Courseworks

The Winter’s Tale – Bohemian Scenes

The two statements agree on the fact that the Bohemian scenes contrast with those based in Sicilia, but offer conflicting views as to the importance and usefulness of the scenes.It is important to highlight these contrasts. The scenes differ in two main ways. First is the natural setting of those in Bohemia with the formal courtliness of Sicilia.The most obvious portrayal of this contrast is through the characterisation and staging of the play. While the Sicilian scenes are based in Leontes’ grand court with two kings and Queen Hermione, daughter of “the Emperor of Russia”, surrounded by Lords and attendants. In Bohemia the audience is shown a sheep-shearing festival, watched by truly rural characters such as the Shepherd and his son, the Clown.On a more analytical level, this contrast is also made evident through the lines and language of the characters. In Sicilia, Polixenes announces:”My ships are ready, andMy people did expect my hence departureTwo days ago.”In two lines he has shown his importance and grandeur through his reference to “his ships” and “his people”. Equally, the fact that his people “expect” something of him shows his significance.When he is in Bohemia, however, we find him discussing the far more rustic subject of “gillyvors”. Admittedly, this conversation does have a more kingly ulterior motive, but nevertheless, it is unlikely that such a subject matter would ever arise in Sicilia. Even by looking at just one character’s behaviour in the two states, we can still highlight the difference.It is also possible to compare the diction of the characters. The Clown’s is the most colloquial of all those present in Bohemia:”Let me see, every ‘leven wether tods, every tod yields poundand odd shilling, fifteen hundred shorn, what comes the woolto?”He speaks in simple-minded prose, colloquially missing the “e” from eleven and he uses rustic farming-terms such as “tod”. His peculiar syntax (“what comes the wool to?”) would lead a director to using a West Country accent, further emphasising his rural background.In Sicilia, the language is much more formal. Polixenes pleads: “press me not, beseech you”. This stilted diction is commonplace and the various members of the court refer to each other formally as “sir”. An easy difference in language for the audience to notice is that the members of the court of higher importance tend to speak in the traditionally formal iambic pentameter.A second contrast, and one that relates closely to the “wintry gloom” referenced in the second statement, is the contrast between Leontes’ poisoned love and the pure love shared by Florizel and Perdita.The audience’s introduction to the young lovers at the beginning of act 4 scene 4 is a particularly romantic conversation as the pair exchange compliments. Florizel tells Perdita that she is “no shepherdess, but Flora peering in April’s front”. This epic analogy of comparing her to the Roman goddess of flowers shows the magnitude of his infatuation. Perdita’s gracious and modest reply portrays her as pure: “Sir, my gracious lord,To chide at your extremes it becomes not me”Her reference to him as a gracious lord echoes the respect ad dignity with which her mother referred to her father at the play’s opening (“sir” and “lord”). This purity is further emphasised by her worry later in the scene that Autolycus may use “scurrilous words in’s tunes.”The purity of their relationship is also shown through the Shepherd’s observation. He tells a disguised Polixenes:”For never gazed the moonUpon the water as he’ll stand and readAs ’twere my daughter’s eyes: and, to be plain.I think there is not half a kiss to chooseWho loves another best”.His analogy with the moon also shows their natural deposition. Equally, Shakespeare’s use of “half a kiss” as a unit of measurement is beautifully romantic.This romanticism is certainly no longer present between Leontes and Hermione (in one direction at least). He does refer to his initial love for Hermione when he states that she “never spok’st to better purpose” than when she told him that: “I am yours for ever”. This soon deteriorates into maddened jealousy:”Inch-thick, knee-deep, o’er head and ears a forked one![To Mamillius] Go play, boy, play: thy mother plays”Here is one of the strongest examples of “the infection of his brains”. His reference to “a forked one” is him being cuckolded by his wife. The trochaic “inch-thick, knee-deep” gives the speech a trochaic start and a slightly obtuse rhythm, which only emphasises his madness. When he tells Mamillius to