Tim Haslett's Blog

Older, wiser, grumpier

Can Malcolm Turnbull be agile and on the table at the same time?

Heath Aston writes in The Age “The biggest threat to Turnbull in 2016 is not Bill Shorten but the danger of not delivering the nimble, post-Abbott leadership he has built the voters up to expect.”

Domino man.jpeg

The agile Malcolm Turnbull in “every thing’s on the table ” mode (thanks Dyson)

What Turnbull really means by consultation

When Malcolm Turnbull was elected he wanted to lead an open government that promoted genuinely consultative engagement with members of parliament and with voters.

There was going to be a discussion where “Everything was on the table” on tax reform. If the current debate on the GST as any indication, the table is moving around quite a bit and things keep slipping off.

Domino man

 Malcolm Turnbull’s “something just fell off the tax reform table” face.

The way  government engages the electorate in public debate is through the process of publishing, first a Green paper, and then a White paper. In relation to tax reform, these processes had stalled under Tony Abbott.

All indications were that Malcolm Turnbull would engage the public on the question of tax reform through the process of a green white paper. Now he’s hinting that he’s not going to increase taxes to meet the ever-growing budget deficit, that there will be no GST (although he doesn’t appear to report the Treasurer along on that one).

He also seems to have abandoned the idea of a tax White Paper which essentially sets out the directions that Australia could take on tax reform.

Asked yesterday about the tax white paper, Mr Turnbull all but confirmed it was dead. He said that “the budget will be, for all practical purposes, the white paper”.

So this means that if there is going to be an increase in the GST, it will be announced in the budget. Presumably the same goes for changes (or otherwise) to superannuation concessions and a range of other measures such as changes to negative gearing and  international company tax.

There are two possible scenarios here.

The first is that Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison will wimp out on tax reform and balancing the budget. They will go for Budget-Lite, no nasties and no spending cuts. The strategy will be to let budget creep solve the budgetary problems and hope that this gets them re-elected.

The second is that Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison have learned nothing from the debacle of Joe Hockey’s first budget and will dump a huge range of changes on the  unsuspecting electorate.

Whatever happens, any hopes that the budget messages is being effectively sold to the electorate or that the government is in control of the process, are slowly fading.

Has anything changed under Malcolm Turnbull?

Remember when Tony Abbott was attacking the Bureau of Meteorology for reporting whether activity related to climate change?

Former prime minister Tony Abbott’s own department discussed setting up an investigation into the Bureau of Meteorology amid media claims it was exaggerating estimates of global warming, Freedom of Information documents have revealed.

212922-89c1f502-3d72-11e3-a7a8-fd7949ba8dc3.jpg

 Gotta do something to get Bureau of Meteorology to toe the government’s line on climate change. Bugger reporting the weather.

Remember when we thought that the elevation of the smooth-talking member for Wentworth would bring about a change in some of the more aggressive government policies?

Time to think again.

The Age reports that:  “Australia will break a commitment made at the Paris climate summit less than two months ago if CSIRO goes ahead with its plan to axe its research programs, one of the agency’s leading scientists has warned.

John Church, a globally recognised expert on sea level rise and one of CSIRO’s most decorated researchers, said organisation chief Larry Marshall had misled the public by claiming there was now less need for climate research because the problem had been “proven”.

About 100 jobs are planned to go from units dedicated to research in areas including greenhouse gas levels, sea level rise, ocean temperatures, ocean acidification and assessing what is required to keep global warming to two degrees.”

As part of its commitment at Paris, Australia agreed there should be greater investment in climate research, including improved observations and early warning systems.

Perhaps Prime Minister Turnbull can explain how cutting jobs at CSIRO squares with this international commitment.

You may remember him basking in the international media glory when Australia was a signatory to the Paris agreement.

Perhaps someone should remind him that a commitment to combating climate change is not merely a photo opportunity.

1449002168677.jpg

 Malcolm Turnbull and Paris climate change conference. Nice photo.

