Why Giulio Romano ?

Par Annie-Paule Mielle de Prinsac
Publication en ligne le 29 novembre 2014


Why did Shakespeare choose to praise Giulio Romano rather than Raphael in The Winter's Tale ? The manner of the last plays, which breaks the classical rules of structure and genre, has long been disconcerting. What if the discreet but enlightening reference to the Italian artist was the signature of a style, an indirect, almost anamorphic way for the poet to reveal his strategy, his manner, precisely ? This is what this paper attempts at demonstrating.

Pourquoi Shakespeare choisit-il de faire l'apologie de Giulio Romano plutôt que de Raphaël dans Le Conte d'Hiver ?  La manière des dernières pièces, qui se moque sans vergogne des règles classiques de la dramaturgie, a longtemps déconcerté. Et si la référence discrète mais éclairante à l'artiste romain était la signature d'un style, une façon indirecte pour le poète de révéler sa stratégie, sa « manière » précisément ?  C'est ce que cet article tente de démontrer.

Texte intégral

1Mentioned in Act V scene 2 of The Winter’s Tale by an anonymous gentleman, the Italian artist has long aroused disenchanted or ironical remarks from literary critics who generally interpreted the occurrence as one more evidence of Shakespeare’s ignorance. Does he not turn Giulio Romano into a sculptor when everyone knows that he was a painter and Raphael’s favourite disciple ?

2Myths are enduring and that which saw Shakespeare as a kind of peasant prodigy, with little Latin and less Greek, according to his vain rival Ben Jonson, seems inexhaustible. So much so that critics have often preferred asking insoluble questions about the poet’s decidedly non-classical dramaturgy, to granting him the shadow of a thought on his own art.

3This is obviously forgetting that Hermione’s statue, which, we are told, has required « many years in doing […] by that rare Italian master Giulio Romano » (V.2.70-73)1, is given different names in the play. « The queen’s picture » or « her dead likeness » creates a verbal ambiguity which would not have shocked Vasari who calls Giulio Romano a sculptor, a painter and an architect2. The artist’s epitaph might have been enough to inspire Shakespeare who may well have read Vasari : « videbat Juppiter corpora sculpta pictaque/spirare, et aedes mortalium aequarier coelo/Julli virtute Romani : tunc iratus/concilio divorum omnium vocato/illum e terris sustulit ; quod pati nequiret/vinci aut aequari ab homine terrigena » (202)3. In the second edition of Vasari’s Lives, the epitaph turns the artist and his three arts into one entity.

4Calling him a sculptor was by no means surprising at the time and reveals on the contrary Shakespeare’s perfect understanding of Giulio Romano’s protean character.

5Could the greatest English dramatist be ignorant of the man, whom Vasari depicts as « the greatest artist in Italy » ? Since it is very unlikely that at this stage of his life Shakespeare did not know what he was doing, it is much more reasonable to think that if he chose to mention this particular artist, rather than Michelangelo or Raphael, in the scene preparing for the final suspense, he had a very clear purpose in mind and probably expected part of his audience to understand him.

6The disconcerting manner of the last plays with their mixture of mythological and real characters, the contrast between genres and tones, the use of suspense and emotional devices relating the spectator more directly to the action, seem directly inspired by la maniera4. The reactions of wonder and amazement of the characters excite the spectator’s imagination and his desire for more, and the metamorphoses, recreating life in intensely dramatic moments where the creative power of words conjoins with sudden revelation, lead to a regenerating vision of reality, figuring the most authentic interpretation of poiêsis5.

