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Fiction: Dissing Shakespeare and Lovin’ It: The Winter’s Tale

By Don Maurer
arttimesjournal April 16, 2017

King of Sicily Leontes welcomes boyhood friend King of Bohemia Polixenes for a weekend sleep over. Both have parental permission. Polixenes brought jammies, toothbrush and bathtub water duck. Remains over nine months. Ominous. May have overstayed his welcome. Delinquent Polixenes must return home to check on things. Somewhat embarrassed he’s not on top of current affairs. But see vacations of 20/21 century world leaders.

Leontes asks Polixenes to stay longer. Latter sincerely demurs. Leontes urges Queen Hermione to intercede. Polixenes graciously relents. As soon as Hermione persuades Polixenes to stay, Leontes undergoes serious behavior modification.

Dramatist has consistently insulted audiences with bipolar character changes. Leontes becomes green-eyed monster. Convinced longtime friend with being too friendly with Hermione. Moral: Don’t be overly solicitous with an Italian’s wife. Playwright can barely repress his serious case of latent guilt of infidelity.

Leontes confides Hermione’s apparent adulterous behavior to advisor Camillo.
Instructs confidant to poison buddy Polixenes.

“Put it in his toothpaste. Mouthwash. Better yet Ovaltine.”

Camillo tries to discourage Leontes. No way. Camillo undergoes own behavior modification. Must be contagious. More virulent than avian or swine flu. Loyal, life- time advisor unaccountably confesses Leontes’s murder plot to Polixenes. Latter takes hint. Not welcome any more. Flees country with Camillo.

Leontes finds out about escape. Raging paranoia includes everyone. Removes his son Mamillius from mother’s care. Leontes finally notices Hermione’s pregnancy. Not very perceptive. Flunked Alan Alda sensitivity test. Accuses spouse of bed sport with Polixenes. Hence relevancy of 9-month stay. We needed playwright to point this out to us.

Courtiers defend queen’s love and fidelity. Leontes won’t have it. Faxes Oracle of Delphos to determine whether Hermione and Polixenes were playing house on his dime.

Servant Paulina visits Hermione bearing daughter Perdita in prison no less. Paulina wife to Lord Antigonus shows baby to Leontes. First, orders her thrown into fire. Thinks better of it. Reduces rancor. It’s not the baby’s fault. Second, orders her abandoned in the wilderness by Lord Antigonus. Leontes is not only stupid but downright mean-spirited.

Son Mamillius, who earlier was talking suggestively to one of the first ladies, becomes sick. Some think from divine retribution. Leontes denounces just about everybody as traitors. See Joeseph Stalin, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-il and Vladimir Putin. Unfortunately excludes playwright from his wrath.

Leontes charges Hermione with adultery, treason and conspiracy to kill him. Perdita is proof of adultery. Treason is anything a dictator or monarch says it is. See Henry VIII. Conspiracy includes a high fat-carb diet. Queen adamantly denies high carb diet. Claims she’s been feeding him long chain omega-3, unsaturated fatty acids and yogurt. Absolutely no trans fats. She’s big on salmon and krill cakes. Cites Southern Living as her source.

Fax from Delphos arrives. Polixenes’s blameless. Camillo’s a true subject. Hermione’s innocent. Sick son Mamillius dies. Hermione apparently expires. Leontes experiences another major behavior modification. Repents all past transgressions and omissions. Still confused how Hermione became pregnant. Says more about him than we want to know. Dramatist’s bipolar personalities wear us out.

Unaware of Leontes’s change in disposition, like a modern day dooms-day machine Antigonus pursues his mission. Have a serious problem with this. Playwright strictly a liberal arts man. If he ever attended college, which is doubtful, I’ll wager he never took a science course. Lions and dangerous snakes in England (As You Like It). Sea voyage from Verona to Milan (Two Gentlemen of Verona). And now Antigonus’s ship arrives on the coast of Bohemia. Bohemia was formerly part of Austria-Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

It goes from bad to worse. Antigonus leaves Perdita in the desert of Bohemia. What! It’s a temperate biome, mixed deciduous-coniferous forest. Dummy. Another geoquiz failure. His apple polishing apologists maintain he knew Bohemia wasn’t on the ocean or a desert. According to them he was trying to tease another playwright who had attended university making similar mistakes. Wasn’t his fault.   Reaching!!!!

Bruce Cook the redoubtable author, who strongly suggested the dramatist personally knifed Kit Marlowe, believes the bard’s lapse in geography here emphasizes the play as a fantasy. Weak. Very weak. Another undisciplined and careless moment from the playwright.

