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THE story of this play is taken from The Pleasant History of Dorastus and Fawnia, by Robert Greene, which was first printed in 1588. The parts of Antigonus, Paulina, and Autolycus, are of the Poet's own creation; and many circumstances of the novel are omitted in the play.
"A booke entitled A Winter's Night's Pastime," entered at Sta tioner's Hall, in 1594, but which has not come down to us, may have suggested the title, by which Shakspeare thought the romantic and extraordinary incidents of the play well characterized. He several times, in the course of the last act, makes one of his characters remark its similarity to an old tale. Schlegel has observed, that "The Winter's Tale is as appropriately named as the Midsummer Night's Dream. It is one of those tales, which are peculiarly calculated to beguile the dreary leisure of a long winter evening, which are even attractive and intelligible to childhood, and which, animated by fervent truth in the delineation of character and passion, invested with the decoration of a poetry lowering itself, as it were, to the simplicity of the subject, transport even manhood back to the golden age of imagination. The calculation of probabilities has nothing to do with such wonderful and fleeting adventures, ending at last in general joy; and, accordingly, Shakspeare has here taken the greatest liberties with anachronisms and geographical errors: he opens a free navigation between Sicily and Bohemia, makes Julio Romano the contemporary of the Delphic oracle, not to mention other incongruities.”
It is extraordinary that Pope should have thought only some single scenes of this play were from the hand of Shakspeare. It breathes his spirit throughout;—in the serious parts as well as in those of a lighter kind: and who but Shakspeare could have conceived that exquisite pastoral scene in which the loves of Florizel and Perdita are developed?