Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Winter's Tale, Act 1 (cont.)

First, before I forget, I'm going to pass along this link, which my friend Jo gave me, to the Folger Shakespeare Library's teaching notes for A Winter's Tale.

Second, I'm going to say: "Look at those notes if you feel like it. But don't if you don't feel like it."

Third, I'm going to say: "Shakespeare doesn't belong to the Experts. Shakespeare belongs to you." Feel free to turn that into a bumper sticker, if you like.

Okay, back to the project at hand. I'm going to ask several open-ended, conversational questions about the first scene and a half of the play. If those questions are a helpful way of organizing your thoughts, you can answer them in the comments. If they aren't, say whatever you want to say about the reading. But please, please, please comment, either here or privately to me in an email. With your permission I'll then quote you anonymously here. Believe me, people want to hear what you have to say.

Today, and today only, I will answer my own questions myself as soon as I post them. This is only my way of jumpstarting a pattern of response. I do not want to assume the role of Expert, nor do I want to control readers' perceptions. In the future I will comment only after two or three other readers have commented.

Conversation Starters for A Winter's Tale, act 1, scene 1 through scene 2, line 108

1. What word or phrase in this section was most beautiful, or strange, or annoying, or disturbing, or in any other way particularly noteworthy? Why?

2. What surprised you about the characters or their conversation?

3. What confused you about the characters or their conversation?

4. Who's your favorite character so far, and why?

For next week: Let's finish scene 2.


Dawn Potter said...

1. I love that phrase "sneaping winds" (scene 2, line 13). I don't exactly know what "sneaping" means, but it sounds like one of those chilly, pestering breezes that torment onlookers at elementary soccer games in early November.

2. I was most surprised by Hermione's conversation with Polixenes. Having read this play before, I know that her husband will become wrongly jealous of her relationship with P. But you know, she really does sound kind of flirty here. I'm not excusing Leontes' future bad behavior. But I'm beginning to see how she allowed it to happen.

3. It took me a while to figure out who Camillo and Archidamus were and how they were connected to Leontes and Polixenes and which person was king of Sicilia and which of Bohemia. I kept having to recheck the cast of characters to sort them all out. I suspect that on stage this would be less confusing than it is on the page.

4. So far my favorite character is "young prince Mamillius," and he isn't even on stage yet. Everyone speaks of him with such affection. He is a "gallant child, one that, indeed, physics the subject, makes old hearts fresh." I have a weakness for a couple of gallant children myself, which probably accounts for this preference.

Paul said...

I think it started out slowly but is getting there. I don't get what the first scene was about but that's okay. It's one of those scenes that isn't rigidly connected to the story.

Lucy Barber said...

Honestly, my first suprise was that that Winter's Tale is not Measure for Measure. I had mixed up the two plays in my mind. Because of that, I had to figure out if I had ever read the play and skimmed the whole play on line in some early edition. As a result, I can't comment on anything in particular except for my utter surprise at how vicious the play is. As I think on that, I think about the power of jealously especially in the face of unfaithfulness to take over your whole brain and body. I never took such dire steps as Leontes, but I sure did some pretty crazy things when caught up in those feelings.

The first scene just confused me. I tried reading it out loud, but the puns and malapropisms without any context were too hard. I like it better when these kind of scenes show up later in his plays. If I was directing the play, I would have cut from that section.

Dawn Potter said...

I've never researched this issue, but I've often wondered if the first scenes of many Shakespeare plays were mostly a chance for Globe audiences to finish up their fistfights, etc., and settle down to start watching the show.

Ruth said...

I agree with Lucy, the first scene just confused me too. By scene 2, I was getting into the language and not really worrying if I "got "everything or not and found that I had a better grip on the story. It has been way too long since I've read any Shakespeare.
1. I really like the line in scene 2 line 47 when Hermione says, "Verily You put me off with limber vows; but I, though you would seek to unsphere the stars with oaths, Should yet say, 'Sir, no going.'

