The Winters Tale
The Circle of Life: Art vs. Nature in Achieving Natural Order in the Winter’s Tale
The debate between Perdita and Polixenes about the merits of beautiful, but unnaturally crossbred flowers condenses Shakespeare’s discussion on man-made art and God-made nature (represented by physical, ecological Nature as well as the characters’ human nature). Their arguments dispute the efficacy of art as re-expression, renewal and creation of truth. The clashing ideas that art is futile because it is an imperfect imitation of nature, and that art is sublime because it improves on nature’s flaws using godlike creative abilities dominate The Winter’s Tale. However, the play’s joyful culmination suggests that art and nature are equally valuable because together, they achieve ‘natural order’, regeneration, and ultimately, balance.Polixenes claims that art is man’s imaginative power, the ability to “mend Nature” and perfect it (4.4.96). Through art, men can “conceive” better things than nature by “marry[ing] a gentler scion to the wildest stock”, thus challenging God’s exclusive ability to create (4.4.92-4). As a playwright, Shakespeare is like a god who can manipulate seasons, personalities and fate in the fictional universe he created. He can idealize life and flout nature to mold time, place and emotion; to hasten his story, he makes Time malleable, and commands 16 years to disappear. The structure of his ‘staged world’ stresses higher truths in a way that ‘chaotic’ Nature could never do. For example, Antigonus’ brutal death is both a judgment on his failure to challenge Leontes’ lunacy, and a remark on Nature’s erratic, violent whims.The characters’ creations have a more immediate artistic purpose than Shakespeare’s sweeping ambitions of enlightening audiences about reality. For example, the ballads and dances at the festival mainly exist to artificially enrich the pleasures of Nature and cheer the guests’ natures by making them “red with mirth” (4.4.53-4). Even Perdita testifies that her costume “does change [her] disposition” (4.4.134). In fact, her disguise gives art another purpose beyond revealing truth and making merriment. Art can cover-up and mask imperfect nature through impersonation; by creating new identities, the masqueraders usurp their natural, flawed images as well as God’s right to create them. Highborn Polixenes, Florizel and Camillo discard the duties of their natural heritage by hiding as crude farmers. Meanwhile, Perdita is disguised as a shepherdess disguised as the goddess Flora. This skill of costuming and changing oneself is a godlike, Protean, Mercurial facility and is used by Jupiter, Neptune and Apollo, who “have taken the shapes of beasts upon them.” Through the divine ability to ‘shape-shift’, the characters’ ‘improved’ identities can pass as natural.However, all costumes eventually come off. These deceptive capabilities also obscure nature’s truth and highlight art’s impermanence. Perdita insists that art’s ability to teach, entertain and disguise only fulfills shallow, fleeting goals. She contemptuously calls the superficially beautiful, hybridized flowers “Nature’s bastards” (4.4.83), as if knowing that, even without special rearing, her own inherently royal, pure nature makes her “too noble for this place” (4.4.158). She declares that exclusively God-formed, timely flowers are accepted in her naturally “rustic garden” (4.4.83). Ultimately, art at its best is just “life as lively mock’d”, a stagnant, temporary imitation of interminably living Nature, who, like an elitist snob, is dedicated to the purity and endurance of her progeny (5.3.19). Women can only temporarily hide their true faces “were [they] painted” (4.4.101). Men create statues, immortal in stone, but are still inferior because they don’t have “eternity” and can’t “put breath into [their] work” (5.2.98) Art is a futile attempt to claim divine creative powers, because even the sculptor of the most exact likeness cannot replicate the passions of life, the tailor of the most convincing costume cannot trim the birthright of the person who wears it, and the playwright of the most realistic play cannot reproduce all of the intricacies, patterns, and balances of human interaction.Art is often irresponsibly or unnaturally applied; men abuse it because it is not eternal, nor always created with the best intents. Atolycus pursues art for selfish reasons, bartering idealism in art and character to those who “pay well for ’em” (4.4.314). His art is debased “trompery” (4.4.598); compared to the romantic concept of statues melting