7In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare, at the top of his art, casually breaks the classical rules of structures and genres, which aroused passionate debates around Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido at the time. He openly questions the contemporary definitions of tragi-comedy, never tries to blend or soften in any way the contradictory elements of his play, which is « conspicuously ill-made » according to critic Rosalie L. Colie6. It seems obvious therefore that his discreet but enlightening reference to the Italian artist may be the signature of a style, an indirect, almost anamorphic way for the poet to reveal his strategy, his manner. However, if The Winter’s Tale may be regarded as perhaps its most successful instance, this manner is far from being new for the dramatist who, from Pericles to The Tempest, seems to bring together all the means of art in order to figure life’s metamorphoses. There are to be found many elements that were dispersed into his plays before. Storms had long been for him sources of disasters and metamorphoses, and the mysterious and unexpected returns to life of characters who were thought to be dead are recurrent – suffice it to mention Helen in All’s Well, Hero in Much Ado, Claudio in Measure for Measure, Imogene in Cymbeline.

8It is reasonable to assume that the master of mannerism was already in Shakespeare’s mind when he conceived Pericles – probably even before – and his reflections on his own art led him to find the means of improving and formalizing his practice through the art of Giulio Romano.

9Needless to say that the success of Masques in England at the beginning of the 17th century, together with the progress of scenography thanks to Inigo Jones’ theatre machines, provided a fruitful ground for the development of this new style. Shakespeare was never one to praise the Masque whose rich decorum generally belied its frivolous content, but he obviously never hesitated to make his own its scenic advantages. The success met by the performances of Pericles at the time cannot be separated from the technical prowess inherited from the delightful entertainments and waterworks of the Italian Courts of Mantua, Ferrara and Florence. The interest of the production, which is very difficult to imagine let alone recreate nowadays, lay no doubt in the amazing diversity, the sequel of unbelievable discoveries and developments, the staging of jousts, dance and music, alternating with scenes of shipwreck, the cocky humour of the sailors and the bawds opposed to the solemn, almost other-worldly, wisdom of the narrator and of the physician. It corresponded perfectly to the purpose of mannerist scenography, which was primarily to win the difficult challenge that ever-changing reality sets against the stasis of mimetic fiction (it gave birth to the transformable stage, which simulates the passage of time, the diversity of places and seasons), then to stimulate the emotional implication of the spectator7.

10Does Shakespeare not have the Italian artist in mind already, when he gives these words to Simonides : « In framing artists art hath thus decreed / To make some good but others to exceed » (II.3.13-14) ? This bow to art and to the happy few like himself whose art exceeds others, which intervenes between a tournament scene and the niceties of a banquet, emphasizes the virtuosity of the creator and confirms the mannerist tone of the play. The theatre, ever the privileged meeting ground of the literary and the visual, was the testing place par excellence for the theme that founds all the critical theories of the Renaissance : Ut Pictura Poesis. But who imitates what, that is the question. Those who have heard Enobarbus’ description of the sumptuous tableau of Cleopatra on her barge, cannot doubt the ability of the poet to paint reality with words. In the last plays, however, it seems that the debate is no longer to know which of painting or poetry comes first, but to use all the means of art to imitate life. And the dramatist was obviously fascinated by Giulio Romano’s talent and excellence at precisely this. It is not possible to doubt the pertinence of his choice.

11The Italian artist was better known at the time than now, if only for the licentiousness of some of his engravings. His irreverence could not be shocking to the poet who loved Ovid and found in Romano’s scenes a similar freedom of the mind and a similar ability to recreate life out of art’s artifices. And the life created by Giulio Romano was full of strangeness and wonders. At Palazzo Te, in Mantua, nature’s creation is repeatedly put side by side with the work of art, the rugged and shapeless juxtaposed to severe classical forms, rough stone to stucco, in a purposely unfinished effect which unsettles the observer and forces him to perfect mentally the harmony of the whole. Gombrich compared the effect produced by Giulio Romano’s work, not to painting, but to music, whose specificity, he said, was to create imaginary formal universes destined to be modified, altered, in order to produce powerful expressive effects8.

12Now, the structure of Shakespeare’s plays often evokes music and the plot of Pericles is built like the polyphony of a Madrigal. More generally, when tragedy is suddenly altered by a comic discourse offering another perspective on the event, we have a tonal modulation wholly similar to the architectural contrasts of the Roman artist.