After abandoning Perdita, God only knows where, Antigonus is chased by a bear. Good riddance   Why not another hypothetical lion? Anyway. Some days you get the bear. Some days the bear gets you. One brave Elizabethan iconoclast drolly considered bard’s most famous stage direction:

Exit. Pursued by a bear.

Antigonus’s fate is known. For the bear there has been some speculation that it died with some distress from an extreme case of dyspepsia three days later. Parenthetically an elderly no-name shepherd providentially rescued baby Perdita.

Sixteen years pass. Not fast enough. King Polixenes and exiled Camillo discuss future of king’s son Florizel. Lad has most of his teeth. Strong, dimpled Kirk Douglas chin. Killer smile. Full head of blond hair awaiting planned discoloration. So far resisted tats. Heard some nasty rumors about ugly skin problems with aging. Dermatologists licking their chops. Florizel’s a good kid. Terrific breeding. Expect great things from him.

Penitent King Leontes pardons Camillo. Wants him to return to Sicily. Polixenes doesn’t want to lose him. Florizel’s falcon conveniently suffers apoplexy flying over shepherd’s hut. While retrieving the ailing bird he meets beautiful maid Perdita.

Can’t let this one pass. Latin word perdire means to lose. Perdue in French related to original Latin is translated as to lose out of sight or to be concealed. Abandoned baby Perdita was lost. Got it. Get it. Good. Playwright’s so proud of his cleverness. His crypto-pedantry is skin deep.

Florizel and maid connect. Polixenes and Camillo hear about their bonding.

Florizel makes impassioned pitch for the maid to his father. Latter nixes love match between a commoner and a prince. Kid’s made of sterner stuff. Good old, loyal Camillo takes Florizel aside suggesting he take his girl friend and scram.

“Go and seek support of King Leontes.”

Trusted confidant of Polixenes. Yeah. Sure. You see how this is coming together now? Not a clue huh?

For sixteen years Leontes has been whining about what a cad he’d been. Wearing a hair shirt. Self-flagellation. Sack cloth and ashes. Fasting and cold baths. Long, cold, lonely runs to local wineries.

Florizel turns up in Sicily with honey bunny maid. Leontes temporarily shucks off the blues enjoying young couple’s happiness. What can he do for old friend’s son? Recall this is the guy who tried to murder Florizel’s father earlier. Leontes has to check with Polixenes about Florizel’s nuptial plans.

All major characters dutifully and painfully assemble obviously impatient to exit stage. Failure to comply would jeopardize equity rating. Soooo. Two kings. The prince and maid. Nobles and attendants convene.

Here’s one of the bard’s Deus ex machina moments. There was this sculptor. Michel … Michel … Michelangelo. Actually it was a local, lesser-known sculptor, Julio Romano. Dramatist was paying off a soccer bet including Romano’s name in the play. Guy crafted an exact replica of a patrician lady. Impatient Paulina seeking to be first off stage unveils the statue. Surprise! Yes. I was also. It’s Queen Hermione. Every one’s amazed at the likeness. Leontes gets all weepy as well he might be in view of the way he treated or more accurately mistreated her earlier. He reiterates and enumerates past transgressions. Enough all ready. We know he’s sorry.

But wait. Figure descends purposefully from the pedestal. Leontes fortunately swallows his tongue. Unfortunately Polixenes clears his old friend’s tongue. Leontes and Hermione embrace. Ole! Maid is revealed as lost Perdita. Ole! Paulina, who lost her assassin monster husband to a bear, is betrothed to loyal (?) Camillo. Ole! Dramatist’s lack of interest in bear’s fate is disturbing to animal lovers everywhere. Florizel and Perdita wed. Ole!

Leontes? What a mess. Whiney, neurotic bipolar paranoid. Camillo? A congenital chameleon. Changing masters like a bouncing tennis ball. Polixenes?   An aristocratic snob. Hermione? A pre-Stepford wife. Marriage between Paulina and merciless, brown nose Antigonus? Totally untenable.   Location along the coast of Bohemia? Less than 4th grade education. Playwright needed

“Go and smell the roses.”

Fate of Hermione for 16 years. Come on man!

Apologists shake their heads in disbelief at my panegyric. Don’t even attempt a rebuttal. One oxymoron declined by the Chinese Cookie Review Committee: I never heard of such another encounter. Act 5. Scene 2. Stupid quote embraces whole play.