To unpathed waters, undreamed shores.
Act IV scene iv, The Winter's Tale (1610-11), William Shakespeare
When William Shakespeare authored The Winter's Tale he was close to completing one of the most significant artistic canons in the English language. Having addressed the dramatic forms of comedy and tragedy in his early and middle years, he then developed an approach in four of his last plays (Cymbeline, The Winter's Tale, Pericles and The Tempest) that has alternately been called romance or tragicomedy. All four plays share certain characteristics and themes. In each play Shakespeare has included magical or mythological elements. In each story he explores the contrast between the world of court and the world of nature. Each story moves from tragedy to comedy, from sin and loss to redemption and reunion. Finally, Shakespeare uses the father-daughter relationship to explore these themes.
As Shakespeare aged, his work changed and matured as well. His later works, according to some scholars, represent a Shakespeare who continues to explore new artistic possibilities which are shaped and colored by his age and life experience. It has even been suggested that the last works are the most profound of the entire canon with themes that fall within the parameters of alterswerk. Alterswerk, literally latter works, refers to the final output of an artist just prior to their death. The three characteristics of alterswerk (interest in death, recapitulation, and prophetic visions) not only occur toward the end of an oeuvre but they also accompany the final psychological stages of life.