A Winter’s Tale
What’s behind the title of Shakespeare’s play A Winter’s Tale? Unless I missed it, it says nothing about winter as a season. I’ve also heard it’s called A Winter’s Tale because winter was a favorite season for telling stories, what with being cooped up by the fireside for weeks on end. But I’m sure there are experts out there who would agree with me that it is called A Winter’s Tale because it starts out with dark, chilling events, the kind that makes our liturgy refer to winter as symbolic of how darkness (in the moral sense) always tries to quench the Light of the World, the infant Christ – even as Herod tries to do when he massacres the infants of Bethlehem or as tyrants down through time try to do – initiating such dark times (be they holocausts or cold wars) that have punctuated the century into which I was born.
Look how the play starts out. Suddenly congenial people like the King of Sicily (Leontes) and the King of Bohemia, friends since boyhood, have a falling out. The King of Bohemia (after a longer than 9 month stay with Leontes and his pregnant wife Hermione) is about to go home – when Leontes begins to brood. He lets his imagination suspect that Hermione’s child, recently born, is the product of an affair between her and the departing King of Bohemia. Things then get darker. Immediately he plans to assassinate his “rival” and execute his wife (remember, Henry VIII and his unfortunate wives were still a relatively current event).
Well, the King of Bohemia escapes back to his homeland – Hermione falls into a swoon and is declared dead; her newborn infant is spirited away to a foreign coast and left to die . . . all sorts of bad things flow out of one man’s sick imagination. The play is indeed rightly called A Winter’s Tale because it issues from a wintry, cold hearted, dark mindset – the characteristics of winter.
But what happens? After winter comes spring! The infant daughter who was left to perish on a foreign shore (hence her name is Perdita, meaning lost) is rescued from death by a shepherd! After a passage of 15 years she meets the crown prince of Bohemia, Florizel (note the allusion to flowers in his name). They fall in love and return to Sicily where Leontes has long since repented of his evil thoughts and deeds. They are welcomed by Leontes who is then reconciled with the King of Bohemia, a wedding is planned – and the play climaxes when Hermione is discovered to be alive after all. A friend has housed her in secret over all these years. She pretends she has commissioned a statue as a memorial of her – and now invites all the players to view the statue. The veil is drawn and Hermione comes to life before them (never having been dead) – much to the joy of everyone – even as the revival of springtime and flowers serves us as an Easter reminder of God’s wedding with Israel, with Mother Earth, with Mary, with Mother Church (as celebrated in our biblical Song of Songs).
So many parallels to our liturgical use of the seasons (passing from winter to springtime, from the King Herods of history to the risen Christ) – hidden within this play for those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear! It says, all our long winter’s tale of history, of wars, corruption, death, greed, hatred must give way to a rebirth of light under the influence of the infant Christ at the Easter moment of his resurrection from the dead.