He’ll probably just send in organisation chief and former of venture capitalist, Dr Larry Marshall, whose weasel words on 7.30 were a masterpiece of incomprehensibility

Larry Marshall.jpg

As well as a PhD in Physics, Larry Marshall is a graduate of the Malcolm Turnbull School of Oratory

Leaning, not lifting, on Syrian refugees

At the beginning of September 2015, the Abbott government (remember them?) announced that Australia would be taking 12,000 Syrian refugees.

Domino man

Today, The Age announced that Around 20 Syrian refugees have so far arrived under the separate commitment to take 12,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria and Iraq.

That’s around four per month. At this glacial rate of progress, it will take 250 years to reach the target of 12,000.  By then, the war may even be over. Certainly most of the current refugees will be dead.

Now the government has announced that the process of selection with far more strenuous and presumably more time-consuming.

On 7.30, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton used Australia’s goal of  12,000 refugees as a justification for the detention centres on Manus Island and Nauru. It’s a spurious argument to begin with but made all the more spurious by the fact that Australia is  currently and effectively not taking any refugees at all.

This is despite being an active participant of the bombing that is creating the problem.

bombing_syria.jpg

Thick smoke from an airstrike by the US-led coalition rises in Kobani, Syria

Kenneth Branagh’s film version of the production of The Winter’s Tale

Kenneth Branagh has filmed his production of The Winter’s Tale at the refurbished Garrick Theatre.  Choosing to film the play in the theatre is a far less expensive option than making a film of the play with its attendant costs, but there are downsides.

Garrick Theatre

Garrick Theatre

This approach is designed to give the filmgoers the experience of being in the theatre and Branagh begins by giving the film-goers a lengthy (10 minute or so at least) shot looking down from the gods into the theatre. It is as if you are sitting in the theatre waiting for the play to begin. Following on from nearly 20 minutes of advertisements in the cinema, this is a trifle tedious.

This is followed by an introduction from Branagh which is only slightly less tedious than the shot of the inside of the theatre. But these are quibbles.

Less of a quibble is that the lighting in the theatre does not translate well onto the screen. The entire production is filmed in very low light that makes it difficult to discern some of the details which camera can pick up and that a theatre audience may not see. So the poor lighting loses one of the advantages of this particular form of production.

The other irritating problem with this film is that the cinematographer has not managed to get his focal lengths and perspectives right. Characters on the left-hand side of the stage are nearly three times as tall as those on the right.  As they move across stage, they either grow or shrink depending on which direction they are moving. Characters who come onstage from the left look as if they are walking in on stilts.

Now Branagh has made some of the best Shakespearean films in recent years:

Hamlet,

film-2-1.jpg

Henry the Fifth

images3.jpg

and a glorious Much Ado about Nothing where he stars with the wonderful Emma Thompson,

Much-Ado-About-Nothing-4.jpg

So you would expect that he would understand how to bring a Shakespearean play to the cinema screen, but his cinematographer and his lighting director have lets him down fairly badly in this production.

So what is to like about this production? Pretty much everything else. As I’ve explained elsewhere, I don’t think this is a great Shakespearean play with its clunky plot and psychological improbabilities.  But this having been said, the acting is superb.

To start with, we have the incomparable Judi Dench as Paulina.  She brings a deep compassion to the role which has echoes of the fool in King Lear.  It’s a commentary on the longevity of the talent of this actor that she has now played all three of the women in The Winter’s Tale.

dench paulina.jpg

 Judi Dench as Paulina in the film of Kenneth Branagh’s 2016 production

dench hermione

 as Hermione in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s 1969 production

dench perdita.jpg

and as Perdita in the 1970 Royal Shakespeare Company’s production

Some actors have a special magic when it comes to Shakespeare and Judy Dench is one of them. She brings to the role of Paulina a passionate energy when confronted with injustice but also a note of sadness born of experience. Her final speech is Shakespeare at his best.

Paulina: There’s time enough for that; 
Lest they desire upon this push to trouble 
Your joys with like relation. Go together, 
You precious winners all; your exultation 
Partake to every one. I, an old turtle, 
Will wing me to some wither’d bough and there 
My mate, that’s never to be found again, 
Lament till I am lost.