into women, his songs pervert virgins who are “turned into cold fish” (4.4.279). He mocks meaningful artistic creation; performing behind costumes of courtiers and minstrels, he sings hollow, artless ballads while using his actor’s versatility to pick-pocket and lie to his audience. “Though [he] is not naturally honest”, art gives him the means and stage to actually act out his dishonesty (4.4.712).Art’s artificiality can also exploit men’s senses and cloud their judgment. Leontes’ irrationality stems from insecurities bred by his man-made confinement. He lives in a cold, structured court, never sees Nature’s greenery, and can only reminisce about freedom, innocence and “frisk[ing] i’ th’ sun” (1.2.66). Accordingly, he is reliant on familiar, self-made things to soothe his distrust. Leontes reassures himself by studying his own creation: his son. He mentally reproduces Mamillius as a “copy out of [his image]”, a perfect artistic imitation artificially born out of his mind, as unnatural as Polixenes’ flawed, independent son is not (1.2.122). With the hubris of gods who also created kingdoms, laws, and children from their heads, despite his very human prejudices, he regularly evokes truth as with the omnipotence of Nature. Like a rash playwright, he creates a disordered reality where Hermione is indisputably guilty and only he can conjure “the truth of this to appear”, like “the great Apollo” (3.2.200-1). Ironically, even as his irreverent God-playing delusions destroy his genuine wife and natural heir, he mocks his rational lords, claiming that their “ignorant credulity will not/ Come up to the truth” (2.1.192). Art and unnatural ambitions cannot best the strength of Nature’s entrenched patterns, because art is accessible by any unworthy or unprepared person, and is vulnerable to disorder and falsity.Even as he debates the supremacy of art or nature, Shakespeare’s point is that both are entwined because “art itself is Nature” (4.4.97). Their worth is not in how they individually create things, but rather, in how they ally to balance Nature’s cycles of regeneration. WT ends with the restoration of natural lineage to man-made Sicilia, an equilibrium of art and nature.First, Shakespeare establishes the significance of life’s natural cycles: birth, death, regeneration, and seasons. He invokes his muse, the “good goddess Nature”, who symbolizes women’s part in the circle of life, as well as divine influence on it (2.3.104). Women’s biological cycles mirror Nature’s orderly rotations. Breaking from Sicilia’s turmoil, where Leontes gave unnatural birth to copies, children died prematurely and infants were torn from their mothers, the shift overseas celebrates the return of Mother Nature’s regular ability to create. Infused with agricultural terms, the feminine circle of “virgin branches/ maidenheads growing” (4.4.115-6), a lover’s “desire to breed” and his “seed” blossoms in Bohemia (4.4.103). By identifying Nature as a fertile female, Shakespeare unites ecological regeneration with female reproductive roles. Humans can produce Nature, and vice versa, creating new life in the pattern of the old, like art.Nature as a goddess gives humans access to a divine realm. In a play where men strain and suffer to achieve god-like stature through art, it is ironic that gods are actually so near to earth. “The lids of Juno’s eyes”, “Cythera’s breath” and Phoebus all figure prominently in descriptions of Nature’s cycle, in the birth of “violets, dim” and the death of primroses (4.4.121-5). The company of majestic divinities in such an earthly process lends to it a sense of mystery and magic that demands veneration. However, these gods’ human qualities also emphasize man’s part in the regenerative procedure. Dis’s lust and Prosperina’s fright, which created the seasons, are relatable emotions. The presence of deities during the process towards natural order suggests that it is divine, yet also open to human participation and contribution.Natural order in a human world is best achieved through a balance of human and divine creation. Accordingly, Nature in Shakespeare is marked by dualities, such as birth and death, the simultaneously awesome and mundane presence of gods, and the comparison of Prosperina and Perdita, whose mothers waited in a deathlike state once they were ‘lost’. However, the inability of life cycles to stabilize without equilibrium can also be traced through the scenery changes. The tale starts in Sicilia, where men hold authority over the highly stylized, man-made realm. The inhospitable palace with its sharp