The Winter's Tale is one Shakespeare's five 'late plays', with Percicles, Cymbeline, The Tempest and Henry VIII. It was written before May 15, 1611, when one Simon Forman saw it performed at the Globe, and probably later than the first Court performance of Ben Jonson's Masque of Oberon on January 1, 1611, as (4.4. 336 - 9) seems to refer to the dance of satyrs in that play.
The play's primary source is Robert Greene's Pandosto (1588), subtitled "The Triumph of Time", in which Pandosto, the king of Bohemia corresponding to Leontes, falsely accuses his wife Bellaria of infidelity. The triumph of time is the discovery of the truth, Bellaria's innocence, and daughter Fawnia's identity. At the end Pandosto commits suicide. No source material was so closely followed by Shakespeare, as the number of verbal echoes testifies; nevertheless Shakespeare makes very significant additions: Autolycus, Antigonus, Paulina and, above all, the statue scene, partly influenced by the myth of Alcestis, who gave her life to save her husband's, but primarily by the myth of Pygmalion, to be found in Ovid's Metamorphoses, as can the rape of Prosperpina (see 4.4.115ff). Arthur Golding's translation of Metamorphoses is among Shakespeare's most important sources, along with Holinshed and Plutarch, and on two occasions appears as a book characters are reading (Cymbeline, Imogen's bedtime reading; Titus Andronicus, the book Lavinia uses to denounce her rapists). Minor sources include Greene's "Cony-catching" pamphlets, which exposed the tricks of London rogues and provided material for Autolycus, and North's translation of Plutarch, where most of the names come from. The bear might have been suggested by the popular comedy Mucedorus. More generally, the romance genre that became popular around 1600 was influenced by Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, Spenser's poetry and by Hellenistic novels such Heliodorus' Æthiopica (translated by Thomas Underdowne) and Longus' Daphnis and Chloe (translated by Angel Day).Spectacle
The spectacular elements of the play, in particular the music and dances in Act 4 Scene 4 reflect an aspect of Jacobean theatre that received its full expression in the masque, more a court entertainment than a play, designed for a particular occasion and being a means for the court to symbolically relate its own particular values and persons to ideal ones. It was often based around a particular member of the court such as the prince or king who provided the metaphorical light to illuminate the whole. Perdita seems almost to do as much in Act 4.4. Ben Jonson, Shakespeare's foremost dramatist rival, and the architect Inigo Jones were the most famous creators of masques. Whether or not due to Shakespeare's company, The King's Men, acquiring a private indoor theatre at Blackfriars in 1609, his later plays use theatrical and spectacular effects. In The Tempest, Prospero's magic creates a wedding masque for Miranda and Ferdinand. In Cymbeline, Jupiter descends from the ceiling, and the cannons in Henry VIII (also known as "All is True") caused the Globe theatre to burn down on June 29, 1613. Romance
Pericles, The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline and The Tempest are grouped together as Shakespeare's 'romances', because of certain common elements. Unlike romantic comedy, whose plot works around a love-problem of a number of young protagonists, these plays usually concern two generations of one family and their eventually reunion. Instead of being concentrated around one problem that occupies a short space of time, the romances do not have one central aspect of plot. Their action is instead spread over a long period of time (The Tempest is an exception here, by virtue of a long recapitulation by Prospero in 1.2). The action tends to be like that of a myth or fable rather than being rooted in psychological and social specifics - "winter tales" were classed with "old wives' tales" - but this is balanced by the inclusion of satirical and comic scenes and characters such as Autolycus. Sometimes the combination gets a little out of hand: Cymbeline is ostensibly based in pre-Christian Britain, but includes Iachimo, an unmistakably Renaissance Italian. The conclusion of romances generally depends not on resolution of a problem such as mistaken identity, but on someone lost being found and being recognised, against all probability. Recovery and recognition are intertwined: the amazement experienced in the final scene of The Winter's Tale is both astonishment that such a thing could have happened and an almost religious reawakening of perception, as Leontes "comes to his senses". In The Tempest recognition is not as important as reconciliation and forgiveness, but these depend on how Prospero's magic is perceived. In the other three plays, the moment of recognition is given centre stage and is emphasised by an initial lack of recognition. In The Winter's Tale there is only a shadow of this: Paulina warns "Do not shun her... for then you kill her double" (5.3.105- 67), but Pericles pushes Marina away from him (Pericles 5.1.100), and Posthumous throws his beloved (but disguised) Imogen to the ground: "Shall's have a play of this? Thou scornful page, / There lie thy part" (Cymbeline 5.6.228-9). The outcome of the plays depends not only on improbable
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