2. Dawn, Hermione does sound flirty. Perhaps she is one of those women whom I somtimes envy, they just seem to know how to flatter their audience. I do like her and have always liked that name too. I had a doll named Herminone.

3. Paul, that's a good point about scene 1 not being rigidly connected.

Mr. Hill said...

"finish up their fistfights"! lol

1. I like the ine "Thou wants a rough pash and the shoots that I have." (1.2.128). I mean who doesn't want a rough pash?

2. I'm a little surprised at the extent of Hermione's efforts to keep Polixenes around. Somewhere in that exchange her requests that he stay cross the line from a polite expression of affection into something else. For his part, Polix has been gifted with a quick wit and seems to be showing a lot of restraint, like Shakespeare doesn't want him to be held to blame for anything that happens between the happy couple later. I can't decide if that makes him dull straw man of a character or not.

3. I kept having to re-read the lines around 1.2.23-27 "were in your love a whip to me." I get the point, but I'm not sure how it gets there.

4. My favorite is Archidamus, though he doesn't really say anything to distinguish himself yet. He just strikes me as maybe one of the reasonable minds who is going to be just enough removed from the drama to be able to deliver some nice quips about it. If he doesn't, I'll be disappointed.

Sheila Byrne said...

RE: the issue of Leontes' jealousy- Do you think that he is jealous of Hermione's ability to attract Polixenes attention, to convince him to stay when his childhood friend Leontes cannot? I thought it was no accident that L. becomes jealous after Hermione sweet-talks P., esp after how the two kings have been talking about how close they were when they were younger.

Anonymous said...

1. I had a tussle with "affection" until I realized that it meant any disposition or mood. It's repetition in the first two scenes makes me think it may be a key word for understanding the play. We shall see.
2, 3. To soon to tell. I am too busy retuning my eye and ear to Elizabethan English.
4. Without a doubt, so far, it's Archidamus. His wisecracking at the end of the first scene caught my sense of humor.

Dawn Potter said...

Comment by D.M.

The language is very hard for me to understand although I think I am able to pick up some of the important stuff and just shrug off the rest for now.

The line that really made an impression on me was when Hermione says "one good deed dying tongueless slaughters a thousand waiting upon that". I'm not exactly sure what the context was that she said that but it really made sense to me in that I try really hard to do good things that make a difference.

It is interesting to read what other people think of the play. Thanks for doing this...I don't think I would have attempted any more Shakespeare on my own!

Just a little funny note about the name "Hermione". When I substituted in fifth grade a long time ago the teacher was reading "Harry Potter" out loud to the class. The kids got on my case about how I pronounced Hermione. They were convinced that I was saying it wrong. When I asked how it should be pronounced I was told that it was HER-MEE-OWN-EE-OWN. I still can't help but chuckle every time I see the name Hermione.

Al and Adam said...

Conor and I just finally got around to reading this together; we read it aloud, and Conor wanted to note that he really enjoyed the word "verily." I liked the image of Polixenes and Leontes as "twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' the sun, And bleat the one at the other." I was surprised that we both seemed to be able to follow what was going on fairly well, though we also found that the first scene seems sort of unnecessary and even unclear.

I have to jump in and defend Hermione here; I really did not feel that she was overly flirty with Polixenes. Leontes called her "tongue-tied" and asked her to intervene when he was failing to convince Polixenes to stay, and it seemed to me that there was only a short time when she was focused on addressing him alone; for most of the scene she is eliciting from him memories of his boyhood with her husband, and then teasing Leontes about his assertion that this was one the two greatest times she ever spoke. However, I’ve never seen or read this play before, so I don’t know if this becomes part of a pattern of Hermione flirting or behaving suspiciously with Polixenes.

Lucy Barber said...

If anyone else is interested in Shakespeare as a live drama, I just found an interesting version of Winter's Tale called the Viola Allen Acting Version from 1905 on Google Books. It splits up the play differently and has some nice "production notes" and pretty pictures of Viola Allen (who I don't know who she was except I bet a famous actress).