Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

The 2010 Stratford Festival: The Winter's Tale and the Tempest

Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

The 2010 Stratford Festival: The Winter's Tale and the Tempest

Article excerpt

The Stratford Festival's productions of The Winter's Tale and The Tempest explored the dialectic between power and compassion, anger and forgiveness, in highly effective theatrical terms. The conflict in both productions flowed essentially from gendered conflict, an agon between ego-driven male anger and socially-oriented female forgiveness. In their resolutions, both productions emphasized the necessity of unifying the masculine and feminine in redeeming Leontes's and Prospero's humanity. Ensemble acting and Marti Maraden's intelligent direction solved The Winter's Tale's notorious tone-shift problem, creating an exciting tragicomic experience; Christopher Plummer's subtle, benign portrayal of Prospero held The Tempest together and mitigated Des McAnuff's directorial eccentricities.

In Maraden's Winter's Tale, produced on the long, narrow thrust stage of the Tom Patterson Theatre, Ben Carlson's King Leontes displays the sexual insecurity of a politically powerful man and its horrific consequences: the destruction of the domesticity he values most. In the tragic movement set primarily in Sicilia, Carlsons Leontes slid precipitously and credibly from friendship and domestic bliss into frothing jealousy. His ill-conceived passion, full of ranting and violent movement, pits itself against powerfully attractive images of domesticity generated by Hermione, the strong, self-possessed woman who creates his sense of home. Carlson provided a visual and verbal representation of the "tremor cordis" (1.2.112) Leontes experiences as, Othello-like, he observes the innocent, friendly hand-holding, done at his urging, between his loyal wife Hermione and his boyhood friend King Polixenes. (1) In his portrayal of a man cuckolding himself, he vibrated physically and verbally as he heated himself to boiling point. Parading around the stage's perimeter like a raging bear at the stake, his jealousy fueled a sputtering tirade against women as he lectured the audience and his innocent young son on the licentiousness of a "slippery" wife (1.2.275).

Dealing with the beast inside is, of course, a Shakespearean theme, and this Winter's Tale finds the beast in the bear, using it as a trope to unify the production. Initially in a minor key, the figure of the bear helps establish an idyllic domesticity in Leontes's Sicilia, but later it represents the destructive power of male authority. In the production's opening sequence, the bear appeared first as a wooden toy in the hands of Leontes's son Mamillius who ironically will be destroyed by his father's monstrous jealousy. As Leontes and Polixenes reminisced nostalgically about their prepubescent boyhood friendship downstage center, Mamillius sat with his mother Queen Hermione, playing with the bear upstage, creating a sense of homey warmth. In the figure of Mamillius playing with the toy bear, Maraden links the bear with both the boyish innocence that Leontes and Polixenes nostalgically recall as well as with the terrifying male power that will ultimately undo the Sicilian home. As the action unfolds and Leontes descends into a paroxysm of sexual jealousy, the bear takes on a more sinister aspect as it comes to represent his inner demon.

Most famously, the bear appears almost dead center in the text (3.3.57) as a literal monster pursuing Antigonus, then rending his body. This production waxed Freudian, as the literal bear in the text is clearly an emanation of Leontes's id, his sexual jealousy and anger, that sends Antigonus ou his doomed voyage to dispatch Princess Perdita and that shakes the foundations of civilizing domesticity. When the play shifted from its tragic movement in passion-ruled Sicilia to the comic movement in pastoral Bohemia, the bear reappeared as a metaphor for male power. The Clown's comment about his fear of King Polixenes's potentially destructive anger at his son's wooing of a seeming shepherdess linked unrestricted male power and "authority" to "a stubborn bear" (4. …

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