just as the curtain was falling, my eyes met those of the Prince of Wales; and, with a look that I never shall forget, he gently inclined his head a second time; I felt the compliment, and blushed my gratitude.

Questions for the day (answer any or all!): What Shakespeare plays did you study in school? Did you think the teacher(s) taught Shakespeare well, or in such a way to make the students bewildered bard haters? Do you think Shakespeare is better seen than read? Why do you think Shakespeare was so popular during the Regency?

Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester (which contains no Shakespeare, but does have a character named Richard)

About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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14 Responses to Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, pt. 2

  1. Wow, Cara, you posed a lot of questions for us. I had a delightful 9th grade teacher who acted out parts for us so I also can say I ‘saw’ Shakespeare. She was very dramatic about all of our readings and kept me enthralled enough to read many of his works and the other authors she introduced. I bought a complete Shakespeare book when in college but haven’t read much of it since those days. I do go back and read pieces of his works when something like this blog taps into those memories.

    I do like some of the movie versions but I’m more of a visual/written language person and often have to go back to the book to see how something was said or what might have been meant in the scene. Seeing a play, of course, is always my first choice, even though few opportunities around here.

  2. Mina says:

    Hi all! I haven’t been here in a while because I can’t post from work. But I love this subject.

    I was already a huge Shakespeare fan when I went into high school. The Tempest, the Scottish Play and Taming of the Shrew were my faves, though R&J, Much Ado, 12th Night, etc were all beloved, too.

    When we came to study R&J in school I simply *could not* understand my classmates disdain. I still don’t understand it. We of course watched the Franko Zefferelli version. We also took turns reading parts of it. Listening to my classmates read out loud was painful. I know they weren’t dumb kids, but it sounded like they were reading for the first time and took forwever to figure out simple passages. Maybe because they thought Shakespeare was hard, they made it hard?

    Watching a play is always going to be better than reading one, but I really like reading Shakespeare as well as watching his work.

  3. Welcome back, Mina! Hi, Terry!

    I think I first “got” Shakespeare with Zefferelli’s Romeo & Juliet, which I thought was so romantic. I hated the ending, though. I still hate the ending. I want that happily ever after!!

  4. Elena Greene says:

    I enjoyed Shakespeare in high school. We read one play a year and then got to see either a stage production of film version thereof. As far as seeing versus reading Shakespeare I am going to say both. I still follow better if I’ve read a play before but nothing beats the real stage performance.

  5. Lois says:

    Hm, let’s see if I can remember a lot of them —

    Romeo and Juliet
    Julius Caesar
    Midsummer Night’s Dream
    Taming of the Shrew
    The Tempest
    The Merchant of Venice
    RIchard III

    The most were from one class, Intro to Shakespeare. πŸ˜‰ I never thought at the time that the teachers I had were any good or bad than the others, but I guess if I had to pick someone, I’d go with my college prof of the intro class – we obviously had more time to spend talking about the plays.

    Some I ended up doing more than others. . . like I’m just simply sick of R&J because everyone does that or mentions that one. LOL I have a thing for Richard III because he was so nuts, Hamlet probably because of Star Trek VI. I really hated Othello because of the whole he didn’t believe his wife therefore she must die thing (but I guess that’s the idea, right? LOL)

    I remember though back in 8th grade we did the sonnet of “Shall I Compare Thee. . .” The purpose was to ultimately do a poem (though we didn’t have to do iambic pentameter. LOL). Well, two years later in Honors Sophomore English, we did it again, and she wanted to know what the last couple lines mean. I already knew, but I’m a notorious non-participator in class. LOL But there I was, looking around, at this group of slightly less than 20 people who were smarter than me (I got out of the honors classes the next year, thankfully!) hadn’t a stinken clue. They kept saying the poem was what would live on. Finally I spoke up, gave the right answer of the woman would live on, and okay, sure, I felt proud. LOL πŸ™‚

    Anyway, guess I babbled on. In the Shakespeare class we also saw a couple of film versions of the plays we read. . . I fell asleep during the ballet of R&J (sorry!), and we had the Mel Gibson verison of Hamlet.

    Ah, did I mention that all 20 or less of that class was female? For me, it was my first and maybe last Mel movie. I prefer Sean Connery myself. LOL πŸ™‚


  6. Cara King says:

    Sounds like a great teacher, Terry!