play, his mind instantly leaps back to his supposedly adulteress wife. This shows how completely overcome his mind is.Now that these contrasts have been established, we must determine whether or not they are a distraction and whether the contrast is welcome. I feel that the purpose of the Bohemia scenes is to advance the audience’s knowledge of (and relationship with) the play’s other characters so that the oracle’s prediction can be fulfilled and fully appreciated.Despite their aforementioned differences, Shakespeare maintains their relevance via the themes that run through both parts of the play. Perdita, for example, is a fusion of the two worlds. She has noble blood and dignity, shown through her diction and blank verse, but lives a rustic lifestyle due to her Bohemian upbringing. This is best summed up by Camillo as her being the “queen of curds and cream”. The juxtaposition of “queen” with “curds and cream” highlights her awkward position between the two worlds. She is vital as she is the element that will eventually unite the play.A further overlapping feature is a king’s fall to madness. Just as Leontes does in the first half of the play, Polixenes becomes tyrannous regarding his son’s relationship with Perdita, which is ironic. When he finally decides to shed his disguise and reveal himself, he announces that he will hang the Shepherd, that he “dare not call” his son, “sir” and the particularly far-fetched accusation that Perdita is “enchanted” and used “witchcraft” to obtain his son’s affection. I feel that the main significance of this is that it allows us to show that what happened to Leontes can happen to anyone. In the initial acts of the play, Shakespeare established a feeling of sympathy towards the falsely accused Polixenes. By showing that even those characters who the audience respects can succumb to tyranny, we feel more sympathetic towards Leontes as if it was an infection, which couldn’t be helped. Thus, the audience feels that, due to his repentance, his wife being returned to him is deserved.It is the presence of Camillo that most strongly maintains Sicilia in the back of the audience’s mind as he serves a similar role in both regions. In the context of a dramatic devise, Camillo is used to unite Leontes, Polixenes and Florizel and Perdita, which inadvertently allows Paulina the opportune moment to reveal Hermione. As he tells us that his reason for returning to “dear Sicilia” and his “master” is his “thirst to see” them (rather than to neatly tie the play together) the need to suspend disbelief is lowered slightly.On top of these three, linking factors, the Bohemia scenes, by way of offering a contrast, emphasise those events of the Sicilia scenes, thus making them even more effective. The nature of Bohemia emphasising Sicilia’s courtliness while Leontes’ infected love allows the audience to witness what Florizel and Perdita’s relationship would be like, were it not so pure.The more light-hearted side of the scenes allows Shakespeare to avoid the play becoming too tragic, which is an aspect he wished to avoid with his Late Plays (or Romances), which he wanted to be a sort of ‘tragi-comedy’. The amusing and gentle irony of Autolycus warning to the Clown: “there are cozeners abroad; therefore it behoves men to be wary” is a necessary break from the deeply gloomy end to the Sicilian scenes that involved the deaths of both the King’s son and wife as well as the episode in which he denounces his innocent newborn daughter to be a “bastard”. The turning point between the tragedy and the comedy is the now infamous stage direction “Exit pursued by a bear”. Due to the fact that his crosses the borders of both tragedy and comedy, it can be performed to emphasise the sad loss of Archidamus or the humorous ridiculousness of the bear’s presence.I feel that the Bohemia scenes are certainly significant as, through their contrast, they highlight the wrongdoings of the scenes that proceeded them, but also invite some sympathy and understanding for Leontes’ position, similar to the feelings felt by Paulina over the 16 years skipped in act 4 scene 1 that reach an essential point in act 5 as she feels that he now deserves to have his wife returned to him. Equally, he vitally manages to lift the mood of the play as one based solely in Sicilia would stray from the atmosphere he wished to establish. Through a careful use of characters and themes, which are present in both Bohemia and Sicilia, Shakespeare maintains their relevance while avoiding them becoming a distraction.

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