13The creation of such expressive tension is undoubtedly one that defines Shakespeare’s genius and it was probably better adapted to the theatre than to stone work. It is the reason why it is in the murals which decorate the rooms of Palazzo Te that Romano’s language becomes more openly theatrical : there we have painted architectures superposed on the walls, refined illusionist paintings opening imaginary windows on luxurious nature. In the Giants’ Room, the Gods of Olympus are seen watching from their boxes in a heavenly dress-circle the destruction of the Giant race and of the astonished visitor who fears for his life in the general chaos. In the Horses Room, statues of Jupiter, Juno and Vulcan seem literally alive in their niches, whereas four life-sized horses are standing on the cornice surrounding the room, in front of bucolic landscapes with no pretence to blend in with them, as if they belonged to a world half-way between the real life of the Palazzo and the murals on which they appear in relief. Now, the sculptures, the niches and the horses are all in trompe-l'œil and Giulio Romano manages to create this double and rather unsettling metamorphosis : he turns painting into sculpture and the latter in turn becomes alive.

14In this theatrical exuberance, his art of trompe-l’œil and illusion, his ability to transgress the rules of classicism to give his characters a dynamism, a breath that seem to give them life, Romano reveals a sensitivity which is very close to that of the English poet. It would have been surprising, on the contrary, if Shakespeare had not found inspiration in it. Giulio Romano led the idea of art as an illusion of life to its climax ; it was also the basic philosophy of the theatre developed by Shakespeare throughout his life as a dramatist.

15In Pericles, instability and fluidity appear to be the essence of the plot, supervised by Time, the master of change. The eponymous hero goes from one place to the next, rocked by the waves. The storm which, until now in Shakespeare’s plays, preceded the action and generally gave birth to confusion as to names and origins which the plot attempted to solve, now becomes a metaphor of life and fate. Gower, who could well be some kind of ancient sculpture in trompe-l’œil, is the witness and the stage manager. He provides an archaic frame to the action which, in this case, does not depend on the will of the hero. Gower is a kind of ghost with almost divine powers since he is the narrator of a centuries-old story which he freely stages whenever he wants to appeal to the audience’s understanding and judgement, or when he needs to justify his assertions. « What now ensues, to th’judgment of your eye/ I give, my cause who best can justify » (I.1. 41-42)9.

16For the spectator, the effect is that of a surprising succession of murals, which would go well in Palazzo Te, and which herald the visit that Leontes and his retinue make to Paulina’s gallery before being allowed to see the Queen’s statue in The Winter’s Tale. That the characters of the play should go through this museum and be confronted with « many singularities » before reaching Giulio Romano’s masterpiece, is by no means a meaningless and banal progress. Following the example of Giulio Romano, the dramatist seems to be trying to explore the different manners to create images and testing the limits of his own art in producing illusion.

17The originality of Pericles is partly in the constant shift from narrative to representation, in Gower’s ability to turn the poem into performance, including the pantomimes to which he gives his own voice. Because images, as beautiful as they may be, can be harmful if one does not know how to interpret them, appearances need to be deciphered. Language clarifies representation, just as the motto gives its meaning to the coat of arms. That Pericles’ chosen shield (« A withered branch that’s only green at top » ;II.2.42) should be so close to Laurence of Medicis’s one, the Broncone, figuring a withered laurel branch with green leaves at the top, is probably no accident. Nor is the strange, almost hieratic, scene of presentation of the shields with their many devices. Palazzo Te, as a matter of fact, has a room devoted to Coats of Arms. This was part of the intricacies of meaning appreciated at the time ; the analogy could even be pushed further and Pericles’ chosen motto could signify the content of the last plays where the withered heart of a father is given life again by the return of a beloved child whose marriage will ensure his inheritance.

18The plot of Pericles is based on the paradoxical link there is between truth and fancy. In Antiochus, Prince Pericles is faced with a painful experience, a theatrical moment which probably already contains the seeds of the idea of the statue which is the climax of The Winter’s Tale. It is the dazzling image of a woman who arouses wonder around her ; yet she is kept distant and unreachable by her father’s will. Pericles wants her for his wife. It is actually the only passage in the play where the Prince uses his free will. Unfortunately Antiochus’ daughter is not only untouchable, she appears like a statue, whose perfect and sophisticated beauty does not show any trace of true emotion.

