Winter’s Tale

Wordy Wednesday – “Primrose path”


In Hamlet, Laertes, leaving for France, tells his sister Ophelia to guard her heart against Hamlet.   Laertes suggests that Hamlet’s affections are “Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting, / The perfume and suppliance of a minute; no more.”


I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff’d and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

The primrose is a flowering plant of over 400 species, bearing blue, pink, purple, red, white, or yellow blossoms.

Here, Shakespeare’s “primrose path” is the path of ease, indulgence, and pleasure.  Ophelia not only listens to Laertes, but also challenges him to heed his own advice.  Primroses are perennial though, in this context, they represent fickleness – perhaps “perennial” frivolity?

There are six more references to primroses in Shakespeare’s plays:



So, so: well done, well done:
The violets, cowslips, and the primroses,
Bear to my closet.


Whilst summer lasts and I live here, Fidele,
I’ll sweeten thy sad grave: thou shalt not lack
The flower that’s like thy face, pale primrose

Henry VI, Part II


I would be blind with weeping, sick with groans,
Look pale as primrose with blood-drinking sighs,
And all to have the noble duke alive.



I’ll devil-porter
it no further: I had thought to have let in
some of all professions that go the primrose
way to the everlasting bonfire.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream


And in the wood, where often you and I
Upon faint primrose-beds were wont to lie,
Emptying our bosoms of their counsel sweet,
There my Lysander and myself shall meet…

The Winter’s Tale


…pale primroses
That die unmarried, ere they can behold
Bight Phoebus in his strength…

By Vineeta Moraes and Laboni Islam


“Primrose.”  Encyclopedia Britannica
Image:  Sloat Garden Center

Shakespeare in Art – Boydell, a Wright Storm Brewing

When the most notable painters in England were foreigners, such as Holbein and Rubens, how could the English rival their continental counterparts?   Twinings tea would not have been enough to alter taste.

In the late 1700s, the “Grand Style” was moving up the artistic ladder, prints were proliferating, and England was looking for a national hero to honour in its art.  Enter SHAKESPEARE.  Shakespeare’s plays – considered “high literature” – would be fodder for the Grand Style and Shakespeare’s stories – “mirror[s] of life” – would appeal to the masses.

John Boydell (1719-1804), publisher, print-seller, and soon to be Lord Mayor of London, decided to create a National Edition of Shakespeare’s plays.  He commissioned paintings, which would be turned into engravings, which, in turn, would illustrate the National Edition: “A MOST MAGNIFICENT AND ACCURATE EDITION OF THE PLAYS OF SHAKSPEARE.”  Note the spelling.

Boydell exhibited the paintings in the Shakspeare Gallery (1789-1804).  In a world without cameras and computers, let alone Facebook and Twitter, the gallery was a grand advertisement.  In the gift shop, patrons could subscribe to the National Edition, subscribe to the illustrations, or purchase individual prints.

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) painted three canvases for Boydell, scenes from: 1) The Tempest (now lost), 2) Romeo & Juliet (not included), and 3) A Winter’s TaleAntigonus in the Storm, III.iii, 1790-1792.  The last lives at home here in the Art Gallery of Ontario.  Stroll into Walker Court, between the Rodins, beneath the spiral staircase, and swing [W]right at the Bernini.

A Winter’s Tale in a two-paragraph nutshell:  Leontes, King of Sicilia and Polixenes, King of Bohemia have been friends since childhood.  Polixenes, having visited Leontes, is about to return to his kingdom.  When Leontes encourages Polixenes to stay, he refuses.  However, when Hermione – Leontes’ pregnant wife – asks Polixenes to stay, he agrees.  Leontes convinces himself that the two are having an affair, plots to poison Polixenes (fails),  imprisons Hermione and, when she gives birth, orders Antigonus to take the newborn girl (Perdita) away.  Leontes’ son Mamilius dies of grief and Hermione is reported dead soon after.

Time advances sixteen years and Perdita, raised by a benevolent Shepherd, has fallen in love with Florizel, Polixenes son.  Polixenes forbids the match, perceiving Perdita as unworthy.  Determined, Florizel, Perdita, and the Shepherd flee to Sicilia to visit Leontes.  When Polixenes intervenes, the Shepherd reveals the truth to make Perdita eligible.  Perdita and her father re-unite, Leontes and Polixenes resurrect their friendship, and Hermione reveals that she is, in fact, still alive.

