A Sad Tale’s Best for Winter

The Winter’s Tale, Act II: Scenes 1-3

And so it is.

I’m still waiting for the “romance” bit to kick in. It’s been all bad news thus far.

And tragic. Yeesh.

My high school English teacher senior year will be cringing about now. Oh, she’ll be happy I suppose that somebody from our class still gives a rip about Shakespeare. She was also the drama teacher (Hi, Ms. Mouring.), so you can guess how many shiny red apples this blog would replace were I but still pre-college.

But she despised one-word paragraphs. And fragments. And run on sentences that were not only redundant but made the same point over and over and didn’t know when to stop like this one you might say. Forever the Pippy Longstocking.

She was a great English teacher, Ms. Mouring. But thank God she didn’t subject us to The Winter’s Tale. She had a hard enough time reigning in our addled adolescent minds with the lust in Romeo & Juliet and death in T.S. Eliot (I sadly don’t remember much…) and whatever else she tried to teach us in that half-year before we all got sent off to Mr. DuPratt for American Literature.

I remember lots and lots from Mr. DuPratt’s class but shhhhhhhhhhh, I wouldn’t want that to get out.

Meanwhile, back in The Winter’s Tale, King Leontes is clearly off his rocker. Convinced that his fair queen has bedded the King of Bohemia (who conveniently lingered around in court for exactly nine months, remember), he has sent the poor woman off to prison, despite — or because of — the fact that she’s ready to give birth.

Mrs. James would have splashed that last sentence with red ink for sure. She was an awesome English teacher who would have much prefered I consulted my thesaurus before settling on a lame adjective such as awesome to describe her.

I liked her so much I became an aide in my senior year, just so I could absorb as much as possible of her teaching style. (I thought I wanted to be a teacher those days, back before I actually tried it.)

Mrs. James had us read a great book that vindicated (or tried to) the poor, much-maligned Richard III whom we’ll get to at some point if I stop perambulating into the weeds. I didn’t even look that word up, which you can tell because I’m pretty sure I used it wrong.

I’ll try and track that book on Richard III down once we’re there.

Mrs. James was great that way. She treated you like you actually had a mind. Maybe that was because I had the benefit of being in advanced/AP classes back in the day. What did they know back then?

Thank God they didn’t have “curriculum mapping,” exit exams and no-child-left-behind in those dark, draconian days. Bad enough Proposition 13. Not that I wouldn’t have passed the exams (I hope), but the best days that I do remember had little to do with the subject matter and a lot more to do with long, tangential asides when Mr. DuPratt would rave about his favorite writer (Ambrose Bierce) or Mrs. James would waggle her hips and bend her nose like Tabitha from Bewitched and regale us with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Ms. Mouring would wrinkle her brow and scowl at us the way the nuns might at Catholic school regarding declining standards of decency. She’d shake her red mop of hair and it was enough to send you straight to confession — and I wasn’t even Catholic.

Yep, the good ol’ days. Oh, oh, The Winter’s Tale. Where was I?

A Tale of Two Cities! Now I remember. That was one of the best reads in Mrs. James’s class. That and that book on Richard III that I’ll track down for you. She didn’t like me much, Mrs. James. And who could blame her? Always getting off the damned subject.

So here’s the queen, giving birth to a gorgeous baby girl in prison because the rotten king thinks she’s a whore. And all the court rush to her side, sorta, save those on the payroll who have to earn a day’s wage (and do not wish to lose their heads).

A lord’s wife, Paulina, decides enough’s enough and attends the queen in prison to find out what’s what and stand up for her girl. Gotta love Paulina. Another of Shakespeare’s great incidental characters. Full of vim and moxie (is that redundant? See what lame-ass student I am?), she concocts a horrible idea to take the precious young infant to the king in hope that the sight of such innocence will change his mind.