Her face the book of praises, where is read
Nothing but curious pleasures, as from hence
Sorrow were never razed and testy wrath
Could never be her mild companion. (I.1. 58-61)

19A smooth face that has known neither sorrow, nor anger, a mask deceiving the fervent suitor ; she is the opposite of Hermione, whose statue, far from affectation, reveals her wrinkles as the signs of the passage of time and the evidence of her sorrow. Antiochus’ daughter has no name and no real part in the play : she is merely an idealized artistic representation for which men give up their lives, an emblem to be deciphered, and perhaps a style to be rejected. Pericles solves the riddle and runs away. But he now possesses a dangerous truth whose consequences he anticipates by putting out to sea.

20The discovery of the deception and its evil turns him into a melancholy character who doubts all things and is regularly mistaken on appearances ; like the apostle Thomas, he needs to touch in order to believe. The jewels found in Thaisa’s casket are the only evidence of his wife’s identity that he knows ; he does not want to recognize her even when Cerimon introduces her to him (V.3.38-39). Unfortunately, the solid marble of the monument that Dionyza shows him also convinces him of his daughter’s death. It is as if minerality, safe from the metamorphoses of time, were a pledge of truth for Pericles, who has become the ball used by waters and winds to play in their tennis-court (II.1.93-96). The instability of the life which escapes him paradoxically hardens his conscience and gradually gives him the rigidity of a corpse. He swears « Never to wash his face, nor cut his hairs. » (IV.5.28) « He bears / A tempest which his mortal vessel tears, / And yet he rides out. » (30-31). It is as if Pericles had gradually transformed himself into stone.

21When Marina is introduced to him, Pericles, consumed with grief, sees her first as the statue of Patience « gazing on kings’ graves and smiling / Extremity out of act » (V.1.138-139). The debate on art and nature, and the necessity of Faith, which become the centre of The Winter’s Tale, is only grazed along here. Shakespeare is gathering the elements of a puzzle which he will realize later. In Pericles, the emphasis seems to bear on the importance of speech and images and their respective ability to prove and convince.

22For instance, the wonder provoked in Pericles by the unexpected return of the lost beloved is the consequence of a long dialectical process engendered by the stubborn doubt of the hero who has to be convinced first. Marina gradually succeeds in moving him with the story of her life, which is no other than a reflection of his own, pursuing her relentless effort until her father suddenly bursts out : « O, come hither / Thou that beget’st him that did thee beget » (V.1.182-183). In this mirror-like effect, Pericles projects upon his daughter his own metamorphosis : the stone man is now being revived.

23Similarly, and with what generosity of details, Hermione comes back to life after the true metamorphosis undergone by Leontes during his sixteen years' repentance. It is as if The Winter’s Tale corrected and finalized the attempt sketched in Pericles. The structure of the play becomes clearer, better shaped, and the emphasis is put on the intensity of the revelation which is weakened by repetition in Pericles. Moreover, in Pericles, the hero is the only one who is mistaken under the eyes of the spectator who is a witness and a judge. The distance thus created can even produce comic reactions in the audience who keep shifting from stupefaction to laughter.

24What is seen in Pericles as a whim of time, is later organized towards an aim that nobody discovers until the last act. Time has become Providence, and the spectator, who is kept ignorant of the secrets of the plot, undergoes the effect of the final revelation with the same emotional force as all the characters, thus experiencing a masterful trompe l’oeil that would have baffled Giulio Romano himself.