angles, prisons, and ‘courtroom’ is Nature’s extreme opposite. It is claustrophobic, jealous, “mistook” and stale (2.1.81); ideal for the “sad tales best for winter” (2.1.25). Here, Leontes’ despair and sterility stresses the failure of man’s artificial world. Nature begins to swing back into its natural course in Bohemia, where winter fades as the “winds of March” “peer in April’s front” (4.4.120, 3). Bohemia is eternal, happy spring; it is “like a bank, for love to lie and play on”, “not like a corse” as Sicilia was (4.4.130-1). The pastoral abundance and fertility is resplendent; Nature’s cycle has moved beyond Leontes’ barren childlessness and started a new generational cycle. Yet, there is tension in the virility of this Paradise; everyone is hiding something and destinies have not been fulfilled, because Polixenes prevents the new generation from taking their rightful ruling positions. To complete the circle, the two heirs bridge Sicilia’s artificiality and Bohemia’s chaotic overgrowth. The resultant equilibrium, the “noble combat ‘twixt joy and sorrow” (5.2.72-3), the love blooming from cold walls, and the “wonder… that ballad-makers cannot be able to express”, illustrates that God-given lineage and man-made realm have finally merged to attain what is naturally right (5.2.23-5).Having resolved the inequity in the plot, Shakespeare has also reconciled many of the contradictions in the creation of the play itself. Although he is indeed an artist who copies life down, the art created by his imagination is actually born of Nature, who “hast the ordering of the mind too” (2.3.106). Furthermore, the symmetry of human nature and God-created Nature in the Winter’s Tale, as well as its tragicomedic hybrid of “doleful matter merrily set down” promotes natural order and balance in Shakespeare’s world as well as in his fiction (4.4.188-189). Perhaps the triumphant stability at play’s end will inspire Autolycuses and Leonteses alike to “amend [their] life” and become “as honest a true fellow as any” (5.2.154-7).
Leon. No foot shall stir.Paul. Music, awake her; strike! [Music]Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach;Strike all that look upon with marvel. Come!I’ll fill your grave up: stir, nay, come away:Bequeath to death your numbness; for from himDear life redeems you. You perceive she stirs:–The Winter’s Tale (V.iii.98-103)Unlike most of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, The Winter’s Tale moves from tragedy to comedy. The disastrous consequences of Leontes’ jealousy and tyranny are resolved by the passing of time. Only after sixteen years can the two royal families come together again. Time also plays a significant role in the reading of the chosen passage. The passage is full of commas, colons, semi-colons, and periods, which force the lines to be slowed and pausing. The frequent punctuations draw the reader’s attention to time and its effects on the words being spoken by the characters. The scansion of the passage illustrates Shakespeare’s mastery of time as he manipulates the rhythm of the lines using varying foots and meters. Time seems to be the crucial element in not only the scansion of this passage, but in the development of the play as a whole. Line ninety-eight begins with a half-line consisting of only two feet, “No foot shall stir.” The brevity of the line and the slowness of the opening spondee help to create the tension before Paulina attempts to summon the statue of Hermione. Leontes wants everyone to stand still while Paulina tries to give life to the statue. He says, “No foot shall stir” (98). Meanwhile, the metrical feet in line ninety-eight do “stir” as the pentameter is broken up into two half-lines. This contradiction of what Leontes wants and how the feet in the lines are set up conveys the lack of Leontes’ total authority. In many instances of the play, Leontes’ requests are not heeded to, despite his position as king. When Leontes wants Camillo to poison Hermione, Camillo does not do as he says. Instead, he runs off with Polixenes, buying precious time for everyone. Camillo and Polixenes evade death, and Hermione is given enough time to stage a death so that she can avoid being killed also. Camillo’s noble defiance gives everyone valuable time; the key factor which allows people to take shelter from Leontes’ tyranny.The second half-line of line ninety-eight consists of a trochee and two iambs: “Music, awake her; strike!” Since the only varying foot of the latter half-line is the trochee, “music,” Shakespeare seems to be emphasizing the significance of music. In a