chapter  7
20 Pages

A Whispering of Nothing: The Winter's Tale

It was Heinrich Heine who first sensed the subterranean political attraction and affinities of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale in his cycle Deutschland - Ein Wintermarchen, which he wrote under the eyes of Karl Marx in Paris 1843–44. He proposed an attitude of "tragic humor" that might be able "to strike political-romantically a fatal blow against the prosaicbombastic poetry" of his time. Even though Heine never elaborated on his use of Shakespeare in this remark, the idea of tragic humor provides a first handhold for a political interest in that play, even if we leave the late- or post-Hegelian coloration of Heine's intuition aside. The politics of The Winter's Tale may not be what a Marxist expects, but it foreshadows a sense of politics which a reader of the later nineteenth century may recognize–even though this all too long century's many insights, like Shakespeare's intuitions, seem to have barely become apparent and fully reflected before the turn to the twenty-first.