25The statue comes as the climax of the debate on art and nature launched earlier, not without irony. The Pastoral is a piece of illusionism such as Shakespeare enjoys them, allowing him to demonstrate his mannerist virtuosity. It is a verbal joust between a king who knows he is disguised and a princess who does not, a debate in which nothing is quite what it seems with characters defending theories which do not fit the social reality they are supposed to represent. Whereas Perdita refuses the « streaked gillyvors » as Nature’s bastards and praises unmitigated Nature, Polixenes skilfully upholds the art of grafting :

You see, sweet maid, we marry
And make conceive a bark of baser kind
By bud of nobler race. This is an art
Which does mend nature—change it rather ; but
The art itself is nature. (IV.4. 92-97)

26Can anyone conceive of a more perfect definition of Shakespeare’s theatre ? Is not the statue scene the exact translation of these lines in scenic terms ? The fact that Polixenes tells a truth which he is about to deny when his own life and lineage are concerned does not mean it is false. Shakespeare has for a long time by indirections found direction out : an essential truth is here revealed together with the contradiction that lies at the heart of most men who often uphold ideas they do not put into practice. Behind the exuberance of the feast, with its dances and songs, there lies the ghost of death brandished by Polixenes as he is suddenly carried away by passion. In the grip of passionate anger, his judgement collapses, turning the happy comedy into tragedy. Contrary to most received ideas, nature alone is not sufficient to regenerate human beings. A second modulation is needed and the narrow definitions of comedy and tragedy have to be transcended for Art to improve Nature and for it to reach a higher reality which alone will make possible and credible the final reconciliation.

27It is as if Shakespeare tried to demonstrate how drama could reach the same goals, even go beyond painting and literature in its imitation of reality. With Hermione’s resurrection, drama does not merely reflect nature but tries to recreate it. We have gone from mimesis to trompe l’oeil, from imitation to simulation.

28The statue’s final metamorphosis is surrounded with so much care that Shakespeare’s major concern cannot be doubted. In the scene where Giulio Romano is mentioned, everything is geared towards arousing desire and expectation and building up suspense. The reunion scene is described like a painting by a flabbergasted witness who lacks the words to tell what he has seen : « I make a broken delivery of the business » (V.2.7). The event is perceived at a distance through the emotional response of the characters. Shakespeare, long before Barthes, knew that the attempt to describe beauty was a tautological exercise and there was more eroticism and desire in indirect suggestion, in emphasizing the impossibility to describe than in taking the risk of a hyperbolic and incredible story. He appeals, as he has always done, to the imagination of the audience on whom he pours a stream of words expressing amazement (« amazedness», « note of admiration», « a notable passion of wonder» ; « I never heard of such another encounter which lames report to follow it and undoes description to do it »,  41-42).

29The scene itself is a kind of anamorphosis in which language triggers emotions as powerfully as the reported passion of the actors. The oxymoron seems to be the only figure of style likely to render the paradoxical extremity of passion that is expressed in gesture language and dumb speech according to the witnesses. Shakespeare is not content to suggest wonder, he draws attention to the physical presence of the actors on the stage, to the double language, poetical and physical, of the stage, which enables him to go beyond the limits of both poetry and painting.

There was casting up of eyes, holding up of hands, with countenance of such distraction that they were to be known by garment, not by favour. (V.2.34-36)

30As often, it seems that Shakespeare is visualizing a painting. Which one ? What revelation ? What ecstasy ? Pontormo comes to mind, or else Tintoretto whose dramatic staging could not have left Shakespeare indifferent, if he ever got the chance of seeing one.

31Gentlemen follow one another, each emphasizing the feeling of stupor in front of the improbable scene. There is a great confusion of senses which recalls Bottom’s when he attempts to tell his dream in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Paulinian reference which he distorts is more than ever appropriate in a play which has grace at its centre, first as Hermione’s special spiritual gift, as well as the mannerist elegance called sprezzatura by Castiglione. For the time being, one sees what one hears, one hears what one sees, but the scene remains inexpressible and the conclusion of this long description of the reunion is that it cannot be spoken.

32There is a strange and curious irony in this telling what cannot be told and in stirring up the spectator’s frustration through the hollow performance of a scene which he can only apprehend with his mind’s eye. The conclusion of the story introduces with a metaphor the up-coming metamorphosis : “Who was most marble there changes colour” (V.2.67), together with the statue and its remarkable creator.

