Shakespeare Uncovered


“The Winter’s Tale” with Simon Russell Beale

Simon Russell Beale uncovers the romance and betrayals of “The Winter’s Tale” and shows that in this play Shakespeare offers something for which everyone longs: the ability to make amends for an irreversible mistake.

AIRED: October 26, 2018 | 0:54:41


-Five years before he died,

Shakespeare wrote a desperate, haunting tale --

"The Winter's Tale."

In this play, a king, Leontes,

is seized by a fit of extreme jealousy,

and in the grip of this obsession,

he destroys his entire family.

His one last hope of happiness is cast across the sea,

and he is left finally alone.

A man's future lies in ruins.

But that's not where the play ends.

At this point in his life,

Shakespeare seems to turn away from despair.


What he offers us is an enchanted

and beguiling piece of theater.

A glimpse of a land we rarely see.

The search for a path that lies beyond what's lost,

beyond what's irrevocable, beyond what even seems possible.


Shakespeare seems to be offering us another way.

Offering us something quite different.

"The Winter's Tale" is not a tale about surrender.

It's about the possibility of hope.

The risks and the passion in hope.


[ Woman laughs ]





-Funding for "Shakespeare Uncovered"



-"The Winter's Tale" isn't a play that everyone knows.

But once you see it, you'll never forget it.

I played the character of Leontes in London in 2009,

and this man still haunts me.

He was quite tricky to play, and I think he was tricky to play

because he thinks he's right...

...and he persuades himself of the justice of what he's doing

and the fact that what he believes is correct

when everybody around him

knows that he's behaving unjustly

and what he sees is not correct.

He can be terribly cruel,

and yet, somehow, you shouldn't stop caring about him.

There's something about him

that has to be sympathetic for the audience.

And I think probably it's to do with pain.

What he suffers is something that's very human --


Something, in other words, potentially we all might suffer.

And it's consequently very distressing to watch

and to play.

Leontes' fit of jealousy happens so quickly

that it can be a struggle to understand

quite what's happening.

The Jacobeans would have gone

with a certain amount of knowledge,

but even they may have been caught off-balance.

I'm going to talk this through with a friend, an expert.

I think it's a rather unusual title, actually --

"The Winter's Tale."

So, what would a Jacobean audience

be expecting with that title?

-Literally a winter's tale is a kind of fairy story.

It's a fairy tale.

It is the kind of story that you tell

that people in the Jacobean period

told when sitting next to the fire.

You know, it's snowy outside, and you want to huddle up close.

-Like a ghost story. -Exactly. Like a ghost story.

But like a ghost story,

it also has these stark elements, as well,

as there's that sense, isn't there,

that we're kind of huddling close together,

but we don't want to look in the shadows too much.

I think Shakespeare's play has this quality, as well,

that there is this kind of fantastical sense to it,

a kind of fantastical atmosphere that we're gonna watch things

that maybe aren't fully believable.

But at the same time,

they're gonna feel incredibly believable.

And that in a way is one of the shocks of the play --

that if you come to it expecting a fairy story,

actually, you get something which is really deep

and psychological real

and actually quite bleak and quite shocking.

-So, they might have been coming, thinking,

"We're gonna have a good fright."


-But what they're presented with is,

as you would say, a rather savage psychological portrait.

In fact, the play continues to surprise me, too.

-I think the other thing that's interesting about the way

that Shakespeare treats jealousy

is that, I think, often in plays of this period,

jealous characters, jealous men, are comic characters.

They're the butt of the joke.

-The cuckold. -The cuckold.

"My old husband, oh, he's so jealous."

Shakespeare's jealous characters are never funny.

They're always tragic, I think,

or they have the potential for tragedy.

They're vicious, and they are dangerous.

And that's the interesting thing in this play, as well.

-How fasc-- I'd never thought of that.

[ Cheers and applause ]


The play opens in the royal court of Sicily.

King Leontes is happily married,

and his wife is expecting a second child.

His dear friend Polixenes has been visiting,

and Leontes is trying to persuade him to stay.

The atmosphere at this court is not unhappy.

It's working well.

The king and the queen get on.

They're just about to have a child.

Leontes' relationship with Polixenes is easy and genial.

Everything is apparently fine at the moment.

But Leontes fails to persuade his friend to stay.

And so he asks his wife to step in.

-Tongue-tied, our queen? Speak you.

