1‘There was a man… Dwelt by a churchyard’: the story the young prince starts to tell the queen in The Winter’s Tale cries out to be continued in the scary way for which she asked: ‘come on, and do your best / To fright me with your sprites. You’re powerful at it’. ‘Poetically man dwells’;1 but ‘A sad tale’s best for winter’ [2,1,26-9], Mamillius grimly insisted when Hermione dared him to be merry. So together with his precocious blue jokes about the venereal diseases of her maids, there is an incongruous prematurity about this disturbed child’s eerie bedside story for its mother that seems connected to the uncanny causality that Old Father Time cruelly warns will engulf the audience, when he turns his glass to ‘leave the growth untried’ of the following sixteen years: ‘So shall I do / To th’freshest things now reigning, and make stale / The glistering of this present as my tale / Now seems to it’ [4,1,6-15]. It is as if somebody walks over our own graves when these winter words about the mysterious man who dwelt so ominously beside a churchyard are snatched out of hearing, excluded from the play with a metatheatrical glance that sweeps us up in the snub meant for those Ladies whose symptoms suggest they are not long for this world: ‘I will tell it softly, / Yon crickets shall not hear it’. For in a drama determined by ‘whispering nothing’ [1,2,286] this tantalizing deferred narrative has the suspended animation of what remains entailed in every ghost story, ‘a limbo quality all of its own’, left hanging as it is upon an aposiopoesis: ‘an unfinished statement, a sudden breaking off in the midst of…’2
2‘There was a man… Dwelt by a churchyard…’: like one of Schubert’s Winterreise lieder that so haunted Samuel Beckett, the sad tale told by the fey child in The Winter’s Tale distils in a few words all the features that would distinguish the unheimlich Gothic genre from the heimlich fireside story, the garrulous type of merry ‘old tale’ of Mother Goose or Mother Hubbard, which, we soon learn, ‘will have matter to rehearse though credit be asleep and not an ear open’ [5,2,55]. Thus, ‘Come on then, and give’t me in mine ear’, sighs the doomed queen [2,1,34]. As its critics point out, unlike the folktale the Gothic is obsessed by narrative encryption, by cryptomimesis as a labyrinthine form of burial and concealment. So within the genre Mamillius initiates ‘the crypt and the ear are inextricably implicated’.3 ‘The ear is uncanny’, considered Jacques Derrida, for the figure of the mother is always implicit in ‘the ear of the other’.4 Whatever the boy whispers in his mother’s ear, to ‘fright’ her with his ‘sprites and goblins’ , therefore begs to be decrypted as the latent subtext of this play, an unhomely Gothic horror hidden beneath the homely dwelling of a romance in which to be lucky ‘requires nothing but secrecy’ [3,3,114]. As the editors of the recent Shakespearean Gothic admit, ‘to uncover the secret relation’ between Shakespeare and the Gothic ‘provides something of a Gothic story in itself, a tale of two long-lost relatives reunited at last’.5 But it is a disinterment of a darker hidden side of Shakespeare that seems to be demanded by the cryptonymy of this text that insists upon both the ‘joy and terror’ of such a reunion [4,1,1], and which Time himself states will have the apocalyptic violence of an exhumation:
since it is in my power
To overthrow law, and in one self-born hour
To plant and o’erwhelm…
let Time’s news
Be known when ’tis brought forth.
3The entry of Time in The Winter’s Tale has been described as so ‘out of joint’ [Hamlet, 1,5,189] it suggests the two parts of the play divided by a ‘wide gap’  of sixteen years could be staged ‘concurrently, in the style of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia’, with the past in the future, and ‘no more behind / But such a day tomorrow as today’ [1,2,64-5].6 With such unhinging of the unities of time, place and action, Time’s assertion of his right to both ‘plant and o’erwhelm’ whatever is to be buried, the threat to desecrate ‘The rich proud cost of outworn buried age’ [Sonnet 64] that is the morbid preoccupation of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, where ‘neither brass, nor stone, nor earth’ but the Grim Reaper ‘o’ersways their power’ [Sonnet 65], must make the case of any man who pitches his dwelling beside the dead seem a grave one. We have visited too many Shakespearean cemeteries and ossuaries, and seen too many skulls emerge from the earth, not to be alarmed at how ‘Stones have been known to move’ [Macbeth, 3,4,122], ‘canonized bones’ tend to ‘burst their cerements’, and the sepulchre in which the body has been ‘quietly enurned’ is apt to ‘ope his ponderous and marble jaws’ to ‘cast [it] up again’ [Hamlet, 1,4,28-32].
