The Dark Comic Vision of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale Essay

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The Dark Comic Vision of The Winter’s Tale

Although Shakespeare’s plays are generally categorized according to their adherence to the formulaic definitions of histories, romances, comedies, or tragedies, there are several plays that complicate the task of fitting neatly into these groupings. Many literary critics, in fact, have singled out a handful of plays and labeled them ‘Problem Plays’ because they do not fall easily into any of the four categories, though they do loosely adhere to the predicated ‘formula’ of the genre under which they appear in the Folios. Although The Winter’s Tale is not generally considered a problem play, it certainly contains elements that greatly complicate our understanding of the term ‘comedy’ and
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The success of this attempt to lighten the mood, however, is dubious at best. By the end of the third act, the audience has had to endure the madness of Leontes, the anguish of Hermione, the abandonment of the baby Perdita, and the deaths of three innocent people (Antigonus, Mamillius, and Hermione). By the time Act 4 begins, the unhappy words of the dejected Hermione seem to apply equally well to the life of the play itself: "To me can life be no commodity…Tell me what blessings I have here alive, / That I should fear to die" (3.2, 91-106). Leontes’ subsequent dismissal of the Oracle and the deaths of Mamillius and Hermione give her words even greater meaning for the audience, who at this point has little reason to believe that the play has anything left to live for. Thus, the entrance of Time with the announcement that sixteen years have suddenly gone by seems odd and a bit hard to swallow for an audience who is still recovering from the distress of the first three acts. The shift of attention to the budding spring romance between Florizel and Perdita is an obvious attempt to introduce the comic element of the play. However, in light of the events that this immediately follows, this comedy seems inappropriate and a bit hasty. After all, for an audience witnessing this production in real time, it is not quite so easy to place the sad events that have just taken place sixteen years back in time, as the
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