-I had thought, sir, to have held my peace

until you had drawn oaths from him not to stay.

You'll stay? -No, madam.

-Nay, but you will. -I may not, verily.

-Their conversation is playful but innocent.

Leontes is in the same room,

but doesn't appear to be playing close attention.

-How say you? My prisoner or my guest?

By your dread "verily," one of them you shall be.

-Your guest, then, madam.

To be your prisoner should import offending.

-Hermione has done what her husband asked her to do.

But something has been stirring in Leontes,

and he will find success deeply threatening.


-[ Laughs ]

-Hermione has absolutely no inkling

of what's happening in Leontes' head.

They banter as they've always done.

I think she has a glow of happiness

and a glow of expectation,

and she's living that to the full.


What happens next is in many ways

a turning point in the play.

Hermione will tell Leontes of her success,

and he will be devastated.

It's an extraordinary scene, as the change in Leontes

happens so quickly.

The actors at Shakespeare's Globe are working through it.

-Excellent. We're very, very early on in the play.

Leontes has asked Hermione to persuade Polixenes to stay,

to do what he failed to do.

Which she's done beautifully.

-Is the notion that he's literally stood kind of apart

and watched that whole time? -Yes, yes.

-Okay. -Yes.

Definitely he's observed.

-Is he won yet? -He'll stay, my lord.

-At my request he would not.

Hermione, my dearest, thou never spok'st to better purpose.


-Never but once.

-What? [ Laughs ]

Have I twice spoke to the purpose?


-Why, that was when three crabbèd months

had soured themselves to death

ere I could make thee open thy white hand

and clap thyself my love;

then didst thou utter "I am yours forever."

-'Tis grace indeed.

Why, lo you now, I have spoke to th' purpose twice.

The one forever earn'd a royal husband,

the other for some while a friend.

-Too hot, too hot!

To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods.

Oh, I have tremor cordis on me.

My heart dances, but not for joy, not joy.


-Leontes has somehow fallen into his own hell.

He rushes to his closest adviser, Camillo.

Camillo is completely unprepared for this.

This is the point in the play

where the screws begin to tighten.

This, I think, is not characteristic behavior

on the part of Leontes.

And I think Camillo, as the honest counselor,

is as shocked as you would be if somebody who you respect

and admire suddenly starts reading the world

in a way that doesn't make sense.

Leontes has created wild fantasies

that, to him, seem completely rational.

-Ha' not you seen, Camillo? [ Sighs ]

But that's past doubt; you have,

or your eyeglass is thicker than a cuckold's horn.

My wife is slippery.

-I would not be a stander-by

to hear my sovereign mistress clouded so

without my present vengeance taken.

'Shrew my heart, you never spoke what did become you less.

-Is whispering nothing?

Is leaning cheek on cheek?

Is meeting noses?

Kissing with inside lip?

Stopping the career of laughing with a sigh?

[ Laughs ]

Horsing foot on foot?

Wishing clocks more swift?

Hours minutes?

Noon midnight?

And all eyes blind with the pin and web but theirs,

theirs only, that would unseen be wicked?

Is this nothing?

Why, then the world and all that's in 't is nothing,

the covering sky is nothing, Bohemia nothing,

my wife is nothing,

nor nothing have these nothings, if this be nothing.

-Good my lord, be cured of this diseased opinion, and betimes,

for 'tis most dangerous.

-Say it be, 'tis true. -No, no, my lord.

-It is. It is.

You lie. Say it be, 'tis true.

-No, no, my lord. -It is. You lie, you lie.

I say thou liest, Camillo, and I hate thee.


-Leontes seems simply and suddenly unreachable.

Tortured by crazed images of infidelity.

-It's inexplicable. It's irrational.

I can't find a logical explanation for it.

But then, that's precisely what the play is saying --

that jealousy can be like that.

-Now if he'd found a bit of evidence somewhere... would sort of be able to understand

the hell that that puts him in.

But what makes it worse is, he hasn't found evidence.

He doesn't -- It hasn't come from anywhere

other than his own mind.

So that becomes a hell in itself.

-If you would seek us we are yours i' th' garden.

Shall's attend you there?

-To your own bents dispose you.

You'll be found, be you beneath the sky.

I am angling now, though you perceive me not how I give line.

Go to, go to!

-I think Shakespeare understood something about jealousy

which is difficult for people

who are not jealous to understand,

which it can happen very suddenly.

