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The first edition of this play is that of the Players, the folio of 1623. It could not have been written before 1610, as we find from the office-book of Sir Henry Herbert, that it was licensed by Sir George Buck, who did not till that year get full possession of the office of Master of the Revels, which he had obtained by a reversionary grant: neither could the comedy have been produced later than 1613, when it was performed at Court.
The plot is taken from the Pleasant History of Dorastus and Fawnia, written by Thomas Green. The poet has changed the names of the characters, and added the parts of Antigonus, Paulina, and Autolycus; he has also suppressed many circumstances of the original story; in other respects he has adhered closely to the novel. The error of representing Bohemia as a maritime country is not attributable to our author, but to the original from which he copied. Ben Jonson, in a conversation with Drummond of Hawthornden, in 1619, remarking on this geographical mistake, observed that “Shakspeare wanted art and sometimes sense, for in one of his plays he brought in a number of men, say“ ing they had suffered shipwreck in Bohemia, where is no sea near by a hundred miles.” This remark, which was uttered in the course of private conversation, without the slightest suspicion of its ever being made public and which was so well justified by the example that he adduced to support it, has been quoted as another instance in proof of Jonson's enmity to Shakspeare. Jonson only professes to love Shakspeare,“ on this side Idolatry,” to admire his excellences without being blinded to his defects: the incorrectness mentioned is decidedly a great fault, but there is no malignity or undue severity expressed by the manner in which it is censured.
Mr. Walpole has a ridiculous conjecture that Thé Winter's Tale is an historical play, that it was intended as a covert compliment to Queen Elizabeth, that it is designed as a supplement to Henry the Eighth, and that Leontes represents the bluff monarch, Hermione, Anne Bullen, Perdita, Queen Elizabeth, and Mamillius an elder brother of hers, who was still-born.
“The Title of this play,” says Schlegel, " answers admirably to its subject. It is one of those histories which appear framed to delight the idleness of a long evening."
LEONTES, king of Sicilia :
Two other and its } attending the queen.
Shepherds, Shepherdesses, Guards, &c.
SCENE I.- Sicilia. An Antechamber in Leontes'
Enter CAMILLO and ARCHIDAMUS. Arch. If you shall chance, Camillo, to visit Bohemia, on the like occasion whereon my services are now on foot, you shall see, as I have said, great difference betwixt our Bohemia, and your Sicilia.
Cam. I think, this coming summer, the king of Sicilia means to pay Bohemia the visitation which he justly owes him.
Arch. Wherein our entertainment shall shame us, we will be justified in our loves ;a for, indeed,
Cam. 'Beseech you,-
Arch. Verily, I speak it in the freedom of my knowledge: we cannot with such magnificence-in so rare-I know not what to say.--We will give you sleepy drinks; that your senses, unintelligent of our insufficience, may, though they cannot praise us, as little accuse us.
Cam. You pay a great deal too dear, for what's given freely.
Arch. Believe me, I speak as my understanding instructs me, and as mine honesty puts it to utterance.
Cam. Sicilia cannot show himself over-kind to Bohemia. They were trained together in their childhoods; and there rooted betwixt them then such an affection, which cannot choose but branch now. Since their more mature dignities, and royal necessities, made separation
- muur entertainment, &c.] Though we cannot give you equal entertainment, yet the consciousness of our good-will shall justify us.- Johnson.