4With Shakespeare, it is always necessary to ‘mind the gap’. As Derrida commented in Specters of Marx, with this dramatist who seems not to know whether he is coming or going, not only is it important to remember where the bodies are buried, ‘but to make sure they stay there’.7 The haunted necrophile householder in Mamillius’s fright story might then be said to be the harbinger of one of the key Gothic tropes foretold in The Winter’s Tale, which is the house as crypt, the broken home as a tomb, and the crossing of the boundary that is meant to demarcate the future from the past, and the dwelling from ‘The undiscovered country from whose bourn’, we prefer to think, ‘No traveller returns’ [3,1,81].8 For however it was supposed to be continued, the inauspicious nursery story told by this prepubescent male about a house built like a gateway on the edge of a graveyard does fit uncannily Julia Kristeva’s analysis in Powers of Horror of all such liminal spaces, frontiers and partitions as signifiers of the vital psychic barrier that protects the identity of the subject ‘who will always be marked by the uncertainty of borders’ from being subsumed by the ‘wide gap’ of the maternal ‘void’:
This is precisely where we encounter the rituals of defilement […] which, based on the
feeling of abjection and all converging on the maternal, attempt to symbolize the threat
of being swamped […]. The function of these religious rituals is to ward off the subject’s
fear of his very own identity sinking irretrievably into the mother.9
5‘The Queen your mother rounds apace… She is spread of late / Into a goodly bulk’ [2,1,17-21]: the Ladies’ provocations about Hermione’s pregnancy which frame her son’s creepy storytelling provide a textbook cue for Gothic horror as an abjection of the ‘monstrous feminine’. The play’s unease about the disruption of uncanny prematurity is therefore substantiated when the queen gives birth to a ‘lusty’ girl ‘something before her time’ [2,2,28-30]. For the crucial element of the Gothic aesthetic is said to be ‘disgust’.10 Thus feminist criticism offers an entire phenomenology of menstrual blood, milk, vomit, ‘shit, etc.’ to account for the genre’s revulsion at ‘changes of the wat’ry star’ [1,2,1] which also explains why Mamillius is such a rapt listener of his father’s misogynistic rant that there is ‘No barricado for a belly… It will let in and out the enemy / With bag and baggage’ [1,2,198-207].11 So when Leontes disrupts the boy’s story-time with a hue and cry over his wife’s alleged lover Polixenes, the king’s panic, ‘How came the posterns / So easily open?’ [2,1,54], literalizes the borderlessness that is already the focus for the infant’s revulsion from the defiling proximity of the home and tomb.
6The Winter’s Tale dramatizes the case of a husband like the man in the story, ‘so grieving / That he shuts up himself’ [4,1,18-19]. Shakespeare images an uncanny topography for this nightmare of incarceration that therefore dimly prefigures the paranoid fortified architecture of moated walls, iron bars, and secret passages in the haunted Gothic house, when he has Leontes rave that the ‘issue’ will hiss him to the grave if his ‘pond’ is supposed ‘sluiced’ and ‘fished by his neighbour’, for ‘men have gates, and those gates opened, / As mine, against their will’ [1,2,188-99]. No wonder, then, Hermione tells Leontes his is ‘a language I understand not. / My life stands in the level of your dreams’ [3,2,77-8]. In Jacobean England the mother’s physical confinement after delivery would be concluded by her reincorporation into the social body at the Anglican purification ceremony of churching. But when Mamillius ‘languish[es]’ to death [2,3,17], and Hermione falls unconscious in post-partum shock, The Winter’s Tale instead looks forward to the claustrophobic hidden enclosures of Gothic terror, when it projects a far more literally confining solution to contaminating female ‘issue’, in the cryptomimetic fantasy of incorporation by entombment:
Prithee bring me
To the dead bodies of my queen and son.
One grave shall be for both. Upon them shall
The causes of their death appear, unto
Our shame perpetual. Once a day I’ll visit
The chapel where they lie, and tears shed there
Shall be my recreation.
7When Leontes begins the work of mourning by envisioning the crypt where he will have his wife and heir interred The Winter’s Tale reverts to the one Shakespearean space above all that would supply Gothic writers such as Horace Walpole and Anne Radcliffe with a mise-en-scéne. As Shakespearean Gothic shows, it was episodes like those in which the monstrous Richard III seduces Lady Anne over the coffin of her husband, Claudio lights torches in the vault of Hero, Hamlet leaps into the pit dug for Ophelia, and Othello smothers Desdemona until she is ‘Still as the grave’ [Othello, 5,2,103] that shaped the eighteenth-century notion of the Bard as himself a voice from out of the tomb: ‘Viewed this way [Shakespeare] is not a foil for the Gothic but an inspiring source […] whose troubling components are isolated and sharpened in Gothic retelling […] through a “perversion” of Shakespeare, it brings the [play’s] own “perversities” to light’.12 To estrange The Winter’s Tale by retelling it as a proto-Gothic text thus involves returning to the dead child’s chiller about the ‘gross and foolish’ man who sets up home beside a tomb with Paulina’s intuition that these are ‘Thoughts too high for one so tender’ [3,2,194-5].