Kenneth Branagh is excellent as Leontes particularly in Act 1 Scene 2 where he oscillates between his increasingly insane jealousy and the calm exchanges he must have to disguise it.

Leontes. Too hot, too hot! 
To mingle friendship far is mingling bloods. 
I have tremor cordis on me: my heart dances; 185
But not for joy; not joy. This entertainment 
May a free face put on, derive a liberty 
From heartiness, from bounty, fertile bosom, 
And well become the agent; ‘t may, I grant; 
But to be paddling palms and pinching fingers, 190
As now they are, and making practised smiles, 
As in a looking-glass, and then to sigh, as ’twere 
The mort o’ the deer; O, that is entertainment 
My bosom likes not, nor my brows! Mamillius, 
Art thou my boy?

and then when the floodgates open

There have been, 
Or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now; 
And many a man there is, even at this present, 
Now while I speak this, holds his wife by the arm, 
That little thinks she has been sluiced in’s absence 285
And his pond fish’d by his next neighbour, by 
Sir Smile, his neighbour: nay, there’s comfort in’t 
Whiles other men have gates and those gates open’d, 
As mine, against their will.

After Paulina presents him with the baby Perdita and he begins a slow process of realisation of what he has done, Branagh’s Leontes shrinks as a stage presence and everything about him indicates the terrible price he is paying.

Kenneth-Branagh-Leontes-in-The-Winters-Tale.-CREDIT-JOHAN-PERSSON-4.jpg

Antigonus with the baby Perdita. She is to be abandoned, he eaten by a bear

As a director, Branagh skilfully negotiates one of the difficulties of the play: the overlong wool shearing scene. He turns it into an Eastern European fertility rite with the shepherds, the shepherdesses and particularly Perdita brimming with erotic energy.

tom-bateman-florizel-and-jessie-buckley-perdia-100562-johan-persson

Tom Bateman and Jessie Buckley as Florizel and Perdita

Miranda Raison brings a quiet dignity to the role of Hermione, Leontes’ wronged wife.

original-mirandaraisoninrehersal-jpg-c34e53e6.jpg

Her response to Leontes’ histrionics is measured and restrained.

Hermione. No, by my life. 
Privy to none of this. How will this grieve you, 
When you shall come to clearer knowledge, that 
You thus have publish’d me! Gentle my lord, 
You scarce can right me throughly then to say 
You did mistake.……….

There’s some ill planet reigns: 
I must be patient till the heavens look 
With an aspect more favourable. Good my lords, 
I am not prone to weeping, as our sex 
Commonly are; the want of which vain dew 
Perchance shall dry your pities: but I have 
That honourable grief lodged here which burns 
Worse than tears drown: beseech you all, my lords, 
With thoughts so qualified as your charities 
Shall best instruct you, measure me; and so 
The king’s will be perform’d!

In the final scene she is revealed as the statue that, in true fairytale form, comes to life.

untitled 3

Her response is revealing.

Paulina  Turn, good lady; 
Our Perdita is found.

Hermione.You gods, look down 
And from your sacred vials pour your graces 
Upon my daughter’s head! Tell me, mine own. 
Where hast thou been preserved? where lived? how found 
Thy father’s court? for thou shalt hear that I, 
Knowing by Paulina that the oracle 
Gave hope thou wast in being, have preserved 
Myself to see the issue.

Not a word to Leontes.  Hermione has been waiting sixteen years in the hope that her daughter was alive.

And in his final speech Leontes does not have a word to say to Hermione.

If this play is reworking the themes of the great tragedies particularly Othello and King Lear, then redemption and reconciliation for Leontes are both muted and qualified.

 

The flawed logic of Australia’s asylum seeker policy

The Turnbull government is digging in over the plight of refugees on Nauru and Manus Island. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was talking tough in question time yesterday about the need for a “robust” border protection system.

manus_3.jpg

 Australia’s robust border protection system

The problem for the government now is that any change to a more humane policy would constitute a massive political background and invite a massive backlash from the right wing of the Liberal party who clearly have the Prime Minister very worried about their influence.