sense, music is a representation of time because it is defined by its time signatures, which designate much of its rhythmical patterns. Music is also the magical element that accompanies the transformation of the still Hermione into the living Hermione, which makes it an agent of change. In other words, Shakespeare conveys that music, or time, has the power to change. Paulina calls for the music to “awake her” (98), and it does. Time is the essential element that frees Hermione from the bondage of her hiding. In line ninety-nine, Paulina is summoning Hermione from the statue. She indicates that it is time for Hermione to reveal herself. The line begins with the two iambs, “”Tis time; descend;”. Because the iamb is the most basic and common Shakespearean foot, the two iambs that begin the line seem to indicate appropriateness. The appropriate time for Hermione’s re-emergence has finally come. In the next two spondaic feet, Paulina utters, “be stone no more;” (99). The two rigid spondees seem to not only reflect the stiffness of the statue, but also the inflexibility of time. No one has the power to undo what has happened and bring back the years lost during her hiding. Sixteen years must pass by in order for Hermione to be united with her family.The spondee at the beginning of line one hundred, “Strike all,” provides a powerful shift in Paulina’s beckoning of Hermione. Incidentally, the word “strike” is also a term associated with clocks, which were common by the 1500s (Gomez). When speaking in terms of time according to clocks, “strike” is a commonly used term that marks the passing of an hour, or the beginning of one. Paulina first uses the word “strike” in line ninety-eight to mark the beginning of the music, which as mentioned before, is a symbol of time. It seems that Shakespeare uses the word “strike” in reference to time, more specifically, to the marking of time passed. In line one hundred, Paulina urges Hermione to show that she is alive, and in a way, it seems that she really wants Hermione to reveal to everyone what Time can do. Although Hermione has aged, Time keeps her safe and living for many years. Time also allows Perdita to grow and return to Hermione and in the end, it is responsible for bringing the entire family back together. In the entire last scene of the play, Leontes’ is overcome by feelings of genuine grief after seeing the statue of Hermione. He comments on the statue’s realistic appearance, then wonders why the statue appears wrinkled and aged. Polixenes argues that the statue of Hermione does not seem so aged. Leontes then mentions the majestic appearance of the statue by saying, “Even with such life of majesty” (V. iii. 35) and “There’s magic in thy majesty” (V. iii. 39). Because Hermione understands the power of time and is able to endure those years in hiding, Time seems to favor her and allows her to age gracefully. Paulina responds by saying, “So much the more our carver’s excellence, / Which lets go by some sixteen years and makes her / as she liv’d now” (V. iii. 30-1). In reality, there is no actual stone carver, but only Time, which has been gracious to Hermione’s appearance over the years. Understanding the effects of time and having a good sense of it seems to be essential to the play. Hermione is perhaps the most perceptive of Time. When Leontes begins to make fierce accusations about her infidelity, she says, “I must be patient till the heavens look / With an aspect more favourable” (II. I. 106-7). She realizes that she is powerless against Leontes’ jealous rage and resorts to the powers of Time to work against Leontes’ tyranny. Although she has to wait many years, she is successful in making Leontes realize his mistakes and avoids imprisonment and even death.Camillo is also quite perceptive of Time. When he is told by Leontes to poison Polixenes, Camillo informs Polixenes and finds the right time for the two of them to escape safely to Bohemia. Also, after some years in Bohemia, Camillo notices that he has not seen Prince Florizel for three days (IV. ii. 30). His keen perception of time leads both him and Polixenes to realize the increasing absence of Florizel, which results in their discovery of the love between Florizel and Perdita. This discovery enables Camillo to help the young couple by sending them to Bohemia, which is the beginning of the play’s reunion. Unlike Hermione and Camillo, Leontes has a poor sense of time. At the beginning of the play, when Polixenes decides to go back and tend to his royal duties in Bohemia, Leontes urges him to stay another week. At the