The Winter’s Tale Compassion and Forgiveness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
They seemed almost, with
staring on one another, to tear the cases of their
eyes; there was speech in their dumbness, language
in their very gesture; they looked as they had heard
of a world ransomed, or one destroyed: a notable
passion of wonder appeared in them; but the wisest
beholder, that knew no more but seeing, could not
say if the importance were joy or sorrow; but in the
extremity of the one, it must needs be. (5.2.2)
Leontes's emotional reunion with Camillo is marked by great “sorrow” and great “joy.” While the King is elated to see his old friend and advisor, the encounter between the old friends reminds us of how much has been “destroyed” and lost.
Nothing but bonfires: the oracle is fulfilled; the
king's daughter is found: such a deal of wonder is
broken out within this hour that ballad-makers
cannot be able to express it. (5.2.1)
The revelation of Perdita’s true identity and her reunion with her father is a “wonder[ous]” moment, according to the First Gentleman. So wondrous, in fact, that we wonder why we learn about the reunion second hand. Why doesn’t Shakespeare stage this joyous moment for his audience to witness first hand?
There was casting up of eyes,
holding up of hands, with countenances of such
distraction that they were to be known by garment,
not by favour. Our king, being ready to leap out of
himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that
joy were now become a loss, cries 'O, thy mother,
thy mother!' then asks Bohemia forgiveness; then
embraces his son-in-law; then again worries he his
daughter with clipping her; now he thanks the old
shepherd, which stands by like a weather-bitten
conduit of many kings' reigns. I never heard of such
another encounter, which lames report to follow it
and undoes description to do it. (5.2.2)
Seriously. If the reunion of Perdita and Leontes is such a joyous occasion, why do we have to hear about from the Gentleman? Why doesn’t Shakespeare stage this moment directly? Is he afraid too much celebration would be overkill? (After all, we’ve got the big statue scene coming up.) Or, is it more effective to hear about the reunion from other witnesses?