The Winter’s Tale Retold
The story of Perdita, the abandoned child
One of Shakespeare’s last romances, The Winter’s Tale tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a kindly shepherd on the coast of Bohemia but then, through a series of quite extraordinary and fantastical events, father and daughter are reunited.
Shakespeare picked up that plot from an older story and now Jeanette Winterson has given us a “cover version” for the 21st century.
Her title, The Gap of Time, is taken from the play’s closing lines where, after 16 years, a family is reunited and there’s a plea for each to tell their story,
“… to answer to his part
Perform’d in this wide gap of time since first
We were dissever’d.”
But is the plot too familiar? The implausible plot relies heavily on the suspension of disbelief but Winterson makes it work.
We open with a thriller-like present tense sequence, lifted from the end of Act III, where the baby, Perdita, is rescued after Tony (Shakespeare’s Antigonus) makes his famous exit – not pursued by a bear but by gangsters.
King Leontes is now Leo, an arrogant, paranoid hedge fund manager in post-crash London, and his pal King Polixenes is now Xeno, a dreamy, introverted video game designer. Winterson invents a back story of a deeply buried sexual relationship between the two, which makes Leo’s overblown rage and irrational envy at the outset even more credible than it is in the original.
Leo, convinced Xeno is having an affair with his very pregnant wife, MiMi, a popular singer-songwriter, tries to kill Xeno in a parking garage, rapes MiMi in their own bed and sends the eventual newborn, the foundling Perdita, off to New Bohemia (a cover version of New Orleans).
The past and present collide in a story of hearts broken and hearts healed, a story of revenge and forgiveness, a story that shows that whatever is lost shall be found.
Shakespeare plots are great fun while being somewhat difficult to untangle. Winterson wrestles wonderfully with a perplexing text and emerges with a complicated, satisfying and contemporary tale that stands wholly on its own, despite the Bard’s significant shadow.
This is a story of the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, redemption and the power of love on the other, It’s a clever, compelling and emotionally affecting novel.
My Amazon link : The Gap of Time: The Winter’s Tale Retold (Hogarth Shakespeare)