Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

I. King Leontes’ monologue in Act I.ii.179-207 discloses his troubled, almost frantic state of mind at this early point in the play. The short aside that Leontes utters here reveals a psychological state where doubt has begun to sprout and proliferate. Through the specific use of figurative language in this speech, Shakespeare exposes the king’s hidden thoughts and designs, while also foreshadowing some of the confusions and mishaps in the play, which originate in Leontes’ unreasonable jealousy. The theme of jealousy, also central to another major Shakespearean play, Othello, is very significant in this passage. Thus, without heeding judgment and reason, Leontes indulges in impassionate and impulsive musings which will eventually prove destructive. The image that opens his aside depicts the king as a fisherman who is “angling” in the hope to detect the guilt of the two assumed lovers. The invisible thread that holds fishing rod alludes to the helpless and unsuspecting victims. Moreover, the image serves to describe the way in which the king will seek to ensnare two of the people he loved most, prior to his being blinded by jealousy. Having the patience and the slyness of a fisherman waiting for the bait to work, Leontes alludes here to his obviously premeditated plan: he seeks to outwardly encourage the affection between his wife and his best friend in order to have proof of their unfaithfulness.Furthermore, the king pictures his queen as a bird who “holds up the neb” to a seemingly unfaithful friend, thus adding to the idea of entrapment. With his sight blurred by fury and jealousy, the king sees signs of betrayal where there are none, therefore creating the perfect conditions for disaster. The king’s progressive absorption into maddening suspicions is also significant here: “Inch-thick, knee-deep, o’er head and ears a forked one!”. Gradually, Leontes renounces reason and clarity, sinking deeper into the imaginary trap woven by his own mind. This is apparent in the great figurative charge of the word “play” in the king’s speech. Urging his infant son to go and play, he immediately muses on the different meaning that the word holds for him and the two traitors. First of all, in his hallucinatory state of mind, Leontes is convinced that his wife “plays” or fakes innocence to hide her adulterous relationship. Secondly, he himself plays, pretending not to suspect anything and thus hoping the culprits will give themselves away.Finally, Leontes also considers he will be playing a “disgraceful part” in the eyes of the community, when the presumed betrayal is found out.  Next, the troubled king moves on to meditate on the commonness of unfaithfulness, using other powerful images in the process. Thus, the word “sluiced” and the phrase “fished pond” give graphic, sexual descriptions of the wife’s adultery. Moreover, the image of the wife as a pond fished by a smiling and deceitful neighbor hints at theft and misappropriation. Continuing in the same line of thought, the image of “open gates against their will” also suggests a forced and fraudulent entrance of the cunning neighbor. The remainder of the speech concludes with equally sexual imagery that the whole of the female kind is corrupt, with the unfaithfulness attaining cosmic dimensions: “It is a bawdy planet that will strike/ Where ‘tis predominant; and ‘tis powerful, think it,/ From east, west, north, and south. Be it concluded,/ No barricade for a belly.” Leontes’ speech here gives evidence of an oversized and impassionate jealousy which blinds him and disconnects him from the people he loves most and which will also be the cause of tragedy in the play.II. a). In most of Shakespeare’s plays there are extraordinary women, built as complex figures with important roles. In The Winter’s Tale, there are three women who manage to break out the limitations of traditional female portraiture. Hermione is brave and almost faultless in her behavior. The metaphor of her transformation into a statue and her subsequent coming to life at the end of the play speaks about rebirth and a second chance at happiness. As such, Shakespeare uses her as a symbol for fertility in the likeness of spring, the season which puts an end to winter and call nature back to life. Her exemplary conduit makes her a model female character. At the beginning, she is the devoted wife, mother and queen, who is eventually punished for endeavoring to treat her husband’s friend with honor and respect. Moreover, her infinite endurance and her ability to forgive her erring husband adds to her importance in the play. Perdita is also a very significant figure, whose arrival announces, as her name suggests, the retrieval of what had been lost. More than a simple character, Perdita, like Herminone, is a powerful symbol. Through her marriage to Florizel, Polixene’s son, she becomes the link that reunites the two friends and completes the family circle. Finally, Pauline is equally important, acting as a tireless supporter of the family. She protects and cares for Hermione and the king at the same time, mediating the happy ending of the play with wisdom and infinite patience.c). The recurrent images of rebirth in the play point to a very interesting direction in Shakespeare’s late writing. If in his tragedies the world would regain equilibrium only with the price of the protagonists’ lives, here we see a universe which is temporary out of balance but which miraculously manages to bounce back into place. An indication of maturity, this trait reveals a new dimension of the author’s writing: the images of rebirth allude to the natural cycles of the successive seasons, thus integrating man into the larger picture of a natural universe. The ending is miraculous, without being overly optimistic. Shakespeare demonstrates that tragedy, as well as romance, is a part of the natural course of events.d). The antithesis between loyalty and betrayal is at the thematic core of the play. Thus, in most of the instances, those who appear to betray are actually loyal. Hermione and Polixenes are never guilty of the accusations that Leontes showers on them. Camillo, who at first sight would appear to be the most disloyal of all and who “betrays” by turns Leontes, Polixenes and Florizel is actually one of the most clear-sighted characters in the play. It is partly due to his genial character and his insight that the final reunion takes place. Finally, Paulina manages to stay faithful to Hermione and the king at the same time, despite the conflict between them and despite the fact that the king is the indirect cause of her husband’s death. Thus, Leontes is curiously surrounded by extremely loyal people, while he suspects only betrayal and falseness.III. Answer: D.The Winter’s Tale, no less than other Shakespearian plays, has an ambiguous ending, without seeming so at first sight. The statue which is mysteriously animated makes the circle of life come complete. The happy reunion, however, is not perfect: Mamillius, the dead son of the king and queen, and Antigonus are missing. Through this device Shakespeare stays true to nature: while the happy reunion is possible and rebirth is a natural process, something is invariably lost on the way. Perdita is found again, but with the price of the death of queen and king’s other child. Two pairs reunite in marriage at the end, yet one pair had been broken in the process: Paulina and Lord Antigonus.