    The first Shakespeare I ever read was Romeo & Juliet in 8th grade, and the teacher we had for that prided herself on being mean and very demanding. (For example, if you leaned your feet on the rack beneath the desk in front of you, she gave you detention).

    She made us memorize every word defined in the footnotes & glossary, and then tested us on them. It didn’t make most of the class love Shakespeare, but I confess it did help us understand it…

    The next year I was in a different school, and did Romeo & Juliet again! And watched the Zeffirelli film. Probably enjoyed it more that time… Though I couldn’t quite see the textual evidence for my teacher’s assertion that Romeo’s love for Rosaline had been infatuation, and his love for Juliet was different. (Why is one case of love-at-first-sight infatuation, and one not???) πŸ™‚


  7. Judy T says:

    Believe it or not, I was not introduced to Shakespeare in school. Shocking, I know. My Sophmore English teacher decided they didn’t want to deal with Romeo and Juliet or any other Shakespeare, at least not that I remember.

    The first play I remember seeing was a British production on PBS of Taming of the Shrew, and I loved it. I saw Othello with Lawrence Olivier on the tele when I was visiting my great aunt and uncle and was captivated. I’ve seen Much Ado About Nothing and Julius Ceaser. In fact, I think I’ve seen most of the comedies and only a few of the tragedies. I don’t care for stories where everyone dies in the end. I was introduced to his sonnet’s through the TV show ‘Beauty and the Beast.’

    I love the painting. I always wonder if the artist and subject talked during the sittings, and if they did, what did they talk about? What were their lives like? And the questions are endless.

  8. Cara King says:

    Glad to see you here again, Mina!

    I know they weren’t dumb kids, but it sounded like they were reading for the first time and took forwever to figure out simple passages. Maybe because they thought Shakespeare was hard, they made it hard?

    You know, I suspect one common problem is reading Shakespeare too slowly. He has lots of interpolations and asides, and if one reads quickly, one will realize what they are, and have little trouble identifying the subject and verb of the main sentence…

    Then again, some students are just terrible at reading anything aloud. πŸ™‚

    As for your list of faves, I’d definitely put Twelfth Night, Much Ado, and Macbeth (I’m not in a theatre, so I’m just going to name it!) at the top of my list too! Tempest never really resonated with me, and I don’t know why. Shrew I’ve never been mad about, but it can definitely be entertaining (and sometimes thought-provoking). I haven’t seen or read R&J in so long, hard to know what I think now! I certainly used to love it. Gorgeous poetry.

    Diane, as far as happily ever after, as long as I know ahead of time it’s going to be a tragedy, I don’t necessarily mind!

    I still follow better if I’ve read a play before but nothing beats the real stage performance

    I like both too, Elena. If I see a Shakespeare play that I’ve never read or seen before, I can follow it (unless it’s an uncommonly bad production) but I always miss things. My habit used to be to read the first two acts of any of Shakespeare’s plays I was going to see… That way, I’d be solid on what the different characters and their relationships and statuses (stati?) πŸ™‚ were, and the last three acts would all be new to me…

    Of course, by this point, unless you count weird recent additions to the canon (like Edward 3, which I don’t count, or Two Noble Kinsman, which I don’t wish to), I’ve seen all of his plays! Which makes things a little different…


  9. I had a tutor (old Mr. Pettynose, I believe his name was; certainly had a small nose, so it seems likely) who taught me history by having me read Shakespeare’s plays. I particularly liked The First Part of the History of King Henry the Sixth, because it never ends, which meant I never had time to do my Greek.

    The one unfortunate part, though, is that I’ve been confused ever since about history.

    Bertram St. James, Exquisite
    (also known as Bertie the Beau)

  10. Thanks for posting this, Cara! it’s so much fun to follow your theatrical adventures. in fact, you’ve inspired me–I’m going to audition for a local production of Midsummer Night’s Dream this weekend. πŸ™‚

    Like Mina, I loved Shakespeare before I got to high school, which is a good thing since the teaching of his plays there was, er, less than inspiring. Though my sophomore English teacher did assign us to rewrite a scene from Julius Caesar in a different time period, which was lots of fun. My friends and I made them hippies, for some strange reason i can’t remember now!