What mind? The king has lost his. For when presented with his lovely daughter, he promptly wants it burned up and otherwise gotten rid of. And Paulina as well. Can’t her damned husband shut her up? Antigonus, the husband, has a great comeback line for that:

ANTIGONUS: Hang all the husbands

That cannot do that feat, you’ll leave yourself

Hardly one subject.

Zing!

But Leontes is a cretin who doesn’t get it. With his whole staff on the verge of mutiny, risking their own lives and livelihoods to defend their queen, he still presumes that he and he alone is in the right:

LEONTES: You’re liars all.

I have a one-world comment in my notes: “Wow!” The man’s got a map, but i’ t’ain’t of the territ’ry.

He orders all of them kicked out. And Paulina, who surely means the best, does an ultra-stupid thing by leaving the helpless baby behind. What is that woman thinking?

It’s great writing, of course. I’m here 400+ years removed in a galaxy far, far away curling my toes and screaming, “Noooooooooooo, don’t leave the baby!” Bad things are sure to happen…

And happen they do.

In a fit of “kindness,” the king consigns his kid to the mythological thing you do with problem babies: put ’em out in the wilderness and let fate and the elements decide. Perhaps a she-wolf will suckle it. Maybe a kind maid will be guided hence. And if so, look out, Mr. King person, because these stories never turn out so good for you.

As if on cue, out the baby goes to meet its probable demise just as the courtiers rush in with the verdict from the Delphic Oracle. (No, not Larry Ellison’s Oracle. Google it from your iPhones, for crying out loud.) I’m still a bit daft on where we are and when, but Mr. Asimov mentioned we’re in Ancient Greece and this should pretty much confirm it. Either that, or Renaissance Europe had pagan tendencies I was not aware of.

See how I did that? I blew it again. I’m sorry Mrs. James. I ended a paragraph with a preposition. Did I learn nothing from your good graces? Well, if it’s any consolation, I knew I was wrong. Actually, I allowed myself the error so I could bring you up again. You really were a great splendiferous English teacher, if I might say so yet again. And sexy as all getout, if my psychotic, overwrought peabrain can time-travel back that far. (The statute of limitations has surely run out on my cooties for saying that, I hope.)

Anywho, the messengers pile in just as the baby is farmed out. Leontes is quite convinced that he will be vindicated at the kangaroo court he has quickly called to session. The queen is summoned. It’s all but a foregone conclusion now.

Or is it?

FADE TO BLACK.

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4 Responses to “A Sad Tale’s Best for Winter”

  1. I’m loving it! Your blog, that is – I confess to not having started Winter’s T.

    • Thanks! I feel like it’s gaining momentum. I appreciate the feedback — a lot.

      The pace for the plays has to stay about 1 per 9 days in order for me to read the entire canon (38) plus the sonnets and longer poems (Rape of Lucrece, etc.). I have some catch-up work to do tomorrow myself.

      You can always meet up with us (me?) on the next one. I’ll be printing a syllabus for February once the final tally from the voting has been calculated (like that will be hard).

      It helps knowing you people are out there.

  2. Linda OReilly Says:

    I love it too–the blog and your impressions of the Winter’s Tale. This is the first time I’ve gotten ANYTHING out of that play…Big Laughs Rule.

    I’m going to wander a bit.
    Back in the old days I used to read MAD magazine.
    They used to rip off TV shows for laughs and one issue they did Bonanza.
    Bananaz-they called it.
    Ben, the old dad had had 3 wives–all sadly dead too soon. The 3 sons of old dad occasionally got a girlfriend but they would all die too.
    So as a last resort they ordered a mail order bride and when they went to pick her up she’d suffocated in the post office box.
    Tragedy on a Shakespearean Level.

    • Thanks, Linda! I have an appreciation for Mad Magazine as well (“What, me worry?”) though I was never a devoted follower. Same with National Lampoon. The humor has always been hit and miss, but when it would be on, I’d be literally ROFLMAO.

      I’ll check out Bonanaz. There may be a blog post in there somewhere… 😉

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