The justification for offshore detention is that it deters the people smugglers. This may or may not be the case. It is far more likely that the highly efficient system of border protection and tow-back, which is costing Australian taxpayers an arm and a leg, is the more effective element of Australian policy.

It’s worth taking a step back and examining the logic behind the other arm of the government’s policies: offshore detention.

The argument is that offshore detention deters people smugglers. The logic is that if Australia places refugees in detention centres, this will deter the people who own and operate the boats. It may have the effect of deterring demand for that particular service but it’s a second-order effect.

The more effective policy would be to put the people smugglers in detention on Nauru and Manus Island then confiscate and burn their boats.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 4.29.07 PM.png

It could work like this. A full of refugees arrives in Australia. Australia processes and gives them asylum. It arrests the boat’s crew and sends them to an offshore detention centre for an indefinite period.

This policy would have an immediate deterrent effect on the people smugglers. One strike and you’re out (or in, as the case may be).

The advantage is that it doesn’t penalise and victimise the people who desperate to find sanctuary in Australia. It penalises the people who exploit them and take their money.

The problem is that every time Malcolm Turnbull or Peter Dutton speak on asylum seekers they harden community and political attitudes took point the compromise becomes impossible.

The other problem is that Bill Shorten is demonstrating his complete lack of political leadership by remaining in thrall to the government’s policies

 

Battery storage systems for solar panels will be a game changer

Last night’s Catalyst on the ABC was the harbinger of things to come. It featured the new storage systems for homes with solar panels.

tesla-powerwall-battery-mounted-outside

Tesla’s new $3500 10kWh Powerwall home battery 

While expensive, these new battery systems will solve the key problem for people with solar panels: What do you do when the sun is not shining?

The answer in the past had been to put your excess electricity back into the group where you were paid a fraction of the price that the power companies would sell it for. Having fed your power back into the grid for a pittance during the daytime, you are forced to purchase power back at  peak prices during the evening period.

Now that is over and, for a not inconsiderable price, consumers will be able to come very close to self-sufficiency and move “off grid”.

Of course, the power companies are outraged by this possibility claiming that the people who do so will be  “selfish and greedy”. That’s pretty rich coming from a power company.

They claim that the burden of maintaining the power infrastructure that delivers electricity will increasingly be shifted to those who cannot afford to install solar panels and batteries.  You feel sorry for the last person in Australia to move onto a solar panel system.

The difficulty at present is that a complete solar panel battery system is still fairly expensive and people are unlikely to shift to self-sufficiency for purely economic reasons.

Most, including our household, will shift because ultimately it will be every individual’s decision to abandon coal-fired electricity that will bring the existing system to a halt.

In 2015, there were 9 million households in Australia and it would appear that around 15% of them have solar  panels installed.

Percentage of Australia’s total solar PV capacity in each state (cumulative to end 2014)

Australian Capital Territory 1%
New South Wales 20%
Northern Territory 0%
Queensland 31%
South Australia 14%
Tasmania 4%
Victoria 18%
Western Australia 11%

– See more at: https://www.cleanenergycouncil.org.au/technologies/solar-pv.html#sthash.XJbbUGxc.dpuf

Why is the Turnbull government not looking at ways to establish a local solar panel industry with the aim of having solar panels on the roof of every house in Australia?.

In the first case, it would fly in the face of the Luddite policies of the current government.

In the second case, it would mean parting company with one of their major financial backers: the coal industry.

In the third case, it would require visionary leadership and there is an absolute dearth of that in Australia at present.

Nonetheless, if  enough people decide to take situation to their own hands and move away from coal fired electricity, it may make the current means of production uneconomic and the government will be forced to support the move towards solar powered homes.

Roll on the revolution.

 

 

lenin.jpeg

Time for Turnbull to step up.

Michael Gordon, Political editor of The Age writes:

“Now that the legality of detaining asylum seekers indefinitely on foreign shores has been upheld by the High Court, Malcolm Turnbull has some big decisions to make.