Wright’s painting captures a sliver of the story.  Leontes orders Antigonus to abandon the infant in “some remote and desert place, quite out / Of [his] dominions” (II.iii.1142-1143).  Antigonus, on pain of death, sails to Bohemia and makes landfall in a desert country by the sea where “…the skies look grimly / And threaten present blusters” (III.iii.1490-1491).  Antigonus names the child “Perdita” and leaves her with a scroll.  The storm begins.  The painting illustrates one of the Bard’s most memorable stage directions: “Exit, pursued by a bear” (III.iii.1551).  It’s the last time we see Antigonus.

Wright, who loved to render light and dark, maximized the dramatic potential of this narrative moment.  The painting is about 99% storm.  In the foreground, a dead tree, perhaps foreshadowing the death of Antigonus.  In the middle ground, the mariner’s ship, dashed against the rocks.  In the background, an “arch” of ominous clouds and clear skies in the distance, perhaps foreshadowing the marriage of Perdita and “revival” of Hermione.  The bear looks rather wolfish and Antigonus flees artfully, arms extended, blue cape billowing behind.



Hawkins, Ann R.  “A Taste for Shakespeare:  The Growth of the Boydell Gallery.”  Folger Magazine  Fall 2007.  4-11.  Print.

Martineau, Jane et al.  Shakespeare in Art.  London: Morrel Publishers Limited, 2003.

Paulson, Ronald.  Book and Painting: Shakespeare, Milton, and the Bible – Literary Texts and the Emergence of English Painting.  Knoxville:  The University of Knoxville Press, 1982.


By L.I.

What if Shakespeare…were a CHEF?

Welcome! Welcome to Shakespies! Home of the best meals on this side of whatever Thames you are closest to! Sit./Sit, sir,/Nay then (1) – you may stand while you eat. Yes, it’s the list (2): it items all we have here. Allow me to explain to you our specials!

Apple pie

We use only goodly apple[s] rotten at the heart. (3) In the cauldron, boil and bake (4) until they are soft as air. (5)

We begin the crust with two grains of wheat hidden in two bushels of chaff. (6) Fret not, this is just a prologue to an egg and butter. (7) We mix in three pound of sugar (8) to give it that extra sweetness. And last, for a garnish, we crack a fusty nut with no kernel. (9) Price: 5 pennies

Beef pie

We provide a great meal of beef and iron and steel (10). Along with our fine beef and assorted metals, we throw in a handful or two of dried peas. (11) Warrant, there’s vinegar and pepper in’t. (12) We finely chop some midnight mushrooms (13) and throw them into the mix. Then we spice up this dish of chastity with rosemary and bay. (14) Price: 1 shilling

A salad for the health-conscious

We begin by sow[ing] lettuce…[and] have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry, (15) and mix in olives of endless age. (16) For that exotic taste, we throw in purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries (17). We chop up a large onion to aid those whose breath with sweetmeats tainted are. (18) We dress it with the oil, the balsamum, and aqua-vitae. (19). Price: 16 pennies.
This is just a sampling our sumptuous feast! So come to Shakespies: open from lovers’ food to morrow deep midnight! (20)

1. Anthony and Cleopatra. II.ii
2. Henry VIII. Iv.i
3. Merchant of Venice. I.iii
4. Macbeth. IV.i
5. Antony and Cleopatra. V.ii
6. Merchant of Venice. I.i
7. Henry IV. II.iv
8. Winter’s Tale. Iv.iii
9. Troilus and Cressida. II.i
10. Henry V. III.v
11. Midsummer Night’s Dream. IV.i
12. Twelfth Night. III.iv
13. Tempest V.i
14. Pericles.
15. Othello. I.iii
16. Sonnet 107
17. Midsummer Night’s Dream. III. I
18. Romeo and Juliet. I.iv
19. Comedy of Errors. IV.i
20. Midsummer Night’s Dream. I.i.

Valeo amici!