The dramatic device of including a “play within a play” is common to the works of William Shakespeare, including one of his best loved comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and one of his best loved tragedies, Hamlet.
In this post I am looking at The Winter’s Tale, which was Greg Wyatt’s final sculpture for the Great Garden of New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon. Here we are presented with a similar theme: that of a sculpture within a sculpture. And not just any sculpture at that… this is one that comes to life!
PAULINA Music; awake her―strike!
‘Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach.
(The Winter’s Tale 5.3)
Greg Wyatt’s The Winter’s Tale is inspired by the final scene of the play where Paulina presents Leontes with the life-like statue of his wife, Hermione, whom he has thought dead for the last sixteen years. Paulina calls for music and the statue appears to come to life before the eyes of Leontes and the audience. Ambiguity surrounds this scene of the play; you can certainly argue that this was never a real statue and that it was always the real Hermione who must have spent sixteen years in hiding. But when looking at this sculpture, it is more the illusion of a statue coming to life that is important.
The subject of a statue appearing to come to life must be an interesting one for a sculptor. As with the concept of a play within a play, the piece of art within a piece of art adds depths of reality. The story of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had made of a beautiful woman, which was then brought to life by the goddess Venus, is told most notably in the poem Metamorphoses by Ovid. This poem may well have been an inspiration for The Winter’s Tale, but what is more is that it has continued to inspire sculptors and other artists throughout the centuries. Examples include Auguste Rodin’s sculpture Pygmalion and Galatea, c.1908-9 and the painting Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786.