Romance plays

The attributes of Romance plays

(See also: Introduction)

The element of a move from tragic to happier mood is common to all four of those plays of Shakespeare which are usually known as Romance Plays: The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, Pericles and Cymbeline.

A Romance in this sense has various attributes, usually featuring love but also an element of fantasy.

Appearance and character

It is also notable in the Romance plays of Shakespeare that, in contrast to many of his earlier plays, outer appearance does reflect character:

  • Perdita is ‘gracious' in both body and soul; her outward beauty reflecting her inner, spiritual purity, is frequently stressed
  • The same is true of Miranda in The Tempest
  • Caliban, who is seen as corrupt for much of The Tempest (although many modern critics see him as oppressed) is described as ‘a deformed slave' and ‘monster'.

Innate nobility

MirandaPerdita and Miranda are both princesses. In all Shakespeare's Romance plays, the innate nobility of royal children shines through even if they have been brought up in the wild, far from so-called civilisation, as have the princes in Cymbeline, or on a remote island, as has Miranda in The Tempest.

The significance of the sea

The sea plays a significant part in Shakespearean Romance drama, suggesting a force which both gives and takes away:

  • It is perhaps most important in The Tempest, where the apparent wreck of the ship carrying most of the characters eventually leads to reconciliation
  • It is also particularly important in Pericles, where the hero travels by sea with his wife, who gives birth on board ship to their daughter, hence called Marina (from the Latin for ‘sea')
  • It also has some part to play in Cymbeline
  • In The Winter's Tale the sea, which is both the link to and divide between Sicilia and Bohemia (even though present-day Bohemia has no coast-line), is an indication of the structural balance of the play; as Antigonus, full of gloom, ends his journey by sea with the baby Perdita, we meet on the sea-shore the shepherds who will adopt her, and they introduce a new mood of good humour.
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