Significance of Disguises in The Winter’s Tale
Shakespeare, being a skillful play writer, manipulated characters through the use of disguise for various reasons. The use of disguise was sometimes used to develop the plot or a particular theme within the play. In The Winter’s Tale, the presence of disguises aid in the development of the story.
The existence of disguises within the play allows for the uninterrupted uncovering of delicate issues. In act 4 Polixenes and Camillo disguise themselves as shepherds in order to discover what Florizel was up to. This disguise was necessary because if they were portraying themselves the other character would have acted different around them and it would have been difficult to determine the truth behind Florizel’s whereabouts.
Additionally, although a disguise may play on deception it used by Florizel to gain a true image of Perdita. Since Florizel is the prince of Bohemia many women would feign love just so he could marry them. He has therefore devised a plan and has disguised himself as Doricles so that he may determine if Perdita’s love is genuine. Her love does in fact prove to be genuine.
The unintentional disguise used by Perdita helps to establish the theme of spring and rebirth. Perdita plays the role of a humble commoner who adorns her love and guests with flowers. She is effective in depicting the season of spring that is evident in Bohemia. Perdita’s unintentional disguise highlights the theme of rebirth and renewal that is about to come about in the play. This renewal is also significant in regards to Leontes, who will be taken from his period of darkness back into the light.
The use of disguises is further seen through the character Autolycus. He utilizes disguise to enable this role or character as a petty thief and peddler. Autolycus who is disguised has tricked Clown and stole his money, he then uses a different disguise so that he would not be recognized and would be able to sell his items at the sheepshearing. Autolycus’ disguises also help in lightening the mood of the play, aiding in its transition from a tragedy to a comedy.
Finally, disguise is used as a channel to gain what is most desired, and in this case it is love. Autolycus, who seems to be the master of disguises, helps Florizel and Perdita in their disguise so that they may escape to Bohemia. Florizel who is a prince and Perdita who is believed to be a commoner are unable to freely love each other, as the King will hear nothing of this. The two then decide to run away and disguise helps them to love each other completely without any restraints. Disguise has also contributed in the denouement of the play in that, Perdita is returned home and the series of events in Sicilia take a change for the positive.
The dramatic significance/ role of Autolycus
In the play The Winter’s Tale, Autolycus plays the role of a peddler and thief. Although his character may seem minor and inconsequential he has a significant function in the play.
We are first introduced to Autolycus on the highway singing loudly. He runs into Clown and concocts a plan to execute his trickery. He pretends to be a victim of a mugging and while Clown laments his loss he steals the money from his pocket. Clown further enquires into his mugging, asking who did this to him. Autolycus then describes his mugger as himself, this is very comedic as Clown does not realize he is being blatantly tricked and schemed. The audience/ readers may now consider that the character Clown is a pun in itself, and Autolycus is able to considerably alter the mood of the play to a lighter one. This significantly helps in the transition of the play from a tragedy to a comedy as it is tragicomedy.
Furthermore, Autolycus is important to the play as he greatly assists in its denouement. He helps Perdita and Florizel to disguise themselves and escape to Sicilia. This ‘noble’ act allows the two liberally indulge in their love for each other. This also helps in bringing about a turn of events for the desolate Leontes. The oracle admonished, “The king shall live without an heir if that which is lost be not found” (Act3; Scene2), Autolycus has assisted in bringing the ‘lost’ back home which is significant because this act has relieved the atmosphere in Sicilia. This is the first step in bringing the King from the gloom and despair that encapsulated him.