Monday, January 25, 2010

A Winter's Tale, Act 2, Scene 1

Sans headache, I finally caught up on my own Shakespeare assignment, and I hope you found time to read as well.

A few thoughts: does Hermione's character undergo any kind of shift from the beginning to the end of the scene? What do you think of Shakespeare's handling of Mamillius's "kid talk" dialogue? Why is Leontes so pissed off at the escaped Camillo, even though he allows all kinds of backtalk from Antigonus?

For next week: scene 2.


Ruth said...

Hermione certainly runs the gamut of emotions in this scene. She starts with delight in her son, then disbelief and then to, perhaps, patience ? as she wait for Leontes to come to his senses. I wondered about her at the beginning of the play for she seemed to be a flirt, but I'm now thinking she is a strong true character. As for Leontes, he is "unencumbered by the rational thought process" to paraphrase The Car Talk Guys!!! Perhaps Leontes allows backtalk from Antigonus because bullies usually have respect for those who stand up to them.
Well, that is my very weak imput for now.

Dawn Potter said...

Hermione is a roller coaster, but it all feels so believable. I love how she reacts when her kid is annoying her, and how that petulance nonetheless seems to meld perfectly into her fortitude at the end of the scene. Also, I had completely forgotten that she was pregnant in this play. That didn't even get mentioned in act 1. Maybe her appearance alone was supposed to do the talking.

Ruth said...

She is believable and I am relieved because I hadn't much hope in the beginning! I too, liked how real her reactions to her son were. It doesn't mention her pregnancy. What is the time frame here between act I and act II?

Dawn Potter said...


Madness! Madness! Suddenly, and with no apparent provocation that would warrant it, Leontes is off his rocker. What set him off? I have been over and over the opening of 1:2. Polixenes and Leontes are having a good time. Leontes is prevailing on Polixenes to extend his visit. Polixense protests that he has urgent affairs to attend to at home. Hermione joins in with enthusiastic entreaties. Polixenes agrees to another night before his departure. Leontes and Polixenes recall their childhood bonds. Then, immediately Leontes concludes theat Polixenes and Hermione have cuckolded him. Bizarre! It just doesn’t work for me. As Leontes goes on expressing his rage, it seems like he has entirely lost touch with reality. Not even my birther and tea bagger friends go so ballistic on such little evidence.

In 2:1, Leontes imprisons Hermione and hears entreaties by his court that uphold her honor. As he is confronted with more and more assertions of her innocence, she is more adamantly convinced of her guilt. He is crackers. A complete psychotic break, except in my dealings with psychotic people, even paranoid schizophrenics, their behavior has not been that bizarre.

I am at a point where I have to proceed on faith that Shakespeare will do something that makes sense of this mess. He has certainly picked up the pace of the play.

A favorite line? Hermione's 2:1:110-113: “… I have That honorable grief lodg’d here which burns Worse than tears drown.” You have to admire such eloquence under such stress!

Ruth said...

Well, we do have one of the stock characters the cuckolded husband, but so far Hermione isn't falling into the nagging wife.

Dawn Potter said...

Interesting how Andrew's comment about the cuckolded husband led to Ruth's comment about the lack of a nagging wife. I wonder if the "nagging" trope will surface elsewhere.

Al and Adam said...

Conor said:

Mamilius seems like my 8 yo brother Eamon because most of the time I can understand what he's saying, but then he'll just say something weird.

I agree that Leontes is crazy.

Al and Adam said...

Allison said:
I agree with Conor that Mamilius does often sound like a fairly realistic kid, though I wonder what age he's supposed to be. At first I thought the whole bit about women's eyebrows was fairly odd and incongruous, and I was wondering if it was written that way in order to show the audience how very observant and thoughtful he is. On the other hand, it might just be a fairly realistic example of the "kids say the darnedest things" phenomenon and provided merely for some comic relief from the crazy Leontes drama.

And how crazy it is! It's amazing and impressive how honorably all of Leontes's loved ones are behaving under these trying circumstances. So far everyone seems to firmly believe in Hermione and Polixenes's innocence and be taking up for her with the king, then respectfully giving in when he is unmoved by their arguments. I'm surprised that no one in the court has decided to try to manipulate the situation somehow to serve their own ends in some way.

Lucy Barber said...

