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The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare-Free MonkeyNotes Study Guide
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THE LANGUAGE OF THE PLAY

In the language of Shakespeare's last plays, the sentences are often so full of ideas and images that they are dense and complex. This is particularly true of The Winter's Tale, where in many of the passages, the meaning is ambiguous. Dramatically, such a style may be termed as poor, as it is not possible to sort out such complex thoughts at the speed at which they are spoken. The form of Shakespeare's later verse is, however, much closer to natural conversation than is his earlier verse. It is, therefore, more easily adapted to the various characters. Pauses are placed within lines at various points; many lines have extra unaccented syllables. Florizel's speech to Camillo in Act IV, Scene 4 is a good example of this style.


The language should, of course, reflect the character of the person speaking. Thus, one can witness the changing patterns of Leontes' words as his moods change. His speech is broken and hesitant when he first speaks to Camillo of Hermione's disloyalty. When he accuses her in public, he speaks much more abruptly. In contrast, Hermione's speeches are smooth and stately. At the end of the play, when Leontes has been forgiven and has reconciled with his wife and daughter, his speech is calm and controlled.

SHAKESPEARE'S USE OF PROSE AND VERSE IN THE PLAY

Shakespeare usually uses prose for his comic characters (for instance, Autolycus and the clown) and for characters of lower social standing. This provides contrast with the nobility, who speak in verse and usually express the more profound feelings. In The Winter's Tale, there are several notable exceptions to this custom. The first scene of the play, for instance, is in prose even though its speakers, Camillo and Archidamus, are nobles. This is because this scene is merely setting the stage for the action to come.

Depending on the circumstances, the old shepherd speaks in prose or verse. He uses prose when he talks to his son or a servant. Conversely, he utters verse in the presence of nobility. Autolycus speaks in verse when he is pretending to be a courtier. Camillo talks in prose to Autolycus but in verse to Perdita and Florizel, emphasizing the difference in his attitude towards them. Finally, Perdita, revealing her true nobility, always speaks in verse, despite her humble upbringing as a shepherd's daughter.

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