And it can happen as a result of a single action

or seeing something or suddenly misinterpreting something.

I think it's perfectly feasible that, just at some point,

he just looks at the two of them and thinks,

"No, that's not right."



Leontes' mind has moved rapidly, desperately, dangerously.

Haunted by fantasies of betrayal,

he now wants his best friend dead

and has ordered Camillo to murder him.

Leontes has entered a dark, destructive place,

and now Hermione and their son, Mammilius,

are about to become victims of his jealousy.


They know nothing, but, in fact, a shadow is already in the air.

Hermione is with her son,

and the little boy wants to tell her a story.

A tale for winter, he calls it, a ghost story.

What they don't know is that this is the last time

they will ever see each other.


-Come, sir, I pray you sit by us and tell's a tale.

-Merry or sad shall 't be?

-As merry as you will.

-A sad tale's best for winter.

-She's in the prime of her life,

just very happy with her lot in life.

Very happily married, very stable, very calm.

-I have one of sprites and goblins.

-Let's have that one, good sir.

Come on then, and give 't me in mine ear.

-Was he met there? -My lord!

-His train? -I know not, my lord.

-Camillo with him? -Behind the tuft...

-Within minutes, Hermione and her little boy

are confronted by an enraged Leontes.

Refusing to murder Polixenes,

Camillo has escaped with the king's friend.

But Leontes sees his escape as yet more evidence

of his queen's guilt.

-You have mistook, my lady, Polixenes for Leontes.

-No! -O thou thing,

which I'll not call a creature of thy place!

I have said she's an adult'ress; I have said with whom.

More, she's a traitor, and Camillo a federary with her.

And that she's a bed-swerver

and privy to this their late escape.

-No, by my life,

privy to none of this.

-This is absolutely appalling behavior.

It's way beyond anything that anybody's seen at this court.

They're obviously frightened of him,

and I think they're not frightened

because he himself is a frightening man.

They're frightened because the sheer power of his delusion

is obviously overwhelming.


King Leontes has imprisoned his innocent queen,

ordered the murder of her supposed lover,

and barred their young son and heir from seeing his mother.

He is, in short, behaving like an unhinged tyrant.

Not the kind of play you'd necessarily perform

to a raving monarch.

And yet "The Winter's Tale" was performed

at a very delicate occasion --

the wedding of King James I's daughter.

One of the few things we know about "Winter's Tale"

is that it was performed at the court of James I, the king.

We don't know how they reacted.

I mean, if I were him, James I,

I would go, "What the hell are you doing,

presenting a man accusing his wife of adultery

and arresting her"?

-Let's put it this way.

He would not have identified with Leontes.

He would not have applied that kind of behavior to himself.

Yes, he would have seen Leontes as a tyrant,

as a despotic ruler.

And he would also have expected those around him,

the other courtiers and visitors,

to know the difference.

There's this really bad king who misbehaves on the stage,

and aren't you lucky to have a good a king as I am?

-So he was confident enough to say...

-Absolutely. -..."Not me."

But there was a sense in which the play would have been

rather hard to shrug off.

I mean, it had certain resonances

in their family history, didn't it?

-That's actually true,

and it might have cut quite close to the bone.

Mary, Queen of Scots,

James' mother, had been accused of adultery

by his father.

There was this extraordinary episode when Mary,

heavily pregnant with James,

was having dinner with her ladies

and her private secretary, David Rizzio,

and her husband burst into the chamber

and actually attacked Rizzio in her presence.

And Rizzio was killed.

So you can imagine the pregnant Mary, Queen of Scots,

and her supposed lover being attacked.

-And there's a scene in "Winter's Tale"

not directly like this, but correspondent to it.

-Correspondent to it.

-The king bursting into the queen's private apartments

and accusing her of adultery. -Of adultery.

-And, of course, he would have known about this incident,

wouldn't he, obviously?

-Everybody did.

His mother had been accused of being a Catholic whore,

and he grew up knowing that questions were being raised

about whether he wasn't a bastard himself.

-The scandal of alleged royal adultery

also blighted the previous English monarch,

Queen Elizabeth.

-The predecessor of James on the English throne,

Queen Elizabeth, had grown up as a bastard, yes.

And her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn,

the wife of Henry VIII,

had been executed for adultery and treason.

-I'd never really thought about it,

about women in that sort of position

and the regularity with which they were accused

of being whores.


