The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet are some of the most renowned works of the English poet and writer William Shakespeare. The following essay seeks to compare these two plays by looking at the differences and similarities that they present. As will be noted, similarities are mostly seen in the use of symbolism, imageries, and themes, while differences are observed in the tone of these plays.
The first similarity between the Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet is that both contain certain common themes. For example, art and nature is one of the main themes in the two works. In The Winter’s Tale, the author shows the controversy between old art and nature, considering the general aspects of artifice. In The Winter’s Tale, the conversation about “gillyvors” represents an argument on nature and art. Notably, this can be seen when Perdita says that she does not have gillyvors to offer the guests. At this point, Polixenes is aggrieved when Perdita refers to crossbred flowers (carnations and gillyflowers) as the bastards of nature. According to Polixenes, crossbred flowers tend to be superior, compared to old and plain carnations, and that the aspect of grafting plants is a natural process (Shakespeare and Orgel 35). However, Perdita seems to prefer pure flowers that are interfered with through the grafting “art”. On the other hand, in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses love sonnets to show the importance of art and culture in earlier centuries. For example, in this play, Romeo sounds and behaves like a “Petrarchan lover,” who is tormented and imprisoned. Of course, the author refers to the Italian poet Petrarch, who wrote his famous love sonnets in the 14th century.
Various gender issues are also brought up in the plays. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare is showing that one’s gender should go along with their behavior. For example, Mercutio considers Romeo’s behavior as womanish, which is not expected of him (Shakespeare and Durband). The Prince is seen to portray the role of a man in society when he mediates between Romeo and Mercutio. In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare ensures that Leontes’ misogynistic expressions dominate the first three acts of the play. This is seen, for instance, when Leontes concludes that not only is his wife having an affair, she is also pregnant without him knowing (Shakespeare and Orgel 65). After convincing himself, Leontes develops a misogynistic and crude attitude, which he has been hiding for a long time. According to Leontes, all women are not only dishonest but also promiscuous.
Additionally, the two plays show similarities in the use of literary devices. For example, Shakespeare has applied imagery in The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet. In the former, imagery is noted when Polixenes describes the friendship he had with Leontes when they were children. In this instance, the “twinn’d lambs” are used to show the innocence of this early friendship. The bear-hauling in The Winter’s Tale is a symbol of wrath depicted by Leontes. Therefore, Shakespeare wishes to show that Antigonus is not so much of a villain as a victim. Since he ditches Perdita after Leontes’ bullying, the application of bear mauling in the play is another way of showing the ferocious figure’s attack on Antigonus. Although there are different imageries and symbols used in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has numerously referred to the light and darkness through his characters. As with a candle in the darkness, light and darkness are two different aspects in specific contexts. For example, the light is used to depict Juliet as a sun rising from the darkness and the love between Juliet and Romeo as a flashing light, among others.
Although the two plays have similarities, there are several differences as well. In The Winter’s Tale, the tone of the play shifts from being claustrophobic and dark to being joyous (Shakespeare and Orgel 62). Notably, the Sicilian court, which is the setting of the first three acts, presents a claustrophobic atmosphere due to the tyranny and jealousy shown by Leontes. However, to any reader, this kind of tone is expected, especially after Leontes imprisons his wife, plots his friend’s death, throws away and disowns his daughter, and causes his young son’s death. The tone of the play would later shift because of the relationship between Florizel and Perdita (Shakespeare and Orgel 54). The joyous mood reaches its climax when Hermione miraculously resurrects, and the identity of Perdita is revealed. Unlike The Winter’s Tale, the tone of Romeo and Juliet is filled with romance, passion, and violence. The passion and romance are observed at the beginning of the play when Romeo says that though there is hate, it is all to do with love (Shakespeare and Durband). However, the loving atmosphere is regularly interrupted by the insulting and violent tone of characters such as Capulets and Montagues.
Notably, both plays have different themes as well. For example, the themes of love and marriage are seen in Romeo and Juliet, unlike in The Winter’s Tale. The marriage between Romeo and Juliet is based on true love, but not on money or wealth. In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare tries to illustrate male friendship to show how highly a friendship between two men was considered during the Renaissance period. Connectedly, the friendship between Polixenes and Leontes is depicted as the bond that they developed from childhood. The friendship is later interrupted by Leontes’s jealousy.
In reference to the above brief comparison, it is clear that though there are similarities in the two plays, one can also note certain differences. The main similarities are found in the use of themes, imageries, symbols, and allegories in the two plays. However, the main difference is observed in how the plays’ tone is developed as the stories progress.
Shakespeare, William, and Alan Durband. Romeo and Juliet. Barron’s, 1985.
Shakespeare, William, and Stephen Orgel. The Winter’s Tale. Clarendon Press, 1996.