The Perspective of a Participant


Karen Coley

Triangulating Shakespeare

. . . Although an intellectual or philosophical approach to The Winter's Tale is difficult, a participant in the play can perceive insights about the play from its characters, technical production, and concepts compared to other productions.

I first learned that characters of The Winter's Tale are ambiguous when I was assigned to play Paulina in the trial scene of The Triumph of Time, our class video production. A basic summary of Paulina's function in the trial scene includes reporting Queen Hermione's death, raging at King Leontes for causing it, and generating the beginning of the king's sixteen-year repentance. While studying Paulina's part, I learned that she is a good example of an ambiguous character in The Winter's Tale. Whether Paulina's power is supernatural, or merely political, determines the tone and even the message of the entire play. This question is not settled by theater history or by Shakespeare's text. The nature of Paulina's power is crucial to the primary mystery of the play; does Paulina tell the truth when she reports Hermione's death? In theater history, Hermione's death has been interpreted both as a deception and as an actual death. Shakespeare's text contains clues for both an actual and staged death for Hermione. For example, the text of the seashore scene seems to indicate an actual death for Hermione. Antigonus tells the infant daughter of Leontes and Hermione that her mother appeared to him in a dream. In the dream, Hermione appears so realistically in beauty and sorrow that Antigonus claims "ne'er was dream So like awaking" (Act III sc.iii l.15-6). Among other things, Hermione tells Antigonus, "though ne'er shall see Thy wife Paulina more" (l.32-5). Antigonus says that he has never believed reports of dead people's spirits walking again, but upon experiencing the dream, he concludes that Hermione is dead and that her spirit has visited him. In the course of the scene, Antigonus is attacked and eaten by a bear. This fulfills part of the dream prophesy and implies that Hermione's dead spirit has actually visited Antigonus. On the other hand, there are hints in the text of the fifth act that Paulina hides a living Hermione for sixteen years and then stages her statuesque return in the chapel scene. In Acv V scene ii, the Second Gentleman remarks that Paulina "hath privately, twice or thrice a day, since the death of Hermione, visited a removed house" (l.113-5) suggesting the place where Paulina could have been hiding Hermione. In the following scene, Hermione tells Perdita, "I, Knowing by Paulina that the oracle Gave hope thou wast in being, have preserved Myself to see the issue" (l.125-7). This could indicate that Hermione had lived in contact with Paulina during the intervening years.

I recognize Shakespeare's ambiguity on this issue and that leaving the question unexplained gives The Winter's Tale an enchanting quality, but I found it necessary to study this question more closely before attempting to play Paulina's character. Assuming Hermione actually dies in the trial scene, it follows that Paulina had to use supernatural powers to bring the dead Hermione to life through a statue in the final scene. In this case, I can conceive of three ways to perform a supernatural Paulina. The first two have to do with theology. Even though the setting of the play is pagan, the text of the play contains traces of fifteenth century Protestant theology. Protestant theology would determine that Paulina could only have supernatural power from two sources. Either Paulina is involved with evil powers to manipulate life and death (a serious crime in the Jacobean witch-burning era), or Paulina is an agent (perhaps angelic) of life-regenerating power from God. Concerns about the theological implications of Paula's power surface in the chapel scene. Twice Paulina stops the chapel scene proceedings to claim innocence from unlawful business or evil assistance (Act V sc.iii l.89-91, 96). When the spellbound Perdita kneels before her mother's statue for blessing, she protests that it is not a superstitious act (l.44-5). When the statue of Hermione wakes and touches Leontes, he responds, "Oh, she's warm! If this be magic, let it be an art lawful as eating" (l.109-11). The third alternative for a supernatural Paulina is that Winter's Tale is only a fairy tale existing in the realm of make-believe. In this case, Paulina must be classed with Sleeping Beauty's godmothers and the Good Witch of the North. In interpretations of a supernatural Paulina, the fairy dale possibility is often accepted because it avoids what could be a nasty clash between religious principles and a happy ending for Winter's Tale. But even though the play gives the land-locked country of Bohemia a seashore, is full of obvious anachronism, and is called a Tale, the extensively realistic details about humans in the trial scene make it difficult for me to place it in the category of fairy tale. For example, the systematic way in which Leontes arrives at his cruel accusations is so detailed that the first half of the play is oppressively tragic. In The Triumph of Time, I preferred to have Hermione's death staged by Paulina.

Having accepted a deceptive Paulina, an analysis of my interpretation of Paulina in the trial scene shows, in detail, how a participant in the play intuitively amplifies the text about a character. Taking supernatural power away from Paulina does not take supernatural power out of the play; the play includes the oracle, Apollo, ghosts, and metaphysical ideas about death, regeneration, faith, and distrust. If Paulina deceives the court about Hermione's death, it follows that Paulina, more than Apollo, plays an important part in the king's regeneration. Changing a human heart is not miraculous compared to raising a dead queen to life, but it is at least an act of wonder. I feel that Paulina has two goals from the time of her reentry in line 169 to the end of trial scene. First, she wants to convince Leontes of the Queen's death, and second, she wants to bring about the king's regeneration. Anger is suited to the first goal, but it needs to be mixed with compassion to achieve the second. Accordingly, my Paulina delivers her scathing lines of judgment with restrained rather than unbridled anger. In addition to gambling on her influence with the king, Paulina is now play acting. Because she lost the infant in the chamber scene, and because she places herself and her Queen at stake in the trial scene, Paulina's interaction with Leontes is extreme, but cautious. She is facing an extremely senseless and overt hatred in the king, but her dramatics are carefully timed to achieve her goals. She begins with the furious speech, accurately listing all of the king's sins, culminating with "the queen, the Queen, the sweet'st dear'st creature's dead" (Act III sc.ii l.198-9). Paulina can afford to change her tone slightly at this point. The second "the Queen" is intended to shift from a heavy judgment of the king, to empathic grief for the loss Leontes has brought upon himself. Having missed the king's public confession, Paulina must be sure that this time Leontes is not pretending to agree, as he did when he was play acting in the first act (sc.ii l.187-8). To bring about a suitable level of repentance, Paulina reminds Leontes, and the audience, how irredeemable his actions are before the gods. Finally, when Leontes replies, "Go on, go on; Thou canst not speak too much, I have deserved All tongues to talk their bitt'rest" (l.213-5), Paulina has reached the goal of changing the king's heart. Having succeeded in her two goals, she secures her influence with the king by repenting her own anger, and assuming her role as the king's gentle counselor, which she maintains to the end of the production.