As someone who works in the public trust now but without the personal connection of Leontes's lords, I truly admire their attempt to speak to "injustice." It is not that it is impossible to say "you are wrong" to a misguided bureaucrat or ruler, but it is never easier. If I were trying to be a character in this play, I'd want to be a Antigonus or other lord of Sicily. I'd like to speak truth rather than kind of conspiratorial expectation of governors. To me on my quick reads, this play is not well-crafted, but still Shakespeare picked up on real trends in life. With authority, people need justification, not reason. But with morality, people need reason and truth, and care less for justification. But all: justification, reason, truth are difficult and carry costs.

I admit to a hard day with real moral dilemmas so I'll stop now. Nevertheless, that this play can invoke in me a sense of concern about justice despite its flaws is a sign of its humanity, if not its elegance.

Dawn Potter said...

The question of elegance in writing is one that I've thought about a lot in reference to Milton, and I'm excited that Lucy brought it up here. Is elegance an important aspect of literature? Or is it present to serve a specific end? Is the roughness of this beginning a thematic element of the play? I always wonder.

And yes, Conor, Mamillius is like a little brother. He really does sound like a wacky annoying kid that everyone loves even though he is a pain.

Allison's and Lucy's points about honor go back, I think, to Andrew's focus on Leontes' bizarre actions. Everyone else in this play is "normal," but all are required to act "better than normal" in order to deal with him. The situation really encapsulates the exhaustions of justice.

Dawn Potter said...


I really liked the interaction between Mamillius and Hermione. Especially when she asked him to tell a story and he gave her a choice of merry or sad. She told him to make it as merry as he would like. I thought it was interesting that he chose sad because that is best for winter and then in little boy fashion it had to have goblins and sprites in it. Not my idea of sad.

I thought that Hermione was very brave when she was being sent to prison and told the women who were going with her not to cry "Do not weep, good fools: there is no cause: when you shall know that your mistress has deserved prison then abound in tears" She went with dignity and wanted everyone around her to act in the same way.

I had a hard time concentrating on what Leontes was saying....his accusations seem so ridiculous and he seems to me to be acting like a jerk. I am just tuning him out right now.

I'm glad that others are standing up and saying that Hermione didn't do anything wrong. I did find it interesting that Antigonus talks about "gelding" his daughters and then not letting them live past fourteen if he finds out that the queen has been unfaithful. Kind of stiff punishment for something they would have had nothing to do with!

Dawn Potter said...

D.M.'s perceptions about the little boy's storytelling remind me of how unsentimental Shakespeare is. I mean, this play may be a ridiculous melodrama, yet the characters are true to themselves, not to a stereotype. I'm the last person to diss Dickens, but even I have to admit that the little lame Cratchit kid in "A Christmas Carol" makes me wince. He's too sugary to be tragic. Mamillius, on the other hand, is a real human being.

And I agree that Leontes is hard to focus on. He is such a seething mess of bad emotions.

Al and Adam said...

Dawn, are you suggesting that maybe Shakespeare made a decision that he didn't need to spend much time drawing a complete picture of Leontes's mental breakdown because he wanted to cut straight to an examination of how the people around Leontes would deal with his insane jealousy? Perhaps he wasn't concerned with writing an elegant beginning, as long as it efficiently led us to this point? Or maybe he wanted us to experience the abrupt onset of Leontes's madness in the same way that his friends and family would, without ever getting all the blanks filled in about how this came about?

Dawn Potter said...

Allison, I don't know if that was his intention or not. But in my Milton odyssey, I did start to recognize that language and structure can sometimes start seem to take on their own life: that is, if you're writing about chaos, sometimes chaos infects your writing. So I wonder, anyway, if something like that is happening here, in these cluttered, awkward scenes. It seems like a possibility anyway.

Lucy Barber said...

In response to "Al and Adam"'s comment about whether Shakespeare was deliberate in the confusion of these opening scenes. I can't say I know the Great Will's intention, but this insight would be something I would use if I wanted to stage this play. To me, using "insanity" and its lack of elegance and predictability would be a compelling way to stage this play. The goal would not be to make Leontes appealing but rather more than an irritation.

And then I have to say Dawn is so right about the Great Will's ability to be human and humane even in the midst of big ideas.

[I thank all of you for giving me something interesting to focus on in the midst of other pressures at home and work.]