In Sicily, King Leontes remains convinced

of his wife's infidelity

and has imprisoned her.

Their son and heir has fallen ill with grief.

But Hermione has given birth to a baby girl,

and the queen's attendant, Paulina,

insists Leontes accepts the child.

-Let him have knowledge who I am.

-Enraged by Leontes' treatment of her queen,

Paulina is fearless of both him and his courtiers.

-Fear you his tyrannous passion

more or less than the Queen's life?

A gracious innocent soul, more free than he is jealous.

-That's enough.

-Madam, he hath not slept tonight,

commanded none should come at him.

-Not so hot, good sir. I come to bring him sleep.

-Paulina says extraordinarily,

bravely, to the courtiers

that they are enabling this behavior

by not standing up to it.

That there's something wrong with their inability

not to be able to stop this obviously mad behavior.

-Here 'tis.

-Paulina's gamble is that the sight of the child

will bring Leontes back to his senses.

[ Baby crying ]

-Commends it to your blessing.


A mankind witch!

I'll ha' thee burnt! -I care not.

I'll not call you tyrant;

but this most cruel usage of your queen

not able to produce more accusation

than your own weak-hinged fancy,

something savors of tyranny.

-Were I a tyrant, where were her life?

She durst not call me so if she did know me one.

Away with her!

-He says again and again during the play,

"I'm a great king. I'm really good at this.

I've never been -- I've never flouted the law."


-"This feeling of jealousy is merely another sign

of my accurate reading of the world."

Because he can't understand why people don't see what he sees,

which seems to be perfectly obvious.

And since he's always been, you know, a rational human being,

he can't see why he's no longer a rational human being.

[ Baby crying ]

But Paulina's insistence drives him to a fury,

and he gives his courtier Antigonus

a breathtaking choice.

-My child? Away with 't!

Take it hence and see it instantly consumed with fire.

If thou refuse and wilt encounter with my wrath, say so.

The bastard brains with these my proper hands shall I dash out.

-Leontes has no idea how crazed he sounds.

To him, he's still behaving rationally in part of his brain.

He's still behaving a rational man.

If the child is a bastard, then it must be got rid of.

Makes perfect sense to me, you know?

We can't have a king with a bastard daughter.


Locked inside his own private hell, Leontes orders

Antigonus to take the child far away and abandon it.

His queen, Hermione, will stand trial,

but determined to appear fair,

he'll seek the judgment of the pagan oracle at Delphi.


Leontes may have sent to the oracle for a judgment,

but in his mind, he already knows what the verdict will be.

She's guilty.

-Produce the prisoner.


-A surreal quality hangs over the trial.

[ Indistinct talking ] -Silence!

-Hermione is a pitiful sight, but, for Leontes, it is simple.

The fact that Polixenes and Camillo have fled

proves her guilt.

-You knew of his departure as you know

what you have underta'en to do in his absence!

-He is so much a prisoner of his own convictions that he --

he cannot moderate his rage

or his willingness to bring it all down before him.

-For as thou brat hath been cast out,

so thou shalt feel our justice.

-For him, it's an absolute abuse of their relationship,

that he thinks he's witnessed.

Yeah, he's in an enormous amount of pain.

And it doesn't really matter if it's self-inflicted.

It's still painful.

-You speak a language that I understand not.

My life stands in the level of your dreams.

-Your actions are my dreams.

You had a bastard by Polixenes, and I but dreamed it?

-It's this profound love that she has for him,

and as a result,

if she keeps calm and dignified,

surely, she will appeal to his better sense as her husband.

-Look for no less than death.

-Oh, sir, spare your threats.

To me can life be no commodity.

Your favor, I do give lost.

-What she's concerned about

is the pain in her husband, naturally.

And she says, "You're unnecessarily dreaming up things

that I have done and I haven't done because I love you."

At last, the verdict of Apollo.

-Hermione is chaste. -Ohh.

-Leontes a jealous tyrant, his innocent babe truly begotten;

and the King shall live without an heir

if that which is lost be not found.

-Leontes' response is stunning.

-There is no truth at all i' th' oracle.

[ Indistinct talking ] -The sessions shall proceed.

This is mere falsehood.

-My lord the King, the King! -What is the business?

-Within seconds, the life of the entire court is changed forever.

-The Prince your son, with mere conceit and fear

of the Queen's speed, is gone.