8‘Dwelt by a churchyard’: Mamillius’s tale has the formula of a Gothic vault or mirror, a story within the story, we infer, ushering in his father’s cryptomania. For as a courtier objects, after so many years of having ‘performed /A saint-like sorrow’ it is Leontes’ similarly excessive mourning that is asking for trouble: ‘No fault could you make / Which you have not redeemed, indeed, paid down / More penitence than done trespass’ [5,1,1-4]. The Winter’s Tale is a play much concerned with marking the appropriate form of burial, with the desire of the subject ‘to fill his grave in quiet, yea, / To die upon the bed [his] father died, / To lie close by his honest bones’, rather than ‘Where no priest shovels in dust’ [4,4,442-6], but not too close, and at the right time. Sensible Cleomenes is therefore anticipating Freud’s thesis in ‘Mourning and Melancholia’ that the work mourning performs consists of a painful yet possible withdrawal from the lost loved one by means of an interiorizing idealization which can be figured as a devouring.13 But Paulina thinks she knows better, and foreshadows both Gothic fiction and Derridean deconstruction when she counters that ‘Ten thousand years together, naked, fasting’ [3,2,209] would not complete the mourning process, when it is precisely the impossibility of such an affective withdrawal that constitutes the subject, for if it is the spatial marker of disgust, the crypt is also ‘the very figure of desire’:14
If one by one you wedded all the world
Or from the all that are took something good
To make a perfect woman, she you killed
Would be unparalleled
9Leontes acknowledges the strange logic of cryptomimesis when he asserts that the tears he looks forward to weeping in his daily dwelling over the family vault will be his ‘recreation’. With its transgenerational worry over what Anne Williams in Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic terms ‘the quintessential Gothic issue’, legitimate descent and rightful inheritance, its gossipy whispers about homosexuality, syphilis, and the ageing female body, its intrusion of a savage animal, a storm, a foundling, a casket, a statue that bleeds, and a purloined letter, not to mention masked royalty and clueless peasants, The Winter’s Tale rehearses a veritable compendium of props and processes associated with Gothic novels.15 But it is in situating the crypt at the heart of the house that this text comes closest to a Gothic obsession with the phantom economy of desire. For when Leontes gives orders to attend Hermione’s deathbed and ‘tenderly apply to her / Some remedies for life’ [3,2,150-1], he is in fact obeying the uncanny aesthetics of revenance that govern the fantasy of incorporation. As Derrida writes, ‘one buries or burns what is already dead so that life, the living feminine, will be reborn and regenerated from these ashes’.16 In King Lear the father’s frantic calls to ‘Look on her, look, her lips’ [5,3,308], therefore abreact what had earlier seemed to him a fulfilled desire to restore Cordelia to life: ‘You are a spirit, I know. When did you die?’ [4,7.49]. Nicholas Royle describes the literally unsettling irruption of this ‘eerily posthumous’ proceeding, figured in Lear’s cry, ‘You do me wrong to take me out o’the grave’ [4,7,45].17 And in The Winter’s Tale we similarly experience as much horror as desire, ‘both joy and terror’, in Time’s words, at the disturbing aposiopoetic crypt effect, like that of the child’s hauntingly interrupted story, which suspends the departed in the posthumous yet premature twilight world of the living dead:
I say she’s dead. I’ll swear’t. If word nor oath
Prevail not, go and see. If you can bring
Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye,
Heat outwardly or breath within, I’ll serve you
As I would do the gods.
10Paulina’s challenge asks us to project an offstage mortuary resuscitation scene, like that when Lear cries to ‘men of stones’ to lend a ‘looking glass’ in belief that if his daughter’s ‘breath will mist or stain the stone, / Why then she lives’ [Lear, 5,3,256-62]. Yet her unflinching command to ‘Look down / And see what death is doing’ [146-7] simultaneously insists on the stealthy imminence of the bodily decay which Georges Bataille describes in Eroticism: Death and Sensuality as the ‘nauseous, rank and heaving matter, frightful to look upon, a ferment of life, teeming with worms, grubs and eggs [which] is at the bottom of the decisive reactions we call repugnance, nausea, and disgust’.18 Such will indeed be the repellent condition in which the figure of this ‘undead’ woman does shortly appear to return from the morgue, in a classic instance of female abjection at the turning-point of the play. There, in a bizarre dream sequence that literalizes the loathsome void with the suspenseful structure of a horror film, an old courtier recounts how the ghost of Hermione has appeared to him in a nightmare, initially gliding towards his cabin like an immaculate bride, ‘In pure white robes / Like very sanctity’, and bowing its head modestly, only to raise its face in a sudden paroxysm of ‘fury’, and expose its true ghastliness to the dreamer as the mother of ‘the issue / Of King Polixenes’, when ‘gasping to begin some speech, her eyes / Became two spouts’ [3,3,21-5;42-3].
