The Winter's Tale (1609–1611)
- First official record: in his journal, Simon Forman recorded seeing a performance of the play at the Globe on 15 May 1611.
- First published: First Folio (1623).
- First recorded performance: a production of the play by the King's Men was staged at the Globe on 15 May 1611, as recorded by Simon Forman.
- Evidence: The Winter's Tale can be a difficult play to date precisely due to a lack of contemporary references and topical allusions. Aside from the Forman reference (and some subsequent dated productions at court), and a possible allusion to a Ben Jonson piece, the play must be dated using stylistic analysis. The possible Jonson reference occurs during the sheep-shearing feast, when twelve countrymen perform a satyrs' dance that three are said to have already "danced before the King" (4.4.333). This may be an allusion to Ben Jonson's masque Oberon, the Faery Prince, which was performed at court on 1 January 1611. This would place the most likely date of composition sometime in mid-1610. However, not all scholars believe the reference need be taken that literally, and even those that do accept the Jonson allusion, such as Stanley Wells (editor of the play for the Oxford Shakespeare: Complete Works), agree that the passage may have been added at a later date, and is therefore of little use in dating the play. Traditionally, the play is paired with Cymbeline in terms of style, theme and tone, with The Winter's Tale seen as the superior play, and therefore the later of the two. However, stylistic analysis would suggest Winter's Tale preceded Cymbeline; a rare word test places it closest to Measure for Measure, Ants Oras pause test places it closest to Pericles, a colloquialism-in-verse test places it after Coriolanus but before Cymbeline, a metrical test places it closest to Antony and Cleopatra. In his 2010 edition of the play for the third series of the Arden Shakespeare, John Pitcher argues for a date of late 1610-early 1611, believing Shakespeare wrote Winter's Tale, Cymbeline and The Tempest in this period after the reopening of the theatres in early 1611, although he acknowledges this creates a gap in the chronology which would suggest Shakespeare wrote nothing in 1609.