The most immediate is whether he moves quickly to send around 100 children, including 37 babies, to the tiny, sweltering island with their mothers to face a precarious life in limbo.

To a large extent, the government is captive to its own brutal rhetoric and the mindset that any show of compassion will represent a green light for people smugglers to resume their trade.”

art-Malcolm_Turnbull-620x349.jpg

 Malcolm Turnbull  appears indifferent to the plight of the asylum seekers

The problem for the people who are suffering in detention is that the federal opposition and its leader have adopted a completely supine position in relation to this policy.

Neither political leader has the guts nor the compassion to stand up and say “This is enough.  Detaining these people on Nauru and Manus Island is not necessary to deterring people smugglers. It is time for them to be brought to Australia.”

Bill Shorten is on a hiding to nothing in the next federal election so why not stand up and do something that may prove to be a game changer.

vd-shorten-funnyface.jpg

 Bill Shorten thinks about taking a stand on asylum seekers

Letter to my grandson (vii)

Yesterday, you had a decimal birthday. You were 20 months old and, as it was a Tuesday, spent the day with Nana Di and Grandpa Tim. It was much the same as most days that you spend with us, full of pleasures and surprises.  You did some drawing with Nana Di and sat next to me reading the section of the paper that you commandeered.

P1070238

We played cricket and soccer up and down the hallway and Nana Di chased you and me around the kitchen which you think is hilarious.

You also took your first photograph.  Because you’re now tall enough to reach up onto most of the benches and tables in the house, you’ve become quite adept at finding little treasures all around the place. You are already beginning to understand how the mouse and keyboard control the You Tube videos.

In this case, it was my camera.

Sometimes, it is easy to get you to surrender the item, but in this case, you were having none of it. This was clearly an important find so I took the line of least resistance and sat you down next to me and explained how to take a photo of Nana Di. You were pretty sceptical and not particularly willing to relinquish any control of the camera but I managed to get your little index finger onto the shutter button.

Your first effort was particularly good.

P1070242.JPG

Subsequent efforts were not quite so good, given that you don’t understand many principles of taking good photographs and this was combined with your reluctance to part with any control of the camera.  Still, it’s not bad for a 20 month old neophyte photographer.

wintons photos.jpeg

We then went down to the study and uploaded the photos onto the computer where you held the camera and I connected it to the computer.  You were fascinated to see the photograph of Nana Di come up on the screen.

It made me reflect yet again that, at the age of 20 months, you doing things that were beyond human imagination when I was your age.

I’m surprised at how much I enjoy your company.

I have spent most of my life as an academic and have met and worked with some of the smartest people on the planet, yet I think that now I am just as happy spending my time with a small child whose vocabulary is developing to include words like More, Dummo (for your dummy), Bike (for a ride on my bike), Yummo (for anything that tastes good and your mum ensures is plenty of that), Dig (for giant excavators and anything that generally requires large efforts shifting things) and of course Nan Nan Nan which you shriek when you set off looking for Nana Di.

 

The Winter’s Tale: pulling the threads together

In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare has created a play that draws together many of the themes of the great tragedies, particularly King Lear, Hamlet and Othello.   As well, the female characters in this play also look back to Ophelia, Cordelia and Desdemona.

The plot

At the beginning of The Winter’s Tale, Polixenes, the King of Bohemia is visiting Leontes, the King of Sicily and his boyhood friend. During the visit, Leontes is overcome by jealousy and convinces himself that his wife, Hermione, is carrying Polixenes child.  To avoid Leontes’ murderous anger, Polixenes returns to Bohemia accompanied by Camillo  who had been charged, by Leontes, with murdering  Polixenes .

title.jpg

Leontes throws Hermione into prison where she delivers a baby girl. Despite the pleadings of Paulina, Leontes orders Antigonus, Paulina’s husband, to abandon the baby girl, Perdita, in the wilderness.

Paulina.jpeg

Antigonus takes Perdita to Bohemia where, for his troubles, he is eaten by a bear. Perdita is rescued and raised by shepherds.

