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The Winter's Tale and Guarinian Dramaturgy Robert Henke Genre concepts significantly affect our understanding of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale. The play not only repeatedly calls attention to itself as fiction, but its tripartite tragicalpastoral -comical arrangement focuses our attention on three important dramatic genres of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and the dialogic relationships between them. In Pericles, Shakespeare emphasizes the romance source by dramatizing John Gower and narrative itself, the radical of presentation most congenial to romance. "Romance" also aptly describes the story of The Winter's Tale: a more schematic, typological presentation of character than obtains in the tragedies, the (apparent) suspension of the laws of cause and effect, marvelous recognitions over large expanses of space and time, and an overall trajectory from woe to weal. But Shakespeare takes the romance material available to him in Robert Greene's Pandosto and separates it into the three dramatic genres that constituted an important new Renaissance form, the avant-garde Italian pastoral tragicomedy . The non-dramatic term 'romance,' used first in the late nineteenth-century by Edward Dowden in what we would now call a modal sense to convey the serene, beneficent attitude of the last plays,1 neither gets to the quick of The Winter's Tale as experienced by the theater audience nor speaks to our increasing sense of the conflicts between comic and tragic and pastoral visions in the play. 'Tragicomedy,' understood in the historical context of late Cinquecento dramatic theory and practice, better explains the dramaturgy (involving the transposition from romance story to staged play) and audience experience (mediated by genre concepts) of The Winter's Tale. At the time of the composition of The Winter's Tale, few other Renaissance kinds had received so much recent theoretical and practical attention as had the controversial genre of Italian tragicomedy. In an acrimonious quarrel that eventually produced 197 198Comparative Drama five documents between them, Battista Guarini defended and Giason Denores challenged the feasibility of tragicomic and pastoral drama.2 Taken together, Guarini's responses to Denores reveal one of the most detailed and sophisticated dramaturgies in Renaissance drama, one acutely conscious of the ways in which genre signals mediate between playwright and audience by organizing various systems of signification, creating horizons of expectations, and eliciting various rhetorical effects in the audience . In the course of the entire quarrel, Guarini considers the technology of dramatic composition; the style, tone, set, action, and characters of his mixed genre; and its rhetorical performances . Although Guarini says that pastoral is incidental, not essential to tragicomedy, his account of the many ways in which pastoral may function as a bridge between tragedy and comedy is richly suggestive for The Winter's Tale as well as for Cymbeline and The Tempest. The middle style of pastoral, its flexible emotional register, the capacity of the pastoral set to range from the pleasance of the meadow to the harshness of the selva (forest ) or mountains, its typical actions, and the indeterminacy of social status in bucolic literature, all make it possible for pastoral to function both as a "theater" of genre experimentation and as a means of transforming tragedy into comedy. The tensions and potential harmonies between tragedy, comedy, and pastoral become the material of tragicomedy, which stages debate and interaction between its constituent kinds. Interest in the latest theatrical theories and experiments was far from beneath Shakespeare. Although Shakespeare's direct knowledge of the drama of Tasso and Guarini can be demonstrated (and, through Marston and Fletcher, his indirect awareness of theories of tragicomedy), the most convincing evidence of international cross-fertilization can be mustered from a comparative examination of the Italian and Shakespearean plays themselves, which demonstrates the persistent appearance of common theatrical structures: character typology, topoi, actions, and genre systems.3 In particular, Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, and The Tempest share with the late Cinquecento Italian hybrids a high degree of generic self-consciousness and a similar genre system constituted by tragedy, comedy, and pastoral. Although Shakespeare's direct knowledge of tragicomic theory was probably scanty, the Italian dramaturgical theory is so closely tied to actual theatrical practice that it should illuminate the "unwritten poetics" operative...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 197-217
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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