11Editors point out that Antigonus’s dream narration is the only occasion when Shakespeare systematically confuses his audience about the death of a character, and this blurring of borders seems bound up with the undecidability of a monstrous suspicion it plants, that Hermione is truly an adulteress. The shock of this hissing Medusa-like ‘creature’ in fact recalls that of the ‘fiend’ with ‘two full moons’ for eyes which waves its ‘whelked’ horns ‘like the enraged sea’ in the vagina dentata Edgar concocts to scare his blind father out of suicide in King Lear [4,6,70]. Both of these hauntings occur on a shore, the ultimate ‘bord de mer’ with the monstrous.19 Gloucester recoils from the edge of the void he imagines to be Dover Cliff. But ‘Affrighted much’ on the coast of Bohemia, Antigonus decides ‘Dreams are toys, / Yet for this once, yea superstitiously, / I will be squared by this’, after the vampiric spectre has pronounced that for letting his ‘heart bleed’ for her baby Perdita he will forfeit his life. ‘I never saw a vessel of like sorrow’, the old man reflects, as ‘with shrieks, / She melted into air’ [3,3,38-51]; and indeed this apparition is a perfect example of the tendency noted by Slavoj Žižek for the purgatorial ‘undead’ to linger on the borderline of life and death as melancholy sufferers, pursuing their victims with ‘a kind of infinite sadness’.20 What follows by contrast, however, is surely the most complete if callous instance in literature of the healthy withdrawal of emotional attachment from the dead by process of psychic devouring, when Antigonus instantly crosses the ‘gap’ of his Styx, to ‘Exit, pursued by a bear’ [SD.57]:
CLOWN: I’ll go see if the bear be gone from the gentleman, and how much
he hath eaten. They are never curst but when they are hungry. If
there be any left of him, I’ll bury it.
OLD SHEPHERD: That’s a good deed. If thou may’st discern by that which is left of
him what he is, fetch me to th’sight of him.
CLOWN: Marry will I; and you shall help to put him i’th’ground.
OLD SHEPHERD: ’Tis a lucky day boy, and we’ll do good deeds on’t.
12If the Shepherds who take it on themselves to bury the leftovers of the ‘poor gentleman’  figure in The Winter’s Tale as luckily canny opposites of that uncanny man who dwelt by a churchyard, that is doubtless because, in Derridean terms, there is too little remainder of Antigonus after the famished bear has dined off him for much to be desired. Though he had three daughters, who like Lear he would rather see sterilized than ‘honour-flawed’ like ‘the woman’s flesh’ of his dream [2,1,140-9], it seems not enough is entailed by the death of Paulina’s husband to haunt the play. As his widow vows, even the chance that the baby he rescued might have been found alive ‘Is all as monstrous to our human reason / As my Antigonus to break his grave / And come again to me, who, on my life, / Did perish with the infant’ [5,1,41-4]. It is of course comforting for Paulina to picture her loved one’s remains resting in peace in some corner of a foreign field, rather than devoured and defecated by a wild beast. Yet in the end she has to be told how ‘He was torn to pieces with a bear’ [5,2,57]. So her constant swearing upon her own life to things she cannot know merely confirms what Kristeva writes about the abject as the border of the living being: ‘If dung signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not and that permits me to be’, it is the location of ‘the corpse, the most sickening of wastes’.21 For the fact that we are aware that the lost baby has after all been found irresistibly raises the latent possibility which haunts the happy ending of this family romance, and tears Paulina ‘‘twixt joy and sorrow’ [5,2,67], the proposition so ‘monstrous to our human reason’ when whispered in the ear, that the dead might indeed break the grave and be among those things repressed which ‘come again’:
No more such wives, and therefore no wife. One worse,
And better used, would make her sainted spirit
Again possess her corpse, and on this stage
Where we offenders mourn, appear soul-vexed,
And begin, ‘Why to me?’