-How? Gone? -Is dead.

[ Thunder rumbling ]

-She's lost her husband. She's lost her newborn baby.

She's lost a child.

What's there to do live for?

[ Thunder rumbling ]

-It's as if the whole world spins 'round in Leontes' head.

He's now lost both children.

And he then immediately, very quickly, says,

"Apollo is angry, and I'm wrong."

It's like waking out of a dream.

[ Thunder rumbling ]

The play now darkens even further.

With Leontes in shock,

it's the furious Paulina who takes control.

She will tell him to his face exactly what he has done --

killed the queen.

-I say she's dead.

I'll swear 't.

If word nor oath prevail not, go and see.

But, O thou tyrant, do not repent these things,

for they are heavier than all thy woes can stir.

Therefore betake thee to nothing but despair.

-The anger, the fury, the pain of Paulina coming on

and saying, "You will never be forgiven for this,"

and her sentence on him is absolutely unforgiving.

-A thousand knees ten thousand years together,

naked, fasting, upon a barren mountain,

and still winter in storm perpetual,

could not move the gods to look that way thou wert.

-You could kneel on a barren mountain for a thousand years

and beg and pray,

and you will never be forgiven for this.

You have killed all your family.

And you will never be able to pay that debt back.

It's absolutely furious.


Then something shifts in Paulina.

-Go on. Thou canst not talk too much.

-Do not receive affliction at my petition.

I beseech you, rather let me be punished,

that have minded you of what you should forget.

-Thou didst speak but well when most the truth,

which I deserve much better than to be pitied of thee.

-So, something backtracks in her,

and I think it's a response to his overwhelming pain.


The play is set in a pagan world.

There's an oracle.

But Shakespeare's audience would have seen it in their own terms,

with the idea of Christian forgiveness.

My friend is an Anglican minister.

Should Paulina forgive Leontes?

Can he be forgiven?

She batters him down so far,

and then she switches and goes, "Oh, I'm so sorry."

-Well I think she's manipulated.

I think she's manipulated,

because one of the most powerful words is "sorry."

As soon as she realizes that she's won the argument

and he's longer putting up a big fight

about him being so righteous

and, you know, knowing better than the oracle

and all that kind of thing,

then suddenly she realizes there's a human being there.

At the beginning of that scene,

he's not behaving like a human being.

-No. Yeah. Yeah. -He's a heartless monster.

-As king, Leontes has always been absolutely confident

in his own judgment.

-I think a lot of it's about his ego,

because what's going at the beginning of the scene --

He is the all-powerful king,

who not only has the world's greatest passions,

but also is the arbiter of justice.

He gets to be all of those roles.

He says, "I'm playing by the rules here," doesn't he?

He says -- That's part of his carapace, his protection.

"No, I'm doing everything absolutely right,

according to the rule book." -Yeah.

But, so, then he seemed the embodiment of the law

with the biggest capital "L" you could want.

And then, suddenly, when he realizes he's completely

messed up, you know, his son dies,

he gets to be the big sinner

with the biggest capital "S" in the world,

and the story is still about him.

-He was the big "L." Ah! -He was the big law.

He was the -- For him, you've got this massive ego.

-So you're saying it's a question of ego, yes.

I love this idea that he still --

his ego is still at full throttle,

so, therefore, he still sees himself

as the center of the story. -He does.


-Leontes and Paulina

begin their unhappy lives together.

Maybe with her help, he can change.

But the play now moves to a different world.

It's the wild coast of Bohemia, the kingdom of Polixenes,

where Antigonus is swept ashore with the tiny baby.

He leaves the child safely in a basket with a pot of gold,

but he himself,

in one of Shakespeare's most famous stage directions,

exits, pursued by a bear.


Antigonus dies, and the future of the child

now becomes the concern of people quite different

from anyone we've met in Sicily.

This is a rather famous scene.

-Yes, it's the turning point, really, I'd say, of the play.

So it's the pivot.

We're not only in Bohemia,

but we're in the company of very, very different people.

-This is after hours of misery, isn't it?


People who really are honest.

Who are looking at doing the good deed,

doing the right thing.

It's, almost, we step into a whole new play.

And these characters are a whole new world.

What is really endearing

and the magic of this part of the play

is their truthfulness, you know, their goodness.

-Yes, yes.

-The scene follows the death of Antigonus

and the safe arrival of the tiny princess.

