Deliberate comparisons

A technique which contributes to our sense of the play as a carefully structured work is juxtaposition. This is the placing next to each other of scenes, or parts of scenes, for a particular (usually contrasting) effect. It is a device which is very noticeable in Shakespearean drama, and which must have been even more noticeable on the Elizabethan and Jacobean stage, where there were no curtains or lighting effects to divide scenes, which, instead, ran more loosely into one another. (See: Design of theatres.)

Juxtaposition in The Winter's Tale

Setting significant and contrasting moments side by side makes each more noticeable.

  • For example, we are in the middle of witnessing Hermione's playful chatter with her son (Act II, sc i) when Leontes' bursts in with ‘Give me the boy,' accusing Hermione of adultery.
  • Similarly, in the sheep-shearing scene (Act IV, sc iv) the happy love and betrothal of Florizel and Perdita is suddenly changed to grief as Polixenes announces, ‘Mark your divorce, young sir'
  • Earlier, at the end of Act III scene ii, we have witnessed the sad and moving moment where the now penitent Leontes asks to be led ‘To these sad sorrows'; the next scene takes us straight to a different country, and to the realisation that the ‘lost' baby has arrived in Bohemia
  • Next comes Antigonus' sad soliloquy describing his vision of Hermione, which is followed by the possibly ludicrous moment of his ‘Exit pursued by a bear' and then the humorous arrival of the shepherds.
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