The Winter's Tale | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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The Winter's Tale | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary



The only character to appear in this scene is the figure of Time personified, perhaps carrying a symbolic hourglass and wearing wings. Time delivers what amounts to a prologue to the second half of the play in flowery, rhymed couplets. The upshot is that the audience will now see actions occurring after a gap of 16 years. Time forecasts that Florizell and Perdita will play a major part in the upcoming action.


In Greek drama the Chorus is comprised a group of 12–15 singer/dancers who commented on the action of the play at regular intervals and who danced interludes to musical accompaniment. A Chorus also figured in the tragedies of the Roman playwright Seneca (4 BCE–65 CE). Shakespeare would have been familiar with Senecan tragedy and also, quite possibly, with the Chorus in Greek dramas because many of the latter would have been accessible to him through Latin translations published in Elizabethan times.

The Winter's Tale features a typical Shakespearean Chorus—it provides some explication, and helps to frame the events of the play from outside. Shakespeare also employs the device in Romeo and Juliet and Henry V. However, his Chorus differs from that of a Greek drama in notable ways. First, Shakespeare does not regularly punctuate the action of his plays so that the Chorus can provide commentary. Instead, Shakespeare's Choruses serve to set the scene or to invite the audience to imagine upcoming events. Second, in productions of Shakespeare's plays, the Chorus is regularly presented as a single actor or a few individuals in discussion, not a unified group.

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