13‘O, these flaws and starts / Impostors of true fear, would well become / A woman’s story at a winter’s fire’, sneers Lady Macbeth as her husband reels from the sight of Banquo’s ghost. But Macbeth’s grisly reply, that ‘If charnel-houses and our graves must send / Those that we bury back, our monuments / Shall be the maws of kites’ [Macbeth, 3,4,62-81], is given knowing the return of the repressed is not only what is feared but what will feed: as the ‘temple-haunting martlet’ is lured to ‘breed and haunt’ [1,6,4-9] in Macbeth’s haunted Gothic castle of Glamis. Likewise, The Winter’s Tale is haunted by the uncanny hospitality of haunting, as personified by the revenant who makes a home beside the catacombs. Dating from the time of the Jacobean witch trials, this text knows enough about the abjection of the monstrous feminine to understand that ‘It is an heretic that makes the fire, / Not she which burns in’t’ [2,3,115]. Leontes himself analyses the perverse reproductive logic of such hauntology in lines about spectrality that recall the fatal attraction of Marlowe’s Faustus to the all-consuming succubus of Helen: ‘Affection… Thou dost make possible things not so held, / Communicat’st with dreams… With what’s unreal thou coactive art, / And fellow’st nothing’ [1,2,140-4]. ‘Your actions are my “dreams”’, he thus reproaches his wife; and ‘The bug which you would fight me with I seek’ [3,2,90], Hermione as spookily responds: ‘Cry “Fie” upon my grave’ .22 Thus it is through the ‘notion of an active contractual relationship’ with the hungry dead, who become, in Michel de Certeau’s words, objective figures of ‘an exchange amongst the living’, that The Winter’s Tale shares in the Gothic excitement at the unheimlich cohabitation of Eros and Thanatos, desire and death.23 Paulina endorses, in any case, the widower’s Bluebeard-like determination that if he were to wed again his victim’s ghost would have such unappeasable power ‘she would incense me / To murder her I married’ [5,1,60-2], and thus compel him to become a true serial wife-killer:
Were I the ghost that walked I’d bid you mark
Her eye, and tell me for what dull part in’t
You chose her. Then I’d shriek that even your ears
Should rift to hear me, and the words that followed
Should be “Remember mine”.
14‘Remember me’: the cry from the ‘wide gap’ of the tomb is always a plea to be re-membered, recomposed and rehabilitated into the visibility the dismembered cadaver possessed before it became ‘lazar like’ and ‘abhorred in imagination’ [Hamlet, 1,5,73,91;5,1,173-85]. As Maurice Blanchot remarked in The Gaze of Orpheus, such is, however, the cry of the one we have no desire to see: ‘Lazarus in the tomb, and not Lazarus saved, the one who already smells bad, is Evil, Lazarus lost and not yet Lazarus brought back to life’.24 Leontes’ commemoration of his wife’s eyes as ‘Stars, stars, / And all eyes else, dead coals’ [5,1,67], so more alive than burned-out sockets in the living, therefore invokes the dyadic economy of sight and blindness, light and dark, seen and unseen, that always structures the aesthetics of the return of the dead. The analogy with Orpheus descending to the underworld, only to look disastrously into the eyes of Eurydice, or Theseus to rescue Persephone, thus seems truly cryptomimetic. For as Derrida observed in Athens, Still Remains, his meditation on photography and ancient gravestones, ‘Does not Persephone reign’ over the mise en abyme of all such reflections on reflection: ‘Persephone, wife of Hades, the goddess of death and phantoms […]. But also of the image, of water and of tears, at once transparent and reflecting, mirror and pupil?’25 Such phantasmal reflections will haunt the restaging of the legend of Pygmalion at the end of the play, for Leontes persists in memorializing Hermione as the object of desire, not decomposed by what Paulina warns us death is doing, as ‘even now’, he fantasises, ‘I might have looked upon my queen’s full eyes’ [52-3].
15In The Winter’s Tale the lover is imagined ‘like a corpse’, yet ‘not to be buried, / But quick and in mine arms’ [4,4,131-2]. By ghoulishly anticipating Leontes embracing one ‘such / As, walked your first queen’s ghost, it should take joy / To see you in her arms’ [5,1,79-81], The Winter’s Tale thereby asks us to visualize the definitive Gothic encounter, an erotic assignation to which Shakespeare keeps returning, as when Romeo glimpses Juliet’s catatonic body in the tomb and exclaims: ‘Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath, / Hath no power yet upon thy beauty’ [Romeo, 5,3,92]. Plans to equip morgues with alarms, refrigerators that open from inside, or coffins with phones, after reports of unfortunates screaming to be let out, explain the perennial power of this scene, as do its innumerable cinematic rewrites, such as the chilling 1988 Dutch film directed by George Sluizer, The Vanishing. And the uncanny interim of Juliet’s cataleptic trance ‘in the borrowed likeness of shrunk death’ [4,1,104] would in fact become a favourite of the eighteenth-century stage, which ‘capitalized blatantly’ on its ‘necrophilic tinge’ by inventing an operatic funeral cortege ‘in which Juliet’s inert body, surrounded by mourners, torchbearers and musicians, made its slow way to the vault in a long drawn-out procession’.26 As Jonathan Sawday points out, within the cultural matrix of early modern theatre there was in fact something peculiarly apposite about David Garrick’s presentation of Romeo and Juliet on alternate nights with Edward Ravenscroft’s grotesque farce The Anatomist:
It was the macabre presence on stage of a corpse that comes to life and protests against its
own anatomization, which drew the audience into the theatre. Here an unlikely conjunction of dramatic texts becomes significant […]. Othello, The Winter’s Tale, Pericles and, above all, Romeo and Juliet, were plays which featured therevivification of female figures, as though death was to be understood, in some measure,as a liminal state.27
16When Paulina declares Hermione dead, then challenges Leontes to think her body moves, ‘it breathed, and that those veins / Did verily bear blood’ [5,3,63-4], Shakespeare has constructed a plot logic that reflects ‘the unstable truth of “death”’ in early modern medical discourses about hysterical disorders, feminist critics have emphasized.28 But on Shakespeare’s stage the woman’s suspended catatonic body is also what it will become in Gothic fiction, ‘an idealized spectacle of female beauty, the focus of a desire which manifests itself in necrophilous jealousy’.29 ‘O son, the night before thy wedding day / Hath death lain with thy wife’, Capulet therefore announces [4,4,62]. As Romeo and Juliet thereby suggests, and The Winter’s Tale confirms,the ‘madman’s dream’ of the beautiful insentient woman held captive as a living corpse by an all-powerful male in some underground chamber of horrors, like Persephone imprisoned by Hades, was ‘a canny exposure of an anxious erotic fantasy already contained’ within the Shakespearean text:30
Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?