33After the emotional chaos of this scene (which it is of course preferable not to cut in the performances of the play), we are told that the characters have visited Paulina’s Art Gallery where they have seen many « singularities». It is curious that no one has ever questioned this itinerary which takes the characters from a cabinet of curiosities to a sculpture ascribed to Giulio Romano immediately after the naturalistic claims of the Pastoral scene.

34The truth is that, contrary to many received ideas (let us simply quote Barbara J. Bono : « Nature regenerates, even out of the slime of Nilus’s mud or the long pastime of a winter’s tale10»), Nature alone is not sufficient to regenerate human beings. A second modulation is necessary for Art to improve nature and reach the superior reality which alone will make the final reconciliation possible and credible : the narrow definitions of tragedy and comedy have to be overcome and transcended. The statue therefore appears to be the climax of the debate on art and nature begun earlier in the Pastoral. It brings together the characters of the tragedy and of the comedy thanks to the charm of an unexpected apparition. Act five scene three is entirely built as a trompe l’oeil, developing the idea that Art is an illusion of life so much so that Leontes, amazed at the likeness between the statue and the queen, believes she is breathing. Her veins and wrinkles which surprise him at first since they do not intimate the youth he was expecting, now offer such verisimilitude that Leontes perceives her breath and wants to kiss her.

35« What fine chisel/Could ever yet cut breath ? » (V.3.78-79), he asks ; no doubt the chisel of such a rare artist that even his nature is being questioned : « What was he that did make it ? (63)». What, rather than Who ? Who is the artist who can so perfectly mystify the eyes and create the appearance of life with a mere chisel ?

36The irony is, of course, that Shakespeare is here speaking of himself, of this Art whose magic sometimes led him to believe, like Prospero, that he possessed divine powers. Wasn’t it what was already being suggested in Simonides’s words ? Isn’t Shakespeare the artist who can exceed art, exceeding Giulio Romano himself in as much as his art is superior to Art and partakes of Nature herself ? « Be stone no more» commands Paulina and the metaphor turns into a true metamorphosis. It is not Art imitating life but all of a sudden life deceiving life itself. Aesthetically, Hermione’s tears are the marks of a style away from Classicism, but they are also the symbols of art’s lack, its powerlessness to be reality. Suddenly the rigid distinction which lies at the heart of the debate between Art and Nature is blurred and loses its relevance. Art is not what it seems to be in this play, since it reveals itself Nature – however, nature needs a lot of art in order to mock art so well – especially if, as we can imagine, the boy actor playing Hermione is still just a « squeaking » boy.

37Shall we conclude that all this is illusion and that Shakespeare’s magic ends up in a powerless trick ? I do not believe it.

38The dramatist’s visible play with genres and conventions is not merely a way to reveal his ingenuity. Manner for him is never without content. The statue’s wrinkles, the suffering they indicate, give a density to the character that no statue possesses. In this masterful scene, it is life which works at the metamorphosis which, beyond Art, leads to regeneration. Time is the vehicle of conversion ; it is the figure which brings about truth. It is the effective power, the dimension which visual and plastic arts can never possess. In the play, Time is the metamorphosis and the metaphor which link gods and men together, eternity and mutability, the symbol of life’s course at the heart of creative nature :

Artisans de notre vie, artistes même quand nous le voulons, nous travaillons continuellement à pétrir avec la matière qui nous est fournie par le passé et le présent, par l’hérédité et les circonstances, une figure unique, neuve, originale, imprévisible comme la forme donnée par le sculpteur à la terre glaise11.

39This quotation is particularly meaningful here : man is always absolutely free to mould time. Shakespeare’s characters are never the blind victims of a superior fate. The Winter’s Tale provides so to speak an answer to Pericles’ ordeal. Hermione’s resurrection cannot happen outside Time, her statue is after all “th’argument of time” without which no metamorphosis exists. The appearance of time is paramount to the understanding of what happens next and no meaningful staging of the play can pass over Time too quickly. To use Bergson’s image once again, the statue which is suddenly revived is the metaphor of the life which it took sixteen years for Leontes to mould again.

