Perhaps the most important advice contained in Aristotle’s Art of Poetry is that ‘a poet should prefer probable impossibilities to improbable possibilities’ (24.10). Everything about the story of The Winter’s Tale from its geography to its statue is impossible, and throughout the play (not just in the closing scenes), characters tell us that the events they have witnessed or heard about are a source of wonder or surprise. But partly because of their recognisably real emotional responses, including laughing at what they see, and partly because, most of the time, we are ahead of them in terms of precise knowledge about those events, we accept those events as probable within the strange world created by the patterns in Shakespeare’s language, and his plot — the arrangement of the story.
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