A shepherd and his son pick up the tale.

-Good luck, an 't be thy will, what have we here?

Mercy on 's, a bairn!

I'll take it up for pity.

No, yet I'll tarry till my son come.

[ Calling ] -[ Calling ]

-The boy has just witnessed the death of Antigonus

and the wreck of his ship.

-I have seen two such sights, by sea and by land --

But I'm not to say it is sea, for it is now the sky.

-Why, boy, how is it?

-To see how the bear tore out his shoulder-bone,

and how he cried to me for help,

said his name was Antigonus, a nobleman.

How the poor souls roared and the sea mocked them,

and how the gentlemen roared and the bear mocked him.

-Name of mercy, when was this, boy?

-Now. I have not yet winked since I saw these sights.

The men are not yet cold under water,

nor the bear half dined on the gentleman.

He's at it now.

-Would I had been by to have helped the old man.

-But his father had something very different to share.

-Heavy matters, heavy matters.

But look thee here, boy.

Now bless thyself.

Thou met'st with things dying,

I with things newborn.

Here's a sight for thee.

-The boy sees the gold and the baby.

-[ Gasps ]

Go you the next way with your findings.

I'll go see if the bear be gone from the gentleman

and how much he's eaten.

If there be any of him left, I'll bury it.

-Fetch me to th' sight of him.

-Marry, will I, and you shall help to put him i' th' ground.

-'Tis a lucky day, boy,

and we'll do good deeds on 't.

[ Crowd whooping ]

-Now something surprising happens.

We're still in this new world of Bohemia,

but Shakespeare has simply jumped forward 16 years.

-Whoo! Whoo!

-The abandoned baby, Perdita, meaning "lost,"

has grown up as the shepherd's daughter.

She and Polixenes' son, Prince Florizel,

have met and fallen in love.


Florizel doesn't care about what he assumes

are her humble origins

and joins in the sheepshearing festival,

where everyone is welcome.


-It's a pastoral world, but that pastoral world

is a place of emotional possibility and growth.

Where there can be a little bit of free space

and people can learn and discover.

And that's what this benevolent space is in Bohemia.


[ Crowd cheering ]


[ Slow piano music plays ]

-Central to this lightening of mood

will be the music and mischief of a tinker, Autolycus.

-It doesn't matter if we get it wrong, does it, though?

-It does. -Oh.

-It always matters if you get it wrong.

I'm with Simon Slater,

the composer for the Globe's 2016 production.

-So, you're gonna sing this.

-No. Well, you're going to sing Autolycus' thing.

-Well, I can do Autolycus, but there's two ladies.

Perhaps be Mopsa. -Okay.

[ Slow piano music plays ]

-♪ Get you hence, for I must go ♪

♪ Where it fits you not to know ♪

-♪ Whither? That's me, is it?

-That was you. -Sorry. Okay.

The original music has been lost,

so every composer has to reinvent it

using Shakespeare's text.

-Okay. [ Slow piano music plays ]

You ready? -I am.

-Here it goes.

♪ Get you hence, for I must go

♪ Where it fits you not to know ♪

-♪ Whither?

♪ Oh, whither, whither?

♪ Oh, whither?

♪ Whither? Whither?

-♪ It becomes thy oath full well ♪

♪ Thou to me thy secrets tell

-♪ Me too, let me go thither

It's low. -It is low.

-I think we can do that later, can't we?

Should we do it again?

-You stole my part some of the time.

-Oh, did I? -Yeah.

-Simon, give me a rundown on Autolycus as a character.

-I think he's sort of like relief.

We've just had the storm and all that

and the terrible stuff in Acts 1, 2, and 3.

And then he comes on, and it's like the sun is shining.

We've never seen a character like him.

We don't really know the class of the character,

but we've not seen a sort of traveling rogue-ster,

if that's a word, before. -Yeah.

So, he has a charm. -He has a charm, is charismatic.

-I wouldn't trust him in a pub after a couple of pints.

[ Laughing ] Or to walk your dog.

-You might lose your wallet, I think, for sure.

-That's, of course, the first thing he does, isn't it?

-You might lose your daughters. -[ Laughs ] Yeah.

He has a song in which he introduces himself.

Then he has the song, this song. -This one, yeah.

[ Slow piano music plays ]

-♪ Lawn as white as driven snow ♪

-From these verses, it's clear that, apart from stealing,

Autolycus makes his living selling anything

he can get his hands on.

