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Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forbid the sea for to obey the moon, 26 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Winter's Tale (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
"The Winter's Tale" is one of Shakespeare's most underrated works, probably because it can't be easily classified as a romance or a comedy. That's a shame, because this lush, emotionally-wrenching little play displays Shakespeare's powerful writing and fine grasp of human nature. It's just incredibly moving and exquisitely written.

Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, has been visiting his pal King Leontes in Sicilia, and eventually he wants to go home. But after Queen Hermione convinces him to stay awhile, Leontes suddenly goes nuts and decides that Polixenes and Hermione have been having an affair, and that her unborn child must be his old friend's. Polixenes flees back to his own land, and Hermione dies soon after her newborn daughter is abandoned in the wilderness.

Of course, Leontes soon finds out that he was off his gourd, and that poor Hermione was completely innocent. Charming, isn't he? Sixteen years later, Polixenes' son Florizel falls in love with a mysterious young shepherdess, who is actually Leontes' daughter Perdita (of course!). But with royal opposition to their marriage, the young couple must overcome many obstacles before everything is settled happily.

"A Winter's Tale" is a curious hybrid of Shakespeare's different theatrical "types" -- there's some gentle comedy, some mellow tragedy, and a hefty dose of romance. The first three acts are basically one long disaster, with Leontes' crazy paranoia destroying his friendships, marriage and children's lives, until it seems that there's no happy ending for anybody.

But the last few acts are very different. Shakespeare's writing takes on a more romantic, sweet tone, particularly when Florizel and Perdita are lavishing lovers' praise on each other ("My prettiest Perdita!/But O, the thorns we stand upon!"). Having worked up a massive tragedy in the first parts of the play, Shakespeare spends the latter half repairing all the cracks in the characters' lives.

If there's a flaw in the story, it's that Hermione is so in love with a crazy belfry-bat like Leontes, but I suppose his story is meant to show the folly of letting suspicions rule your actions. Florizel and Perdita are charmingly earnest young lovers who initially know nothing of their parents' tragic past, and there are solid supporting characters like the thief Autolycus and the steadfast Camillo.

"The Winter's Tale" is an emotionally wrenching but eventually uplifting story, and a roller-coaster ride that plunges you down into tragedy before hoisting you back up.
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