FB understands that there is a dispute among literature critics as to whether this play should be classed as one of Shakespeare's problem plays. FB can answer firmly in the affirmative. The Winter's Tale is certainly a problem play - the problem for FB being that there is no cricketing content in it whatsoever. FB accepts that this barely differentiates it from the rest of the bard's output, so to label it particularly a problem play might seem unjust.
But the title of the play would seem to offer more to the cricketer than many of the bard's other plays. Possibly it would disclose the drama associated with indoor nets on cold February evenings; or the excitement of waiting for the postman for that new bat to be delivered; or listening over the crackling airwaves to the faltering progress of the touring side overseas.
Disappointingly Shakespeare eschews all these possibilities in favour of a story about jealously, the passage of time and redemption. Cricketers will recognise that these themes define a lower league fixture towards the end of the season when vital points are at stake. But the audience is left hanging for this sensible content while babies are abandoned on rocky shores and statues come to life. FB wonders if these are metaphors born of Shakespeare's experience as a junior of having to face the opposition quickie on a bouncy track or of the apparently stationary fielder at mid on suddenly leaping 3 feet in the air to pocket his blistering drive.............but this reading is not a conventional one among critics.
But one thing that everyone, cricketers and non cricketers alike, knows is that The Winter's Tale contains what is reckoned to be the most famous stage direction in the whole history of play writing, when at the end of Act 3 a character is instructed to - Exit run out without facing a ball.
Many critics have tried to deny this original text and contend that Shakespeare revised it to read Exit pursued by a bear. But that is obviously nonsense since no batsman has ever been dismissed in this way. And no bear otherwise features in the play. Such a dismissal would of course be bizarre.
But bizarre dismissals may be becoming more common. Not only has there in recent months been the Ben Stokes incident when he was dismissed for handling the ball as it was flung at the stumps, but this week the Australian Big Bash League saw an even more bizarre episode.
|The ball deflects from Neville's bat onto Zampa's nose|
Adam Zampa bowled to Dwayne Bravo who strode out of his crease and crunched it back down the pitch. The non striker Peter Nevill was backing up several yards down the wicket.
The ball deflected from Nevill's bat onto the diving Zampa's nose and onto the stumps. (The link here contains video footage of this great incident).
Exit Run Out by the bowler's nose. Now, if Shakespeare had written a stage direction like that it could have been the making of him.