40The king’s morbid imagination had petrified Hermione, just as Pericles’s disillusion aroused a vision of his statue-like daughter. Leontes’s growing revival, his desire of redemption and his fancy awakened by Perdita, whose beauty calls her mother’s image to mind, act like powerful revivers of inert nature. Time is suspended as dramatic action vanishes to leave room for a minute observation of details : a miracle is being performed. Just as Lear bends over Cordelia’s lips with a mirror to capture her breath, Leontes and his retinue are literally hanging on Hermione’s lips, watching for the least perceptible movement, a breath, the tiny shaking of a vein, in a freeze frame already heralding cinema :

See my Lord,
Would you not deem it breathed, and that those veins
Did verily bear blood ? (V.2.63-65)

41The sensuousness of this slow motion focalizes the spectator’s attention, who would not understand what’s happening otherwise, and gives everyone, on stage and in the audience, time to become conscious of this passage between art and nature, between dream and reality, death and life. All senses are aroused in this magical moment enhanced by music. But to come back to Paulina, whose zeal seems to be Paul’s own, it is not enough. She requires the spectators’ faith (« It is required / You do awake your faith » ; V.3.94-95), since senses are deceivers – as Leontes’ jealous crisis amply proved in the first part of the play – and faith only, which is always born of judgement in the play, can impart all its meaning to this dramatic moment. Throughout the scene, the spectator, ignorant of Paulina’s purpose, reacts with as much feeling and wonder as the characters. This suspension of disbelief is real and working. The moment you believe, things come true, and for the believer, there is indeed resurrection, were it for a fraction of time. It is easy to understand why this play was for so long put aside and misunderstood. A sceptical, materialistic audience could only see incoherent madness in it.

42The masterful change worked by Shakespeare between Pericles and The Winter’s Tale is visible here. He substituted the Apostle Paul for goddess Diana in Ephesus, insisted on the necessity of a Faith which Pericles obviously does not possess, incorporated the narrative into the dramatic action, thus creating a mise en abyme of wonder which propagates, like rumour, to all levels of the theatre. He brought together in the climax of the last act all the revelations, justified by sixteen years’ repentance for Leontes. For his redemption is indeed a major element in the metamorphosis at work. We can all too easily understand Pericles’ bitterness : he has been so ill-treated by fate that his recovering wife and daughter, even though moving, looks more like a whim of fortune than a necessary catharsis.

43There is a magic of art which it shares with the sacred. When we are speaking of the theatre, whose tool is flesh and bone, it is easier to measure the importance of the reflection at work in The Winter’s Tale. Art may be illusion, but life at the end of the play, is not what we believed either. Man needs the powers of Art and Nature in order to master his fears and his brutal force, to become wholly conscious of un au-delà présent, says Malraux12, a living after-world which is right now. If Shakespeare mocks the genres and conventions of Art, it is to assert the necessary interdependence of art and nature.

44It seems evident that in The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare reveals more than his virtuosity as a dramatist. He powerfully asserts his mastery of his art as well as his philosophy, as is confirmed by the following play, The Tempest, in which he goes on with questioning the respective value of art and nature and the meaning of a life which he felt was slowly taking leave of him. It seems clear that he knew the artistic debates of his time, that he had a perfect mastery of the tools of critical judgement and would probably have enjoyed convincing his audience of the superiority of the Theatre over other arts in his ability to imitate life. It is equally clear that the manner of his plays, which shares a lot of the attributes of la Maniera, is never superficial. It always goes together with a deep meditation on the matter which we call Life. Concurrently, the dramatist was always deeply conscious of the ephemerality/transience of his art which made it a paradox in itself. How could he ever expect to immortalize a thought, a creation which had life’s evanescence at its very centre ? The moment of emotion when Prospero suddenly realizes that his power is vain and life is the stuff of dreams reveals the distress of the artist who now knows that faith alone can impart a meaning to this unsubstantial world. The revelation which closes The Winter’s Tale, Hermione’s resurrection, possibly represents in the space of a moment, the quintessence of Shakespeare’s Art between Mannerism and Baroque.


