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The Winter's Tale: Simon Forman

Readings

Two articles are on reserve in the MacPherson Library:

A contemporary account of The Winter's Tale

The Winter's Tale is unusual in that there survives a comment on it by a contemporary of Shakespeare's who saw it in performance soon after it was written. Simon Forman was a physician and writer on the kind of medicine we would now think closer to astrology. He attended plays at the Globe Theatre, and kept an account of them in a book; his reactions to Macbeth, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale are all recorded. It happens that, just before he died (drowning in the Thames on the day he had predicted for his death), he saw a performance of The Winter's Tale in 1611, just after it was written. It is worth reading with some care.

The Winter's Tale at the Globe, 1611, the 15 of May

Observe there how Leontes, the King of Sicilia, was overcome with jealousy of his wife with the King of Bohemia his friend, that came to see him; and how he contrived his death and would have had his cupbearer to have poisoned, who gave the King of Bohemia warning thereof and fled with him to Bohemia.

Remember also how he sent to the Oracle of Apollo, and the answer of Apollo, that she was guiltless and that the King was jealous, etc., and how except the child was found again that was lost, the King should die without issue; for the child was carried into Bohemia and there laid in a forest and brought up by a shepherd. And the King of Bohemia his son married that wench, and how they fled into Sicilia to Leontes, and the shepherd having showed the letter of the nobleman by whom Leontes sent away that child and the jewels found about her, she was known to be Leontes' daughter, and was then sixteen years old.

Remember also the Rogue that came in all tattered like coll pixci, and how he feigned him sick and to have been robbed of all that he had, and how he cozened the poor man of all his money, and after came to the sheep-shear with a peddler's pack, and there cozened them again of all their money. And how he changed apparel with the King of Bohemia his son, and then how he turned courtier, etc. Beware of trusting feigned beggars or fawning fellows.

Notice how Forman adds a final sentence, in which he looks for an improving moral for the story, incidentally giving a clue as to how the part of Autolycus was played: "Beware of trusting feigned beggars or fawning fellows."

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This page last updated on 28 August 2006. © Michael Best, 2002.