-♪ Masks for faces and for roses ♪

Hold on to that. -Oh, really?

-Here's the chorus. -I'm a tragic actor, really.

-You'll be tragic when you play that.

♪ Come buy of me, come

♪ Come buy, come buy

[ Tambourine plays ] ♪ Come buy of me, come

♪ Come buy, come buy

♪ Come buy of me, come

♪ Come buy, come buy

♪ Buy of me, come

♪ Come buy, come buy

-♪ Buy, lads, or else your lasses cry ♪

♪ Come buy

-The mixture of charm and duplicity in Autolycus

extends to other characters.

-♪ Bugle bracelet, necklace amber ♪

-In amongst the party are two guests in disguise --

Florizel's father, Polixenes,

and Camillo, who fled Sicily with him.

- ♪ buy their dears

♪ Come buy of me, come

♪ Come buy, come buy

Hey! Hey!

-Polixenes has heard of his son's relationship

with the shepherd's daughter and has come to spy.

-♪ ...come buy Ho ho!

♪ Come buy of me, come

♪ Come buy, come buy

♪ Buy, lads, or else your lasses cry ♪

♪ Come buy


[ Applause ]

-Sir, welcome.

It is my father's will I shall take on me

the hostess-ship o' th' day.

-One of the things I think you need to remember about Perdita

is that she's supposed to have a kind of innate nobleness

that is in contrast with her environment.

And so when the two strangers come in to the festival,

she greets them graciously,

because what we know is that she really is a princess.

-But Polixenes believes she's just a shepherd's daughter.

-Come, your hand --

And daughter, yours.

-Soft, swain, awhile, beseech you.

Have you a father?

-I have, but what of him?

-Knows he of this?

-He neither does nor shall.

-The father, all whose joy is nothing else but fair posterity,

should hold some counsel in such a business.

-I yield all this;

but for some other reasons, my grave sir,

I not acquaint my father of this business.

-Let him know 't. -No, he shall not.

-Prithee let him. -No, he must not!

Come. Mark our contract.

-Mark your divorce, young sir, whom son I dare not call.

And thou, fresh piece of excellent witchcraft,

I'll have thy beauty scratched with briers.

For thee, fond boy, we'll bar thee from succession.

-With such cruelty, the land of Bohemia is no utopia.

But it is a place where rules can be broken,

and in this spirit, Florizel and Perdita

accept a radical plan of Camillo's

to escape back to Sicily.




At last, we see for ourselves how Leontes has been living.


When we return to Leontes and his court 16 years later,

it seems to me that nothing has really changed there.

All are frozen in time.

[ Indistinct whispering ]

Every day, Leontes visits his wife's grave

while Paulina reminds him of his guilt.

It's Paulina and him just living out this misery.

An old dead couple.

It's a very deep-rooted type of living death.

-Whilst I remember her and her virtues,

I cannot forget my blemishes in them,

and so still think of the wrong I did myself,

which was so much that heirless it hath made my kingdom

and destroyed the sweet'st companion

that e'er man bred his hopes out of.

-True, too true, my lord.

-But this frozen world is suddenly given a jolt.

Polixenes' son is announced, along with his betrothed.

-Most dearly welcome,

and your fair princess --


-Leontes has no idea

he is looking at his long-lost daughter.

-Alas, I lost a couple

that 'twixt heaven and Earth

might thus have stood, begetting wonder,

as you, gracious couple, do.

-My lord! -Please, Your Grace, sir.

-The king has little time to reflect before he is told

that an angry Polixenes has arrived and he must respond.

-I will to your father.

Your honor not o'erthrown by your desires,

I am friend to them and you.

Come, my lord.


-When the world of Bohemia arrives on the shores of Sicily,

the whole story is pieced together,

and all anger vanishes.

The truth about Perdita is finally revealed.

Leontes discovers that he's been looking at his lost daughter.

We don't see this reunion -- it happens offstage --

because Paulina is about to gather everybody together

to what is, in effect, her own particular stage.



They find themselves in a gallery, Paulina's gallery.

A private place where she keeps works of art.


She tells them she has one piece in particular

that she wishes to show.


[ Indistinct whispering ]


Leontes is about to see something

that nothing could possibly have prepared him for.

It's a statue of his queen, his dead queen.