17‘We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I first heard her feeble movements in the hollow coffin many, many days ago’: the ‘hideous import’ of premature burial that resonates in Roderick Usher’s ‘gibbering murmur’ in Edgar Allan Poe’s archetypal Gothic tale ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ casts lurid retrospective light on the compulsive repetition of the same fantasy in Shakespeare.31 Thus, if a secret subtext of The Winter’s Tale is the Gothic horror of return from the grave, this story has a darker encrypted implication, made unavoidable by reference to the flowers ‘frighted’ Persephone let ‘fall / From Dis’s wagon’ being woven in wreaths to ‘strew o’er and o’er’ one posing ‘like a corpse’ [4,4,117-29]. ‘As for maman’s death’, reflected Roland Barthes in his Mourning Diary, ‘the certainty of having to die by the same logic soothed me’.32 And, ‘What can one desire of a coffin if not to have it for one’s own… to put oneself inside’, mused Derrida.33 But no theorist quite prepares us for the cryptomimetic syncopation of Perdita and Florizel playing dead at the feast in The Winter’s Tale, one of the most unheimlich scenes in Shakespeare, as they imagine suffocation by the ‘freshest things’ dropped by the girl entombed in Hell. ‘The year growing ancient’ , these flowers are themselves long ‘made stale’. So Freud’s explanation of the ‘lasciviousness’ of such fantasies of what ‘the close earth wombs’ , as memories of life before birth, when ‘the child was prisoner to womb’ [2,2,62], does nothing to lessen the untimeliness of this playing possum to ‘leave the growth untried’ and pre-empt what, in his essay on the uncanny, the psychoanalyst called ‘the most uncanny thing of all’, the anachronism of being buried alive:34
… that you might ever do
Nothing but that, move still, still so,
And own no other function.
18‘Saints do not move, though grant for prayer’s sake’ [Romeo, 1,5,102]: as Derrida saw, Juliet initiates an entire dramaturgy of anachronistic contretemps when to indulge her lover she tempts fate playing the ‘marble statue in pure gold’ [5,3,298] she becomes in the end.35 Through the strange chiasmic countertime of The Winter’s Tale the statue made by Romeo and Juliet will therefore be reversed in the living sculpture of Hermione created to ‘move still, still so’ by Giulio Romano [5,2,88]. Philippe Ariès dated this fascination with post-mortem reversibility precisely to the era of these plays, when determination of the hour of our death first started to be unsettled in both the baroque playhouse and anatomy theatre.36 So though Paulina assures us there is neither ‘tincture’ nor ‘lustre in her lip, her eye’, when Hermione’s body is examined, Poe’s scientism throws doubt on any such diagnostic confidence about the borderline between apparent death and the living dead, for ‘Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?’ he reasons, when ‘We know there are diseases in which occur total cessations of all the apparent functions of vitality, and in which these cessations are merely suspensions… temporary pauses in the incomprehensible mechanism’. With its suggestion of an automaton, Poe’s scenario in his tale ‘The Premature Burial’, where ‘A certain period elapses, and some unseen mysterious principle sets in motion the magic pinions and the wizard wheels’, provides an uncomfortable gloss on the denouement of The Winter’s Tale, in which Hermione emerges from just such catatonia.37 For it forces us to speculate how Shakespeare’s heroine spent the ‘many, many days’ during the strange aporia of ‘that wide gap’ of her vanishing; and to register the ‘hideous import’ of some untimely awakening ‘as in a vault’, like that death before life Juliet poleptically foresees for herself in the ‘ancient receptacle / Where for many hundreds of years the bones / Of all my buried ancestors are packed’:
How, if I wake before the time that Romeo
Comes to redeem me? There’s a fearful point…
Alack, alack, is it not like that I,
So early waking – what with loathsome smells,
And shrieks like mandrakes torn out of the earth,
That living mortals, hearing them, run mad…
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught…?
