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The maturing of romance in The Winter's Tale If the prevailing view that Shakespeare's comedies before 1600 are better plays than those of his last period were to be challenged on behalf of The Winter's Tale, one reason would be that here he makes best use of the romance genre — drawing benefit from his earlier ventures in that kind but going beyond them. For individual romance motifs, like the separation and reunion of lovers, the debt to the resources of the genre is plain enough. For the characteristic ideas and attitudes of romance the debt is less manifest, yet deeper. More fundamentally still, in overcoming the chief obstacles presented by romance to effective dramatization — its diffuseness and its credulity — Shakespeare does not evade or minimize them; instead, he exploits them to the fullest. Romance is indispensable to both structure and theme. I First, since "romance" is an elastic term, I list the main motifs and ideas which are characteristic of the genre and are exploited by Shakespeare for comedy. An inventory of motifs would include: duels, travels, wanderings, sea-journeys, storms, shipwrecks, exilings, disguises, monsters, fairies, philtres, poisons, oracles, riddles, hermits, courts, courtships, lovetests , ordeals, separations, mistakes of identity, birthmarks. These motifs can be grouped into three main categories: adventures; marvels; and lovematters (so long as we include friendships and the love of kindred alongside erotic love). But common to all three categories is extraordinariness of event, which ranges from the merely unusual to the virtually if not actually 2 incredible. An inventory similarly made for the ideas and attitudes endemic to romance would include: fortune, time, providence, reconciliation, patience, the opposing of extreme forms of good and evil, conversion, the simple life. Their characteristic scope and interconnections are as follows. Fortune, with time often and providence sometimes in attendance, shapes the outcome. The outcome consists largely of reconciliations, of discovered or recovered identities, of rewards or punishments or pardons. Such events concern high-born characters who tend to possess great beauty, perfection of manners, abnormal ethical endowment; any or all of these. Their patience and courage under stress qualify them for eventual happiness, for in this genre's sense of event evil and pain do not outlast goodness and joy. The declared intention of the romancer in using all such materials (which are of time-proven appeal) is to arose a delighted wonder. But is this wonder aroused by surprise, or by fulfilled expectation, or indeed by the generic expectation of surprise? This is certainly a question to ask of The Winter's Tale, since to avail himself of resources of romance was a choice by 148 JJX. Hale Shakespeare of a genre encrusted with cliche', and open moreover to the accusation of seeking a merely rhetorical or wish-fulfillment effect (as Ben Jonson5 did not fail to point out). Exactly these misgivings are occasioned by the play's main source, Greene's euphuistic romance Pandosto: The Triumph of Time. It is an agreeable, facile fiction. Such structure as it has comes from the unexamined clicheY. of the genre. Mention of fortune prepares us for a structure of vicissitudes; questions of identity and trials of courtship prepare us for final unravellings; and a sense gathers that confusions and divisions will issue in reconciliations. But such wonder as these materials thus structured might produce is merely conventional, so facile as once again to prompt the question, what attracted Shakespeare to such material in general and this specimen in particular. II In The Winter's Tale Shakespeare employs many of the genre's motifs. Two in particular witness to the maturing of his use of romance since writing his first ten comedies: these are the motifs of friendship and of a lover's hyperbole. In narrative romance friendship often assumes a status equal to that of erotic love, as par excellence when the hero falls in love with the lady his friend loves. That is a cliche', but its treatment varies. In one sort of story the hero surrenders his love to the claims of friendship: witness Gisippus, Amis, and Valentine in The Two Gentlemen of Verona. In another variant the hero abandons friendship to compete, perhaps unscrupulously...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 147-162
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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