My father-in-law was recently in town, and we were trying to think of things to do with him and the girls while he was here. He’s visited the Boy before, so many of the touristy things were off the table. And then we were sitting in the kitchen and looked at the bulletin board we keep in the little breakfast nook area, and realized that we had a couple of mailers tacked up advertising productions that would be on while he was here. And luckily for us, one of them was at the Folger Theater – an intimate space that we LOVE – and it was a show that would be appropriate for all five of us big people to attend (Baby B stayed at home with her Nan).
For some reason, I thought I hadn’t seen a staged production of the Winters Tale before, but the Boy reminded me that we saw it at the Shakespeare Theater when it was the Free-For-All show early in our relationship. Either I had love-goggles on or it wasn’t a particularly memorable performance, but my memories of that show are hazy at best. Fortunately for the Folger Theater, this production is very memorable. From the pre-performance music, to the creative collapsing of roles to fit a smaller cast, to costuming that I thought was lovely and distinct – it’s a great show. It even plays up one of the great stage directions in all of theater – “Exit, pursued by a bear“.
The story is of the king of Bohemia visiting his friend the king of Sicily. For unknown reasons, the king of Sicily becomes irrationally jealous of how the queen of Sicily is being kind and welcoming to her husband’s friend. The Bohemian king is nearly assassinated (but warned at the last minute by a Sicilian servant), and the queen is accused of betraying her husband and having two bastard children. She is put in jail, and eventually on trial, and their older son dies, and the child that she was pregnant with is born and taken away. She dies, and that’s the end of the first half. The second reconciles everything in a neat bow to the point where you would think that we were in a comedy because everyone ends up married and happy, but this is in a category of Shakespeare’s plays called “Romances” where things aren’t necessarily happy overall, but do end well.
The whole show is a strange one. When I was in college I took a class on justice in Shakespeare, and I do remember talking about this play in particular. There is a scene in a court where the queen is tried for her “betrayals”, and the king has sent to the Oracle at Delphi in order to provide a definitive judgment. The communication from the Delphi is that the queen is innocent, but the king refuses to believe this until she has died. He is cruel, and harsh, and because of that, he loses everything he loves. The question that we discussed in class was – in the end, who was justice served to? The queen lost her life (…or did she?) due to her husband’s folly, and in the end is returned…but is this justice? The king gets his tyrannical way, and loses his wife and children, only to have two of the three returned to him in his old age when he learns his lesson – is this just? Young lovers are separated by one father who refuses to let them marry, only to have their union blessed later when it turns out the young woman is better stationed than previously known. Is that justice?
In any case – it’s a play that makes you think, and this particular production was an enjoyable one. Unfortunately for my readers who might be interested in seeing this show, it only runs through this weekend. So if you’re intrigued, make haste my friends!