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In Inga-Stina Ewbank's essay "The Triumph of Time in The Winter's Tale" (Review of English Literature, 5 (1964); reprinted in Shakespeare: The Winter's Tale. A Casebook, edited by Kenneth Muir, 1968), I encountered the following passage:

Critics of the myth-making school read these lines as a confirmation of the essentially mythical nature of the play: there, they argue, is the first direct sign of the regeneration of the King.

Ewbank does not reference any examples of scholarly publications, nor does she mention any critics that would belong to this school.

According to Cindy M. Okamura, Myth-Criticism

is an interpretative approach to literature which may be used in conjunction with other approaches and reading techniques. A myth-critical approach generally uncovers or identifies manifestations of mythology in a literary work--whether as the creation of an original myth, as the appropriation of a traditional mythological figure, story, or place, or in the form of allusions--and uses these mythological elements to aid interpretation of the work.

According to Caroline Hagood, writing on the Kenyon Review Blog (What the Heck is Myth Criticism?, 06.12.2019),

Myth criticism would best be applied to writing replete with archetypes, such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, for instance. Tennyson’s work is rich with both myth-making and mythic archetypes, such as the wise seer, Merlin, who is “bard, and knew the starry heavens; / The people call’d him wizard” (Merlin and Vivien).

Myth criticism applied to The Winter's Tale would discuss mythical aspects in the play (there are many references to Greek and Roman gods such as Apollo and Proserpina) and the significance of winter and spring in the play. However, this does not explain what the "myth-making school" was, especially in the context of Shakespeare criticism. If there is such a school of Shakespeare criticism, who were its founding and/or leading figures? Did they publish any interpretations of The Winter's Tale?

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  • I found a bachelor's thesis entitled "Self-fashioning as mythmaking in 1 Henry IV, the Winter's Tale, and MacBeth". That link doesn't actually work for me - not sure which end the problem is - but Google's cache gives the abstract at least.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 19:31
  • @Randal'Thor "Self-fashioning" in that title is an obtrusive reference to Stephen Greenblatt's work Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (1980), one of the founding works of New Historicism. Myth-making criticism is a few decades older (and probably out of fashion now).
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Aug 2, 2020 at 19:40

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"The myth-making school" does not indicate a specific group of Shakespearean scholars. Rather, Inga-Stina Ewbanks is referring to those critics who view literature in general, or The Winter's Tale in particular, through the lens of myth.

Prominent among such critics is Herman Northrop Frye, who argued in Anatomy of Criticism (1957) that the study of a literary work involved identifying the archetypal patterns it followed. In A Natural Perspective: The Development of Shakespearean Comedy and Romance (1964), Frye has an essay called, like Ewbank's, "The Triumph of Time". He argues that The Winter's Tale recapitulates the archetypal cycle of the seasons:

The Winter's Tale is a diptych, in which the first part is the “winter’s tale” proper, the story of the jealousy of Leontes, the slandering of Hermione, and the perilous exposure of Perdita. The second part, the last two acts, is the story of Florizel’s love, Perdita’s recognition, and the revival of Hermione. Shakespeare’s main source, Greene’s Pandosto, is almost entirely confined to the first part; for the rest Shakespeare appears to be on his own. There are parallels and - contrasts in the construction: the contrast in imagery, the first part full of winter and storm and chaos and the second all spring and revival and fertility, is not easily missed.

p. 113

Frye relates the magical nature of The Winter's Tale to "our total experience of drama":

The center of that experience is the fact that drama is doing, through the identity of myth and metaphor, what its ritual predecessors tried to do by the identity of sympathetic magic: unite the human and the natural worlds.

pp. 116–117

Ewbanks is likely not responding directly to Frye, as his essay and hers appeared close in time to each other. Their essays coincidentally have the same title because it is the subtitle of Shakespeare's source, Robert Greene's 1588 romance Pandosto: The Triumph of Time. But as Ewbank's omission of specific references suggests, several earlier critics have also examined The Winter's Tale from a mythic perspective owing to the ease with which the play lends itself to such a reading.

For example, Derek Traversi's Shakespeare: The Last Phase (1954) comments that Leontes's greeting to Florizel is "associated with the rebirth of the seasons with which so much of the play has been conceived":

                  Welcome hither,
As is the spring to th'earth.

The Winter's Tale V.i.187–188

These are the very lines from the play that Ewbanks is referencing in her allusion to "critics of the myth-making school". Traversi goes on to say that "the fresh kindling of positive emotion in Leontes is in this way related to the natural movement of the seasons" (p. 176). S. L. Bethell's book-length The Winter's Tale: A Study argues that the image of spring shows us "this is a new Leontes, grown gracious and humble through devotion" (p. 101). G. Wilson Knight, in The Crown of Life, also says that this speech shows "a transfigured nature matching our sense of a transfigured humanity" (p. 115).

Frye, Traversi, Bethell, and Wilson Knight do not belong to a unified tradition that approaches Shakespeare's plays in mythic terms. But they all read The Winter's Tale as representing archetypal patterns of death and renewal through the cycle of the seasons. Additionally, all read these specific lines as marking Leontes's regeneration. Ewbank had in mind such approaches to the play when she remarks on "critics of the myth-making school".

References (all links live as of 3 January 2024)

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