At her trial, Hermione collapses on learning that her son, Mamillius, has died of grief at his mother’s imprisonment. She is whisked off stage by Paulina. Leontes is haunted by the deaths of his wife, son and daughter.

Sixteen years pass and Florizel, Polixenes’s only son and heir, has met and fallen in love with Perdita.

Perdita.jpeg

Perdita by Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys

On learning of his son’s plans to marry her, Polixenes disowns Florizel who flees to Sicily with Perdita where they throw themselves on the mercy of Leonties.

Polixenes follows Florizel to Sicily where it is revealed to Leontes that Hermione is not dead but has been living in seclusion for sixteen years and that the young woman accompanying Florizel is his daughter, Perdita.

hermione live.jpeg

A mid-19th century painting of the statue of Hermione coming to life.

 This is followed by general rejoicing and forgiveness.

 Commentar

This is not one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. It is one of the late tragi-comedies: Pericles, Cymbeline and The Tempest being the others.  It’s been said that in these plays, Shakespeare revisits some of the themes of his great tragedies and seeks to find a dramatic solution (and resolution) to the tragic and human consequences of those plays.

However, when this play revisits some of the themes and ideas of the great tragedies, the effect is rather less satisfying than both an emotional and dramatic sense.

The most notable of these is the examination of the consequences of jealousy and suspected infidelity that is played out in Othello.  In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare poses the question: Is it possible to recover from the catastrophic effects of delusional jealousy?  Unlike Othello, The Winter’s Tale says yes. But the dramatic resolution that is presented in this play is less dramatically and emotionally satisfying than in the great tragedy.

20110911_58_08othello1965.jpg

 Frank Finlay as Iago and Laurence Olivier as Othello (1965)

In The Winter’s Tale, we see destructive jealousy overcome by Leontes’ penance and Paulina’s good offices.  But why? Paulina’s husband has been eaten by a bear carrying out Leontes insanely jealous wishes to destroy his daughter.  Why would she wish him well?

Now, of course, there are answers to this question.  Most particularly, that Paulina is one of Shakespeare’s great female characters who wishes to support another who has been strong in the face of the most unreasonable  behaviour that you could possibly imagine: unjustified accusations of adultery.  Nonetheless, there is nothing in the text to support this particular view.

The Winter’s Tale also revisits the theme of parental blindness that is played out in King Lear.   The ending of The Winter’s Tale lacks the savage catharsis of King Lear.  It certainly lacks the terrible beauty of the poetry in the final scenes of the great tragedy.

But Lear’s reunion with Cordelia has an emotional and dramatic scale far beyond that of Leontes’ reunion with Perdita. If there is forgiveness and reconciliation at the end of The Winter’s Tale, then it is muted and subdued and shot through with sadness at the knowledge that the past cannot be undone.

There  are other similarities between the two plays. Perdita and Cordelia are very similar characters, particularly in relation to their dramatic function within the plays. Both have been grievously wronged by their father, both bring healing, reconciliation and forgiveness at the end of play.

There is another echo from King Lear. Paulina plays a role very similar to the fool in King Lear. She is mercilessly excoriating in her attacks upon Leontes and he accepts them as to punishment for the wrong that he has done his family. But Paulina is a realist and her attacks on Leontes lack the dramatic and bitter irony of the fool’s attacks on Lear.

There are also echoes from Hamlet, particularly in the scene where Perdita distributes flowers at the  bacchanalian wool shearing scene  which will conjure up memories of Ophelia’s distribution of flowers in Hamlet.

 Ophelia: .There’s fennel for you, and columbines.—There’s rue for you, and here’s some for me. We may call it “herb of grace” o’ Sundays.—Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.

Benjamin_West_-_Hamlet-_Act_IV,_Scene_V_(Ophelia_Before_the_King_and_Queen)_-_Google_Art_Project

 Benjamin West’s depiction of Ophelia distributing flowers

 The echoes of this tragic scene are picked up in The Winter’s Tale:

Perdita: For you there’s rosemary and rue; these keep. Seeming and savour all the winter long: Grace and remembrance be to you both. And welcome to our shearing!

flowers wt.jpg

These parallels tend to highlight some of the of the central problems with this play.

