Killing Tyranny with Kindness in The Winter’s Tale

No villain ruins Leontes but himself—no wicked daughters deceive him with flattery, no Iago drips poison in his ear. In an instant he becomes convinced, despite the lack of evidence, that his wife Hermione has become the lover of King Polixenes of Bohemia, his dear friend. As he spirals into self-sustaining despair, Leontes becomes a tyrant to himself, before he acts tyrannically toward others. In Riccardo Hernandez’s scenic design, the stage is expansive, open, even to the heavens (snow falls intermittently). But Anatol Yusef (Leontes) contorts himself as if penned in as he falls victim to his fear. Shorter than most of the cast, he makes himself even smaller; he is his own jailer.
Leontes’s friends, followers, and family rebuke him at every turn, wishing he would allow them to do him good. If there were an external threat to refute or defeat, they might be able to do so, but they can’t find a way to cajole him into opening the door he has barred shut. As Leontes’s madness threatens them, each manages to do what he cannot: hold onto their interior freedom and trust they will find a way out, even if they cannot see it yet. More than that, they trust that the moral choice will lead them to this escape—or will lead others to take up the burden when they can go no further.

I had a wonderful time seeing Theater for a New Audience’s The Winter’s Tale, and you can read my whole review at The American Interest.