Camillo’s Influence in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale
In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare carries his characters from a court setting in Sicilia to a rural area in Bohemia, and then reconciles the plot in the original court. This play incorporates a pastoral theme by showing the role of providence through the character of Camillo and his role in the union of country and court. Shakespeare uses a combination of corruption and natural peace to reconcile the relationship between Leontes and Polixenes. Camillo, a Lord of Leontes’s and faithful servant to all, plays a key role in this reconciliation and the reunion of the characters at the resolution of the play. In fact, Camillo contributes to the pastoral theme of the play by serving as an influence of providence.
Camillo acts as a good servant and source of truth as he first attempts to convince Leontes of Hermione and Polixenes’s innocence, then reports Leontes’s murder plot to Polixenes and flees to Bohemia with him. Here, Camillo acts as a force of providence by asserting moral choices, protecting the innocent, and defending truth. Though Camillo betrays Leontes and later in the play encourages Florizel’s escape to benefit himself, he still serves as an influence of providence by exhibiting the ideals of felix culpa, or sin resulting in good. Later in the play, Camillo is essentially yet unknowingly responsible for the return of Perdita, Leontes and Hermione’s castaway child, to Sicilia, and thus responsible for the resolution of the play. Camillo thus serves as an influence of providence to unite the court with the rural world as he catalyzes the final reunion in his home court. Along with the plot, Camillo moves from Leontes’s court to Polixenes’s court, and then to the natural world in Bohemia where Perdita resides.
In traditional pastoral literature, the influence of providence is a prominent motif. In The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare uses Camillo as an agent of providence in the Sicilian court as he defends truth and remains a servant of the common good. Camillo feels that “…[He] must/Forsake the court: to do’t, or no, is certain…” (1.2.475-66). Camillo immediately jumps to Hermione and Polixenes’s defense when Leontes accuses them of adultery. Camillo “…cannot/Believe this crack to be in [his] dread mistress/So sovereignly being honourable” (1.2.429-31). When his pleas to Leontes fail, Camillo reports the murder plot to Polixenes and then flees with him to Bohemia. Though Camillo is a member of Leontes’s court, he remains a servant to the common good as he betrays Leontes in order to protect innocent King Polixenes. Camillo says that: …For myself, I’ll put My fortunes to your service, which are here By this discovery lost. Be not uncertain; For, by the honour of my parents, I Have utter’d truth… (1.2.567-71). In this manner, Camillo’s actions urge the plot along.
Throughout the play, Camillo consistently fights for the reconciliation between Leontes and Polixenes, even inadvertently. His services to the common good begin in the court of Sicilia, move to the countryside of Bohemia, and then return to Sicilia. After his escape from Sicilia, Camillo lands in Bohemia to attend to King Polixenes. In an effort to uncover the romance between Florizel and Perdita, Camillo and Polixenes travel to the countryside of Bohemia. In Bohemia, Camillo sparks the course of reconciliation. He also glorifies Perdita by comparing her to nature. As Camillo says, “…she is/The queen of curds and cream” (2044-2046). Camillo, though sinful on account of his human nature, serves as an influence of providence through the ultimate good that results from his sin. Though Camillo had pure intentions of final reconciliation, due to the uncooperativeness of other characters he is willing to use deception to bring about a happy ending. The term felix culpa describes original sin that later resulted in redemption, thus becoming a “happy fault.” Camillo is a noble character, yet he does sin and fall short on multiple occasions. However, all of Camillo’s actions, whether from pure or impure motives, result in the greater good and eventual reconciliation of all characters. Though undertaken in defense of moral truth, Camillo’s betrayal of Leontes was sinful. However, because it was undertaken for the right reasons, it benefitted all parties in the end. Later, Camillo convinces Florizel to flee to Sicilia to King Leontes’s court, not for the safety and benefit of Florizel and Perdita, but as a result of his own selfish desire and plot to return home. He realizes that he is being deceitful in both scenarios, but also recognizes the good that his deception will bring about. Camillo says:
Now were I happy, if
His going I could frame to serve my turn,
Save him from danger, do him love and honour,
Purchase the sight again of dear Sicilia
And that unhappy king, my master, whom
I so much thirst to see. (4.4.2447-52).
Though his actions were questionable, his motives were pure. This act leads to the reconciliation of all characters in Leontes’s court, and thus becomes a “happy fault.”
Upon his return to the court of Sicilia, Camillo immediately sets to work on the reconciliation of the entire cast of characters. He is responsible for the meeting between Leontes and Florizel and Perdita, which in turn leads to the discovery of Perdita’s identity, and eventually the reunion with Hermione. For his grand efforts to maintain truth and the common good, Camillo is rewarded with Paulina’s hand in marriage.
Reconciliation between the natural world and the corrupt court is vital to pastoral literature. In The Winter’s Tale, Camillo serves to bridge the two. Along with the plot, Camillo moves from Leontes’s court to Polixenes’s court, and then to the natural world in which Perdita resides, before his return to Leontes’s court for a final reconciliation. Through Camillo’s travels, Camillo’s actions provide a route to reconciliation. Camillo catalyzes the reunion and forgiveness between Leontes and Polixenes through his plot to return to Sicilia through the use of Florizel and Perdita’s unfortunate situation. Camillo also serves to unite the court with the rural world as he catalyzes the final reunion in his home court. Camillo is essentially, yet unknowingly, responsible for the return of Perdita, Leontes and Hermione’s castaway child, to Sicilia.
Shakespeare, William, and Frank Kermode. The Winter’s Tale. New York: Penguin Group, 1998. Print.
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