In many ways, it’s a fairytale with a changeling princess (Perdita), a prince with a hidden identity (Florizel), a fairy godmother (Paulina) and statue that comes to life (Hermione) and of course a fairytale ending.

But there’s a lot of dramatic conjuring in the resolution of this human tragedy.  The audience is entitled to say “If we’re going to have fairytales, then they are better for being psychologically consistent and believable.”

 There are a number of elements that don’t quite ring true.

There is nothing in the play to explain Paulina’s motivation in hiding Hermione away for sixteen years and for her merciless attacks on Leontes.  Certainly he deserves it, but for sixteen years?

The problem is that Shakespeare needs sixteen years to pass for Perdita to grow up and Perdita and Florizel are essential to the happy ending.

untitled 3.jpeg

 Tom Bateman as Doricles/Florizel and Jessie Buckley as Perdita

But this is simply a dramatic device that leads to a resolution of the dilemmas of play but it presents problems particularly in relation to the motivation of Hermione and Paulina.

Beneath these particular details of the similarities between this play and the great tragedies, there is a question: “Is Shakespeare returning to ideas of the great tragedies and finding resolution and reconciliation, albeit within the structure of the fairytale, or do we see a great dramatist whose creative skills are in decline who is now reworking and revisiting old ideas but without the dramatic energy and skill of the earlier plays?”

Many of the people who see this play will have read or seen many, if not all of the tragedies, so that references to earlier plays and the ethical and human dilemmas that they examine will be clear to many members of the audience.  So comparisons will be inevitable.

The dramatic role of the clown, Autolycus, is a case in point. There are funnier clowns in other plays and often these clowns will have important dramatic role to play. But this is not the case with Autolycus.

Leslie_-_Autolycus.jpg

Autolycus (1836) by Charles Robert Leslie

He’s an entertaining rogue, vagabond, pickpocket and song and dance man but that’s it. He is a diversion and really has no, or little, dramatic impact on the play. He is a bit like the sheep-shearing party which is overly long and provides the audience with singing and dancing but does little else to justify the amount of stage time it has.

On balance, it doesn’t work all that well. The structure of the play, particularly the sixteen year gap in the middle exposes too many of the inconsistencies in the plot such as Paulina’s motivation for not explaining Leontes’ grief to Hermione.

 At the end of the play, we get the first hint of Pauline’s grief.

Paulina:  I, an old turtle,
Will wing me to some wither’d bough and there 3450
My mate, that’s never to be found again,
Lament till I am lost.

Paulina then marries Camillo at Leontes’ behest.

 

Leontes:  I’ll not seek far— 
For him, I partly know his mind—to find thee 3460
An honourable husband. Come, Camillo, 
And take her by the hand, whose worth and honesty 
Is richly noted and here justified 
By us, a pair of kings.

Well, the audience didn’t see that one coming and don’t have much time to reflect on it as, eleven lines later, the play is over.  But not before this rather puzzling little statement from Leontes

This is your son-in-law, 
And son unto the king, who, heavens directing, 
Is troth-plight to your daughter.

Presumably he is speaking to Polixenes about Florizel and Perdita. So why does he refer to Florizel as your son-in-law and to predict her as your daughter? Passing strange!

When Polixenes disowns Florizel at the wool shearing dance, we are simply getting a reiteration of the dramatic tension that was set up in the early scenes: a father casting out the (seemingly) ungrateful child.

winters tale

The audience knows that no good will come of this, it didn’t last time and it won’t this time. So why revisit the situation?

It’s the demands of the plot. The lovers have to fly to Sicily and Polixenes needs to follow so that the resolution of the final scene is possible.  It’s contrived rather than arising from the nature of the characters in the play or from their actions.

 So this play is rather like Novak Djokovic’s second service, pretty good but  not going to produce any aces.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 164 other followers