What she doesn't know is that she will appear so lifelike

that he will feel he's actually looking at his wife

and she's looking straight back at him.

[ Indistinct whispering ]


Shakespeare wrote this play for his new indoor theater,

where candlelight blurs reality.

And where the actor playing Hermione

must appear as a statue.


-But here it is.

Prepare to see the life as lively mocked

as ever still sleep mocked death.

-Chide me, dear stone, that I may say indeed

thou art Hermione,

for she was as tender as infancy and grace.

But yet, Paulina, Hermione was not so much wrinkled,

nothing so agèd as this seems.

-Oh, not by much.

-So much the more our carver's excellence,

which lets go by some 16 years and makes her as she lived now.

-As now she might have done.

O, thus she stood, even with such life of majesty --

warm life, as now she coldly stands --

when first I wooed her.


I am ashamed.

-"I am ashamed," he says.

It's still there.

"I'm ashamed."

It's almost an acceptance of his own worthlessness.

So, he wouldn't have said, "I am ashamed," when we last saw him.

-Let no man mock me, for I will kiss her.

-Good my lord, forbear.

The ruddiness upon her lip is wet.

You'll mar it if you kiss it,

stain your own with oily painting.

Shall I draw the curtain?

-No, not these 20 years.

What you can make her do I am content to look on.


-Leontes is overwhelmed by the image of his dead wife,

and it's now Paulina says something

that has the potential to change everything.


-It is required you do awake your faith.

Music, awake her!


[ Soft music plays ]


'Tis time.


Be stone no more.

Bequeath to death your numbness,

for from him dear life redeems you.


You perceive she stirs.


-She decides at that point that she loves him.

She never stopped loving him.

-Nay, present your arm.

When she was young, you wooed her;

now in age is she become the suitor?

-O, she's warm!

-In the first half of the play,

Leontes freezes Hermione out of his life.

He turns her to stone,

and he turns his own feelings to coldness.

But when he touches her, she's warm.

All that warmth, all that feeling, comes back.

-She embraces him.

-She hangs about his neck.

-He's been given a second chance.

A miraculous thing.

A very moving thing. stol'n from the dead.

-She sees how he has changed.

How penitent he is.

He has to let her forgive him.

-Turn, good lady.

Our Perdita is found.


-You gods, look down,

and from your sacred vials pour your graces

on my daughter's head!


-I find this scene immeasurably moving

because it digs deep into something --

the return of people we love from the grave.

So I'm moved by a scene that's impossible.

And how can that be?

How can you be moved

by something that could never happen?

But you are.

And maybe there's a reason for that.

Something magical does happen.

A man is forgiven for something that in his mind

is beyond forgiveness

and now is embracing the woman

whom he thought he had lost forever.


Somehow, in the theater, we can be Leontes and Hermione.

We can experience what it would be like

to embrace Paulina's offer.

-Awake your hope. Awake your optimism.

Awake your love.

-She's saying to the audience, whether it's Leontes

or the people watching this play, you can't just watch this.

Part of the transformation that I want to create

is a transformation of you,

because I'm going to awaken your sense of possibility.

-Hermione and Leontes have dared to have faith in a future

while knowing all that has happened in the past.

Perdita is found, but their son is lost.

-The joy is alloyed.

The joy is a darker joy, a deeper joy,

because it has to exist in the face of loss.


-I think there is the possibility

that you can get something

that you thought you had lost forever.

You don't get it in the same form,

but when you think that nothing will lie on the other side,

it turns out that the play, I think, does suggest, yes,

when it seems like it's closed,

it's not closed.

It's open.

It's going onward.

And I think that the play encourages you to think this

as you leave the theater.

As you walk out into your own lives.


-I'd like to think that this sense of possibility

of a door opening is something that Shakespeare himself

might have felt as he laid down his pen

and looked ahead to the rest of his life.

-Next time...

-Now is the winter of our discontent.

-...Antony Sher mines the depths of the ruthless Richard III.

-He's an atrocious human being.

-Talkst thou to me of ifs? Off with his head!

-Yet he's one of the most popular characters

that Shakespeare ever created.

-He's brilliant, and he's incredibly dangerous.

-"Richard III with Antony Sher"

next time on "Shakespeare Uncovered."




-"Shakespeare Uncovered" Series 3 is available on DVD.

Series 1 and 2 are also available.

To order, visit

or call 1-800-PLAY-PBS.





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