The Winter’s Tale

  • Patrick Swinden


There is little in Shakespeare’s last plays that we should have been surprised to have found in his first. His comedies begin and end with an eventful sea journey, the one to a seaport, the other to an island in the Mediterranean. In both cases the journey leads to confusion and then to joy — in the restoration of parent to child and in the repeal of a harsh sentence imposed by one of the characters (in authority at the time) on one or more of the others. Aegeon is as amazed at what he finds in Ephesus as Alonso is at what he finds on Prospero’s magic island. Both are places of enchantment. Both harbour a pleasant young girl who will marry the threatened father’s son. In spite of his comparative lack of interest in romantic love at the beginning of his career, Shakespeare’s early plays have a great deal — in respect of plot, the general outlines of character, and some specific scenes — in common with the later ones. Also, the middle comedies make use of almost all the events that occur in Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest. Situations that threaten dismay and disaster invariably resolve themselves into concord and harmony. Why, then, do we feel that these last plays are different; that although what is done is familiar, the spirit in which it is done is strange?


Romantic Love Harsh Sentence Specific Scene Instinctive Life Bitter Comment 
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© Patrick Swinden 1973

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  • Patrick Swinden

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