19The ‘horrible conceit of death and night’  in Juliet’s prevision of her own tomb allows us to stare back into the violent underworld which in The Winter’s Tale Hermione will be spared, and that the play in its folksy homeliness will ‘slide o’er’. It also suggests the deep subterranean affinity between Shakespearean and Gothic narrative, especially the stories of Poe. Thus, ‘Publish it that she is dead indeed’, schemes the Friar in Much Ado About Nothing, after Hero faints like Hermione, accused of sexual infidelity: ‘Maintain a mourning ostentation, / And on your family’s old monument / Hang mournful epitaphs’ [4,1,203-6]. Likewise, her end is ‘confirmed by the rector of the place’ when in All’s Well That Ends Well Helen reportedly dies on pilgrimage to Compostella [4,3,55]; and in Pericles Diana’s temple is ‘Where till your date expire you may abide’, Thaisa is surprisingly told as soon as Cerimon has diagnosed her symptoms as those of hysterical syncope and proves ‘This queen will live… She hath not been entranced / Above five hours’ [13,90-2;14,13]. The ‘moated grange’ in which ‘dejected Mariana’ hides from the world in Measure for Measure [3,1,254] seems only a variant on the violent construction of some female’s encryption, and male habitation over her dead body, that thus recurs in all Shakespeare’s later comedies, and will see a comatose Innogen laid to rest as though ‘stark’ dead in Cymbeline [4,2,210]. It is easy to see how Poe’s fantasia of the catalepsy which entombs Madeline Usher with ‘a mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death’, might therefore have been prompted by his immersion in Shakespeare as much as in scientific journals. And according to his biography Poe’s spine-tingling tale of the woman heard breaking open her coffin lid, grappling with ‘the iron hinges of her prison’, and then scratching ‘within the coppered archway of her vault’, had its traumatic Shakespearean origin in an actual childhood visit to Stratford-upon-Avon.38
20In the late summer of 1817 the American writer’s family lodged in Cheltenham while his mother took the spa waters, and it was from there Edgar is supposed to have visited the site of a house in Stratford that furnished the impressionable eight-year-old with nightmarish information for ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’. Built next to a church, on a street then called Dead Lane, the imposing town house of the once wealthy Clopton family had acquired an evil reputation after the dreadful events of 1564, the year of Shakespeare’s birth, when Stratford’s chief Catholic dynasty had been nearly extinguished by a string of disasters which began when the deranged Margaret drowned herself for love, floating dementedly down the Avon, it is said, like Ophelia, as she ‘chanted snatches of old tunes, / As one incapable of her own distress’, before ‘the poor wretch’ was pulled ‘to muddy death’ [Hamlet, 4,7,146-54]. Critics believe the dispute in Hamlet about whether the suicide should be granted only her ‘virgin rites, / Her maiden strewments, and the bringing home / Of bell and burial’, or a requiem mass, was shaped by memories of the hurried obsequies over the ‘fair and unpolluted flesh’ of this pathetic adolescent [5,1,214-22]. Even more haunting, however, was the unspeakable fate of her sister Charlotte, who a few months later was struck down in an epidemic of the plague. For fear of infection, her abbreviated last rites were also conducted in unseemly haste:
She was buried quickly in the family vault of Stratford church, but a month or so later this
was re-opened [for yet another interment]. Her coffin was found to be open, and her body
discovered upright, leaning against the wall. She had been prematurely buried, and in her
agony had bitten into her own arm.39
21A tale to make ‘Your bedded hair, like life in excrements, / Start up and stand on end’ [3,4,112], the story of the girl waking to a ‘life in excrements’ inside the Clopton vault became legendary in Stratford, and surely coloured Juliet’s dread of waking in the tomb ‘Environèd with all these hideous fears, / And madly play[ing] with my forefathers’ joints’ [Romeo, 4,3,48-50]. So it is tempting to picture the young Poe, like a reincarnated Mamillius, spooking his mother with this Gothic horror during the winter of 1817. If the boy did so he presumably continued the story, recounting how after the shock of his sister’s premature burial, the heir to the House of Clopton fled to Italy, allowing the family home to fall into the clutches of a ruthless property dealer by the name of Bott, whose crimes included poisoning his daughter to acquire her husband’s estate. The murderer hid the arsenic under the dining room floor, but the deed was hushed up, as the Clopton owners would have lost the place to the Crown if Bott were hanged. So it was that this house of whispered secrets and hidden horrors was occupied by the killer thirty years later, when it passed to another dealer, with the unlucky name of Underhill, who had not quite exchanged contracts to sell when in July 1597 he too fell victim to poison, slain by his son. Technically, the building did now belong to the Crown; but eventually the buyer was able to establish his title, and could then dwell, if he chose, by Stratford’s Gild Chapel for the rest of his life. To Poe that outcome might well have seemed truly uncanny, for this latest owner of New Place, the house on Dead Lane said to have ushered ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, was Shakespeare himself.