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Pinelli, Antonio, La Belle Manière, Anticlassicisme et Maniérisme dans l’Art du XVIe siècle, Paris, Librairie Générale Française, 1996 (trad. Béatrice Arnal pour Le Livre de Poche).

Salvy, Gérard-Julien, Giulio Romano, une manière extravagante et moderne, Paris, Éditions de la Lagune, 1994.

Shakespeare, William, The Winter’s Tale, Ed. J.H.P. Pafford , London, Methuen, coll. « The Arden Shakespeare », 1963.

Shakespeare, William, Tragicomédies II, Paris, Robert Laffont, coll. « Bouquins », 2002.

Vasari, Giorgio, Les Vies des meilleurs peintres, sculpteurs et architectes, Paris, Actes Sud, coll.« Thesaurus », 2005.


1  William Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale.,Ed. by J.H.P.Pafford, London, Methuen, coll. “The Arden Shakespeare”, 1963.

2 Vasari Giorgio, Les vies des meilleurs peintres, sculpteurs et architectes, Vol. II, Arles, Actes Sud, coll. « Thesaurus », 2005, p. 189-202.

3  « Jupiter voyait les corps peints et sculptés / respirer et les édifices des mortels égaler le Ciel/ grâce au talent de Jules Romain : il se mit en colère/ et après avoir convoqué le Conseil des Dieux/ l’a enlevé d’ici-bas… » (202). “Jupiter saw the painted and sculpted bodies/ That they breathed and the houses of mortals vying with the heavens/ owing to the talent of Giulio Romano: he felt a great wrath and after summoning the Counsel of the Gods, took him away from this world…” (my translation).

4 La Maniera, or stylish style, has been used to define the production of Vasari’s generation and his followers in the 1550s since Shearman’s outstanding work on Mannerism.

5  Poïesis (Ancient Greek: ποίησις) is etymologically derived from the ancient term ποιέω, which means "to make". This word, the root of our modern "poetry", was first a verb, an action that transforms and continues the world. Neither technical production nor creation in the romantic sense, poïetic work reconciles thought with matter and time.

6  Rosalie L. Colie, Shakespeare’s Living Art, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1974, p. 266.

7 Antonio Pinelli, La Belle Manière, Trad. Beatrice Arnal, Paris, Le livre de Poche [1993] 1996, p. 235.

8 Ernst Gombrich, « Le Palais du Te,, le bel éclectisme », Les Annales de l’Art de Franco Maria Ricci, Vol. V, Tome iii, p. 177.

9  William Shakespeare,Tragicomédies II, Paris, Robert Laffont, coll.“Bouquins”, 2002.

10  Barbara J. Bono, Literary Transvaluation, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, University of California Press, 1984, p. 149.

11 Henri Bergson,"le possible et le réel", Essai publié dans la revue suédoise Nordisk Tidskrift en Novembre 1930, La pensée et le mouvant, Paris,  PUF, 1969, p. 102.

12 André Malraux, Le Surnaturel, Paris, Gallimard, 1977, p. 7.

Pour citer ce document

Par Annie-Paule Mielle de Prinsac, «Why Giulio Romano ?», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], Le texte-Italie dans l'oeuvre de Shakespeare, N°8 - 2014, Shakespeare en devenir, mis à jour le : 28/12/2019, URL : https://shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr:443/shakespeare/index.php?id=747.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Annie-Paule Mielle de Prinsac

 Agrégée d’anglais, Annie-Paule Mielle de Prinsac est maître de conférences à l’université de Bourgogne où elle enseigne la littérature anglo-américaine. Elle s’est d’abord spécialisée dans les études shakespeariennes et n’a cessé de contribuer à la préparation de Shakespeare à l’agrégation, par des articles parus dans Études Anglaises et aux éditions Ellipses. Après avoir obtenu une bourse de recherche à l’université de Harvard où elle a travaillé sur la métaphore et la métamorphose dans les de ...