In addition to insights from characters of The Winter's Tale, I gained insights on the play from the technical production of The Triumph of Time. The text contains many clues for planning character blocking, in relation to the camera, and choosing the length and perspective of camera shots. In my opinion, camera shots and blocking are the most effective aspects of the trial scene. Overlooking some unfortunate sound and editing glitches, the camera shots and blocking are also the elements of the trial scene which could use the most improvement. Television directors know that television orientation is not a flat plane, like a stage, but a limited arc, similar to shooting into the short end of a funnel (Kuny 78). This seemed to be an incidental fact, but it became crucial when we began filming the trial scene. The members of our cast prepared several character and camera movements for our scene, but many of our ideas had to be adjusted or eliminated because of equipment limitations. Expensive equipment may have solved some of the problems, but most changes occurred because we did not anticipate the acting space afforded by the limited arc of a camera. In general, the trial scene needed more camera shots. Many early lines of the trial scene establish Leontes's distorted view of Hermione, and Hermione's clear view of the danger and injustice of her position. Their dialogue is as compelling as the tragic discourse between Antigone and Creon. However, self-deception, pride, shock, and moral dilemma are some of the subtle psychological workings which are difficult to portray without becoming melodramatic or dull. If I could film the trial scene again, I would visually break up Hermione's long speeches to emphasize important lines, with reaction shots of Leontes or the Lords. Also the Lords should move more. They appear more like obedient slaves than high ranking lords of the Sicilian court. Ideally, I would have the Lords cross the camera field from left to right, as the fainted Hermione is carried out. The Lords could then turn to face the king, as audience to his confession speech, and create a barrier for Paulina's reentry. The Lord's line, "What fit is this, good lady" (l.172) could be an interesting stage cue if Paulina is forced to push her way through the Lords to regain the king's presence.

The moment I feel to be the most effective in the trial scene is the exit of Hermione. Throughout the scene, Leontes morally and physically undresses himself with his own destructive actions, and he is left to face the consequences of his actions in what resembles underwear. When the Queen faints, Leontes is left with so little power, he cannot even given sensible orders to his servant. The Queen is already being attended to as Leontes uselessly blurts out orders for her care. Leontes is portrayed as the emperor without clothes in the height of his self-created impotence. The beginning of the king's regeneration is marked when Paulina dresses Leontes with the cape he has thrown off in anger earlier in the scene.

My suggestions to increase action and camera shots in the trial scene force me to give more credit to the technical quality of the BBC production of The Winter's Tale than I cared to upon first viewing. For example, comparing the BBC rendering of Paulina's reentry and interaction with Leontes with the same portion in The Triumph of Time, both renderings could use more shots and active blocking. But the BBC production rhythmically breaks up the interaction with nine shots. The first and last shots use tracking and panning for the entrance of Paulina and her exit with Leontes. Interim shots mostly alternate between straight shots of the speaking Paulina and the listening Leontes. The visual rhythm effectively portrays the tone changes of the scene. The same scene in The Triumph of Time was carried out in three shots, including the blacked-out voice-over of Paulina's reentry. In the second shot, primarily a long close-up of Paulina's face, the production is robbed of Leontes's reforming reactions, which are key to the scene.

Because film productions are visually designed, I gained a third perspective on The Winter's Tale by comparing the concept of imagery in this play with the imagery used in other productions studied by this class. The BBC production of The Winter's Tale expanded the image of the bear. Not only does the bear divide the tragedy section from the comedy section of the play, but the bear is associated with Leontes, whose clothing is bear-like. Kenneth Rothwell notes that Leontes remains bear-clad during the interior chamber scene and explores some implications of a bear-like Leontes. He mentions that in the Elizabethan culture, "sexual jealousy was often equated with the heat of southern climate" (Rothwell), and that in the opening winter sequence Leontes needs his fur coat to manufacture a climate for his jealousy. I feel that the bear image of Leontes is an effective association for some other reasons, was well. Like a bear, the king of Sicily shows he is powerful, dangerous, and unpredictable. In comparison to the naked and ineffectual Leontes in the trial scene of The Triumph of Time, the large-coated BBC Leontes appears to be a great person who suffers a reversal of fortune, causing the first part of the play to imitate a tragedy of Aristolian description. In contrast, Leontes in The Triumph of Time appears physically smaller and less clothed than his character appears at any other point during the production.

. . .

As a participant in The Triumph of Time, I intuitively experienced a wide range of possibilities for The Winter's Tale, and an appreciation for its rich detail. A discussion of the ambiguity of characters, the action of the text, and the imagery of metaphors in The Winter's Tale highlights some fascinating discoveries I made as Paulina. Because Paulina's words traveled from the heart of her character, through my mouth, into a setting where they carried great meaning, I can feel the wonder of losing and finding and death and rebirth resonating long after the production has been finished.

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