Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge
The Winter’s Tale contains one of the most famous stage directions in English literary history: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” (That’s when Autolycus is chased down and then eaten by a bear, of course.) Some speculate that, because the theaters were in the same neighborhood as “bear baiting” contests (the Elizabethans thought it was fun to chain up bears and set packs of wild dogs on them), it’s possible that one or more performances of the play featured a live bear. But it seems more likely that an actor dressed up in a bear costume and chased Antigonus across the stage. (Source: Sylvan Barnet, “The Winter’s Tale on Stage and Screen.")
Some critics believe that Leontes's jealous behavior toward Hermione in The Winter’s Tale is a thinly veiled allegory about King Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded after being tried and convicted of adultery in 1536. (Source: Stephen Orgel, Introduction to The Winter’s Tale.Oxford World’s Classics 1996 edition.)
Everyone knows that Bohemia is completely landlocked, but Shakespeare either didn’t know or didn’t care. At the beginning of Act 3, Scene 3, Antigonus asks “Thou art perfect then, our ship hath touch'd upon / The deserts of Bohemia?” (3.3.1).
The Winter’s Tale teaches us that mouth bling (that’s right, we said “mouth bling”) was pretty popular in Shakespeare’s day. When Autolycus pretends to be a nobleman in Act 4, Scene 4, the Clown remarks that Autolycus must be rich because “the picking [gold toothpick] on’s teeth” is so fancy.