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The Dark Comic Vision of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

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 make it difficult to accept the play as such. In this work, Shakespeare’ s comic vision is so darkened by tragic events that it is questionable whether the play is ever able to recover sufficiently to make the comedic ending acceptable. Although The Winter’s Tale is considered a comedy in the formal sense (complete with the marriage at the end), it must also be seen as a serious response to tragedy in that it not only engages various tragic elements, but it also uses those elements to highlight the contradictory and unbelievable nature of its comedic ending. Through the odd construction of the play, the great dramatic risks taken, and the paradoxical conclusion of The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare creates a complex work that seems to suggest that categories like ‘comedy’ are largely ambiguous terms when the predicated comedic ending is so darkened by tragic events that the play does not have the time nor the strength to recover.

The odd construction of The Winter’s Tale makes it seem, until th…

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… that Shakespeare was bending the rules or expectations of his audience a bit in order see what he could get away with. His method certainly makes for very interesting discussions about the plays that he does this with, and it makes the whole body of his works much richer and more complex.

Works Cited and Consulted

Bloom, Harold. The Winter’s Tale (Modern Critical Interpretations). Chelsea House Publishers, 1992.

Granville Barker’s Prefaces to Shakespeare: A Midsummer Nights Dream: The Winter’s Tale: The Tempest. Granville Barker. Heinemann, 1994.

Innes, Sheila. The Winter’s Tale (Cambridge School Shakespeare). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Shakespeare, William. The Winter’s Tale. Paul Werstine. Pocket Books, 1998.

The Winter’s Tale (Norton Edition): Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Shakespeare. London, W.W. Norton

Essay on the Love Story of Antony and Cleopatra

The Love Story of Antony and Cleopatra

The tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra can be said to have an overall effect of comical lightness. In this way, it is altogether different from the preceding tragedies, although the tragedy that leads to the death and destruction of Antony and Cleopatra is definitely a matter of choice rather than of circumstances that engulf the hero. Yet, ultimately their tragic ending differs greatly from the ominous feeling of those that preceded it. Antony and Cleopatra concerns itself with typically distressing and grave imagery, most importantly the theme of permanent loss.

Although circumstance plays a part, the tragic hero is damned by what he himself does and is an active participant in his own downfall. In this sense, Antony is a tragic hero, although Shakespeare also presents him as a man torn between the tragedy of a powerful Rome and comedy in the pleasurable Egypt. In due course Antony could not sustain his duty to Rome, confused by his unwillingness and incapability to disregard his passion for Cleopatra. He most flippantly wed Octavia knowing fully that he could not give up his prior love. He relayed “I will to Egypt: And though I make this marriage for my peace, I’ th’ East my pleasure lies” (2.3.39-41). His underestimation of consequence at this time directly led to his tragic ending. In a conversation about Cleopatra, even Antony’s attendant Enobarbus showed understanding of Antony’s character flaws and the depth of his passions:

MAECENAS. Now Antony must leave her utterly.

ENOBARBUS. Never; he will not. (2.2.239-240)

The virtue of irremediable loss was also explored by Antony. His deficiency of true Roman character during the Battle of Actium resulted in h…

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…t love story with an ironically happy conclusion.

Works Cited and Consulted

Adelman, Janet. “Infinite Variety: Uncertainty and Judgment in Antony and Cleopatra.” William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1988, 21-34.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Introduction. Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1988.

—. Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. New York: Riverhead Books, 1998.

Kittredge, George Lyman. Introduction. Antony and Cleopatra. By William Shakespeare. Waltham, MA: Blaisdell Publishing Company, 1966.

Markels, Julian. The Pillar of the World: Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s Development. Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1968.

Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra. Ed. John Wilders. London: Routledge, 1995.

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