Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

"Ne'er Was Dream So like a Waking": The Temporality of Dreaming and the Depiction of Doubt in the Winter's Tale

Academic journal article Shakespeare Studies

"Ne'er Was Dream So like a Waking": The Temporality of Dreaming and the Depiction of Doubt in the Winter's Tale

Article excerpt

When leontes examines the mysterious statue of Hermione in the final scene of The Winter's Tale, he comments out loud on what he thinks he sees. His statements are notable not only for their attention to detail--"Would you not deem ... that those veins / Did verily bear blood?" (5.3.64-65)--but for their tendency to resist making certain judgments about the statue: "The figure of her eye has motion in't / As we are mocked with art" (5.3.67-68). (1) What would these comments have meant for the early modern spectator watching the play in what Tiffany Stern has described as the "visually charged" environment of the theater? (2) And what effect would Leontes's words have had on the visual experience of the spectator, who, standing or sitting as much as forty feet from the stage, most likely would not have been able to see the statue with as much detail as Leontes could? (3) In The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare dramatizes for spectators the gradual adoption of a set of skeptical ethics, culminating in the final scene that demonstrates Leontes's refusal to make judgments based on his sense impressions and his resolution, instead, to rest in uncertainty.

Like many others, I have been deeply influenced by Stanley Cavell's brilliant readings of Shakespeare, not least his account of Leontes's turn to faith about Hermione by the end of The Winter's Tale. But in this essay, I want to question his claim that "If The Winter's Tale is understandable as a study of skepticism--that is, as a response to what skepticism is a response to--then its second half must be understandable as a study of its search for recovery," an assertion that characterizes not only the play's engagement with doubt, but much of the ongoing criticism focusing on faith and the final scene of The Winter's Tale. (4) Many critics have pointed to the final scene's seeming embrace of the Catholic reverence for the visual image: Gary Waller, for example, identifies Hermione with the Virgin Mary "renewed and transformed" in post-Reformation England, and Michael O'Connell argues that the scene appropriates faith in miracles for a secular setting, confirming fears of antitheatricalists and iconoclasts alike by "press[ing] an audience into idolatry." (5) Others have focused instead on the play's connection to a Reformed Pauline faith, embodied, of course, in the character of Paulina, who famously commands Leontes to "awake" his "faith" just before the statue of Hermione appears to come to life (5.3.95); Huston Diehl, for example, argues that Shakespeare deliberately appropriates the Pauline rhetoric often used by antitheatricalists to create a reformed aesthetic of the theater, maintaining that by making his Pauline figure a woman, the playwright both "arouses and counters the antitheatricalists' fears that theatre bewitches." (6) Richard McCoy draws on a Reformed understanding of the sacrament, in which change occurred "in the heart and soul of the recipient" rather than the bread and wine of the Eucharist, to argue that the play demands not religious, but poetic faith, which "requires the active and energetic participation of every onlooker, on stage and in the audience." (7) Still others have highlighted instead the seeming tension between the conflicting Protestant, Catholic, and pagan forces at the end of the play: Julia Reinhard Lupton argues that the final scene reanimates Catholic idolatry within the secular theater, its "language and visual staging at once markfing] and distanc[ing] the 'Christianity' of the scene as Catholic," while Walter S. H. Lim explains the play's use of countervailing religious doctrines as the staging of "early modern England's encounter with the boundaries of the (un)knowable." (8) Many of these readings link the awakening of faith in this final scene to the sense of wonder it creates for Perdita, whose profession to kneel before the statue appears dangerously close to Catholic devotional practice, and for Leontes; as Paulina comments, "I like your silence; it the more shows off / Your wonder" (5. …

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