  11. Cara King says:

    Interesting list, Lois! (I always find it interesting which plays different teachers choose! My brother went to an all-boys high school, and they did Julius Caesar rather than Romeo and Juliet, which I guess makes sense! But they also read Tale of Two Cities when we read Great Expectations, for whatever reason! Maybe they just thought boys liked wars of all kinds??)

    Sorry, getting off the subject!

    My favorite Shakespeare movies would include (in no particular order):

    HENRY V (by Branagh, with Branagh, Emma Thompson, Judi Dench, Brian Blessed, Christian Bale, etc etc)

    MUCH ADO (by Branagh, with Branagh, Thompson, Kate Beckinsale, Imelda Staunton, Michael Keaton, Denzel Washington, and, sadly, Keanu Reeves)

    TWELFTH NIGHT (the Victorian-set one with Imogen Stubbs, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Kingsley, Imelda Staunton, etc)

    ROMEO+JULIET (with Leonardo D and Claire Danes)

    And then there are so many I loved when I saw, but haven’t seen in so long (such as most of Olivier’s, and Zeffirelli’s R&J)…

    No Shakespeare in school, Judy? I find that more than shocking! πŸ™‚

    As for the painting — I wonder what they were saying to the dog, to make him sit still! πŸ™‚

    And Bertie — thanks for joining us! And don’t believe anything Shakespeare said about Richard III or Joan of Arc — all lies! πŸ™‚


  12. Cara King says:

    I’m going to audition for a local production of Midsummer Night’s Dream this weekend. πŸ™‚

    Neat, Amanda! Break a leg!

    Come to think of it, my 10th grade teacher wasn’t good at Shakespeare either (though she was a nice person). We did Macbeth, and I remember having to spend way too much time learning about the cloak imagery and bird imagery in the play. SO not important! Not compared to having neat discussions about free will and guilt and murder….

    Luckily, I’d already seen it, and loved it, so she didn’t ruin it for me. (And even having to play the doggerel-reciting Hecate in a production years later didn’t dim my love for the play!)


  13. One of the things I’ve noticed about movie actors, who used to be Shakespeare stage actors (for example, Ben Kingsley), is their clear, precise pronounciation. They never mumble. You can clearly follow what they say even if they say their lines quietly.

    I prefer to see the plays staged (as plays, not movies, with a minimum of costuming or set acoutrements), but only after I’ve read them first. Many actors tend to mangle the lines, because they can’t get the diction and the rhythm right. So if I’ve read the plays then I can fill in the gaps.

    Romeo and Juliet has to be my least favorite of the plays. All that martyring yourself for your love. Pah!!

    “Shall I Compare Thee. . .”

    Ah, Lois. You hit on my most beloved sonnet. I prefer the Romantic poets, in general, but this sonnet does hit the sweet spot for its sheer lyrical beauty.

    Cara said, “Why is one case of love-at-first-sight infatuation, and one not???) :-)”

    That is the very same question that many, many romance novels explore, don’t they? The current girlfriend who he enjoys is quickly booted out of favor the minute the heroine puts in an appearance. The hero just knows, “She’s the one.” Erm, ah!

    Oh, haaay! Bertie’s back! Lovely to read your comments.

    Amanda, poor Shakespeare would fall down in a dead faint if he heard about your hippie-version. πŸ™‚ All the best for your audition. Is it for a particular part? What piece are you going to prepare for the audition?

    Welcome back, Mina.

  14. Todd says:

    In high school I read Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew and Julius Caesar. A lot of kids did Romeo and Juliet as part of an English elective that was more or less “Literature Involving Adolescents.” Romeo and Juliet, The Catcher in the Rye, and I have no idea what else because I didn’t take that elective. Even when I was an adolescent I had only a very limited interest in literature involving adolescents.

    In college the only literature class I took was on lyric poetry, so we had at most a couple of sonnets by Shakespeare. But at this point I’ve read most of the plays on my own, and seen almost all of them.

    Based on my recollection, Mina, most students are really lousy at reading out loud. Given that Shakespeare is a fair way towards being a foreign language, and I’m not surprise that most school readings are painful.

    And I would just like to point out that, based on her portrait, Mary Robinson was a Regency hotty. No wonder the prince went for her. One does wonder if she’d have reciprocated if he hadn’t been a prince, though…


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