22‘There was a man… Dwelt by a churchyard’: as his biographer observes, in purchasing Stratford’s grandest house cut-price Shakespeare ‘got in the strange bargain a father’s murder of a daughter, and the murder of a father by a son… the raw, primitive theme of family murder’ he worked into the play he gave a name like that of his own young son Hamnet, who died on the eve of the sale.40 He also acquired those Gothic tales of watery suicide and premature burial, and the accursed legacy of ancestral owners who had striven with their complex transactions to save the inheritance, and whose descendants would, in fact, in a few generations regain the estate. We do not know what New Place looked like, as a later owner, oppressed by its unlucky history, had it demolished in 1759. Ongoing excavations have yet to yield evidence from its extensive cellars and foundations; but if ever a house deserved to be called haunted, it was the one with the unlikely utopian name Shakespeare bought. It may be no surprise, then, that the busy London playwright chose not to take up residence in his Stratford home for some sixteen years: until the time of The Winter’s Tale. What biographers do find strange and psychologically intriguing is that it was in this cavernous mansion with the calamitous past that for all those years Shakespeare left his wife Anne immured by herself.
23‘I thought she had some great matter there in hand, for she hath privately, twice or thrice a day, ever since the death of Hermione, visited that removed house’ [5,2,94-5]: his wife’s lonely sequestration makes Leontes strangely analogous to his creator, at this time when Shakespeare ‘dwelt by a churchyard’. So Paulina’s transposition of ‘The chapel where they lie’ within the family vault into a sculpture ‘gallery’ kept ‘Lonely, apart’ [5,3,18] inside a ‘removed house’ would seem to involve a Piranesian architecture that fulfils all the occulting functions of the crypt as what Derrida calls ‘a place comprehended within another but rigorously separate from it, isolated from the general space by partitions, an enclosure, an enclave, a safe: sealed, and thus internal to itself, a secret interior within the public square, but outside it, external to the interior’.41 Yet when she leads the royal party into this occluded space, the revelation that it still remains a ‘chapel’ is designed to cause yet ‘more amazement’ . For ‘The statue of our queen’, with ‘life as lively mocked as ever / Still sleep mocked death’ [10-20], stands within the chamber as a double of all those ‘waxwork figures, ingeniously constructed dolls and automata’ of the Gothic imagination from which Freud was as anxious to keep distance as Paulina is to avert suspicions of necromancy: lest ‘you’ll think – / Which I protest against – I am assisted / By wicked powers’ [89-91].42 ‘Do not shun her / Until you see her die again, for then / You kill her double’ [5,3,105-6], Paulina therefore says, foreseeing our repugnance at a living corpse. But if the abjection and exclusion of the disgusting is constitutive of the Gothic aesthetic, the words with which this Frankenstein-like controller now calls the creature back from what she expressly terms its ‘grave’ seem intended to raise ghosts:
I’ll fill your grave up. Stir. Nay, come away.
Bequeath to death your numbness, for from him
Dear life redeems you.
24The redemptive language of The Winter’s Tale invokes the only truly joyous return from that graveyard where the ‘Stones have been known to move’, the resurrection of Christ. Paulina’s insistence that the actions of the strangely disconnected or ‘undead’ revenant who is rehabilitated in the countertime of Hermione’s funerary monument ‘shall be as holy as / You hear my spell is lawful’ [104-5] thereby seems to enact the cryptomimetic strategy of Shakespearean theatre itself, as it represses a possibility ‘more monstrous standing by’: that the dead who ‘burst their cerements’ might ‘on this stage / Where we offenders mourn, appear soul-vexed’. ‘Graves at my command / Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth / By my so potent art’, confesses the man of the theatre, Prospero; and Shakespeare’s entire career has been interpreted as an apology for the ‘rough magic’ of such a Faustian theatrical disruption of the temporal order [Tempest, 5,1,48-50]. Thus, ‘Impute it not a crime’, pleads Time, that the play is the transcription of an event yet to take place which both buries and exhumes; and ‘If we shadows have offended, / Think but this’, the actors beg, ‘That you have but slumbered’ [Dream, Epi,1-3] during the ‘wide gap’ of their own vanishing. ‘Nay, present your hand’, Paulina therefore rebukes Leontes. But ‘the best in this kind are but shadows’ [Dream, 5,1,208]; and when ‘the enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline’ rose before Roderick Usher in Poe’s version, we recall, she fell upon him ‘with a low moaning cry’, and ‘bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated’.43 So in The Winter’s Tale,when the statue begins to move ‘As walked [the] first queen’s ghost’ [5,1,80], the empty grave it leaves can, if considered, only prompt the question: ‘What returns?’ And the most Gothic of responses: that whatever this thing is that has now come back… ‘It’s alive!’