Bandello's "Timbreo and Fenicia" and the Winter's Tale

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Several critics have noticed the similarities in theme, character, and setting between Much Ado About Nothing and The Winter's Tale,(1) and since Bandello's novella of Timbreo and Fenicia (I, 22) has been accepted as one of the sources of Much Ado, they have intimated a link between this same novella and The Winter's Tale. Yet not until Martin Mueller's recent study has Bandello's tale been clearly signaled as the imaginative tissue binding the two plays together. Focusing his analysis on the theme of the persecuted and "resurrected" heroine, Mueller argues that Shakespeare's contact with the Bandellian text was decisive, as it triggered an interest that was reiterated throughout the playwright's career, for "Bandello's Fenicia turns tip as Hero, Desdemona, Cordelia, and Hermione."(2) He concludes that these repetitions show that Shakespeare was involved in a "process of imaginative and economic revision" of earlier themes and that The Winter's Tale "results from Shakespeare reading Greene's Pandosto with a strong sense of unfinished business in Bandello's story"(3) Mueller gives a general account of several of the striking parallels between the Bandello story and The Winter's Tale: the prominent image of the accused woman as statue in both, the prominence of the theme of time felt both in Hermione's aging and Fenicia's development, and the cathartic and confessional actions of the penitent Leontes and Timbreo. Yet because he is primarily interested in tracing the trajectory of Shakespeare's career, Mueller only nods to these parallels, barely spending three pages on their implications. My purpose is to show with more specificity and depth the nature of Shakespeare's "return" to Bandello in writing The Winter's Tale. In order to do this, I examine The Winter's Tale in comparison with its four primary source texts: Bandello's Timbreo-Fenicia tale (1554), Belleforest's translation of Bandello's tale (1571), Robert Greene's Pandosto (1588), and Much Ado About Nothing (1598-1600).(4) This comparison reveals that, in re-exploring the situation of Much Ado, Shakespeare draws from Bandello's treatment of important themes in The Winter's Tale like rivalry, honor, repentance, regeneration, and forgiveness more often than from Belleforest's or Greene's handling of these themes. It also suggests the ways in which Shakespeare forged new ideas on these themes through a complex process of imitation and innovation.

Since the Bandello tale is much less known to the general reader than the others, let me summarize it. The tale is set in Messina, Italy, in roughly the fourteenth century. Timbreo, a soldier, woos Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato, a poor nobleman tied to the court of Messina. When he finds that he cannot possess Fenicia outside of marriage, he asks for her hand. When Girondo, another soldier and Timbreo's friend, hears of their engagement, he despairs because he secretly loves Fenicia. Therefore, he devises a plot to destroy their relationship. Girondo arranges for Timbreo to witness a man disguised as Fenicia's secret lover climb through her window one night. Enraged at her supposed infidelity, Timbreo calls off the marriage and publicly accuses Fenicia of immoral behavior. Fenicia faints at the harsh accusation, revives to defend herself, but then wastes away until she dies. While her mother and aunt wash her presumably dead body, it is discovered that she is not really dead. Rather than announcing the news, Lionato has her sent off secretly to her aunt and uncle's country home where she remains until she is older and no longer recognizable. Her sister, Belfine, is sent away with her. After Fenicia's public (feigned) funeral, both Timbreo and Girondo begin to repent their separate actions. Girondo confesses his plot to Timbreo, and Timbreo forgives him. They go together to confess to Lionato and pledge their servitude toward him. Lionato accepts and asks Timbreo if he would marry a woman of his choosing, and Timbreo willfully agrees. …