request of Leontes, Hermione successfully persuades him into staying, even though it has been nine months since he left his duties. Polixenes’ extended stay, which Leontes wants, ends in disaster. As a result, Leontes’ family is broken up and he loses a dear a friend.When Cleomenes and Dion return astonishingly quickly with the oracle, Leontes takes it as a sign that the oracle will support his suspicions of Hermione and Polixenes. However, Leontes interprets the briefness of their trip inaccurately. When the oracle is read, it proves Hermione and Polixenes’ innocence. Leontes’ dull understanding of time leaves him blind to the truth.The image of the oracle appears to be yet another symbol of time. The oracle that Leontes requests, reveals the truth and predicts the future. Although Leontes promises to abide by the oracle, which is in a way, a symbol of time because it is able to jump ahead in time and foresee what is to come, he refuses to follow it after finding that it disproves his doubts about his wife and Polixenes. His stubbornness towards the oracle, and towards the fate of Time, ends in the tragedy that lasts for sixteen long years.Even Paulina, who appears to have a good sense of time because of her role in Hermione’s lengthy hiding, lacks good timing when she approaches Leontes with his newborn. In an attempt to appease Leontes’ fury, Paulina brings the baby to him, despite being warned that the king is lacking sleep and should not be approached. Paulina insists that the truth shall release him from his misunderstandings, while in fact, only time is able to do so. When Paulina brings the baby to Leontes in his agitated state, he flies into a rage and eventually orders Antigonus to abandon the baby in a far off place. Although Antigonus is noble enough to offer his own life for the baby’s, he has a poor grasp of time, which kills him. When he finally reaches the deserts of Bohemia, the mariner foresees a storm and Antigonus promises to return quickly. Instead of hurrying like he promises, Antigonus begins telling the baby about his dream of the ghostly figure of Hermione. Antigonus fails to hurry and takes too much time. Consequently, he is brutally attacked and killed by a bear. Antigonus’ delay not only kills him, but the entire crew of his ship. The storm develops rapidly while he is away and shipwrecks all on board. Antigonus’ underestimation of Time, ends in tragedy.In Act IV, Shakespeare uses a Chorus symbolizing Time to indicate the passing of sixteen years. In this scene, Time speaks of its powers and abilities. Time begins by saying, “I that please some, try all” (1). Indeed, no one is impervious to Time; it affects everyone in the play. Even though Time makes it possible for Hermione to reunite with her family at the end, she loses sixteen years of her life in hiding. Time also tries Leontes. At the beginning of the play, he almost has no understanding of Time, yet, with the help of Paulina, Leontes successfully endures the long years by mourning for his wife and not remarrying. Leontes’ willingness to wait in mourning enables him to pass Time’s trial, which he is rewarded for at the end of the play. Time proceeds to illustrate its omnipotence by saying it does not adhere to the rules of law or custom, that it can completely overturn what is to be expected. Time says, “since it is in my power / To o’erthrow law, and in one self-born hour / To plant and o’erwhelm custom” (7-9). In addition to being omnipotent, Time also claims to be omnipresent. “The same I am, ere ancient’st order was, / Or what is now receiv’d” (10-12). It is clear that Shakespeare makes Time the most powerful force in the play. Time clearly plays the largest role in the story. It is by no accident that Shakespeare titles the play The Winter’s Tale, since winter is a time of the year. Furthermore, winter is the coldest and bleakest season of the year. Subsequently, the play begins in tragedy, and it seems as though there is no hope for Leontes to regain what he has destroyed. Only Time is able to convert this tragedy into comedy; the sixteen years that pass brings back nearly all that is destroyed by Leontes. Time is able to miraculously heal the wounds of the two royal families, but it cannot undo their mistakes. Unfortunately, the lost time cannot be regained. Through The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare conveys the significance of time and the importance of one’s understanding of time. If used wisely like Hermione and Camillo, time can spare one’s life and shelter an individual from imminent danger. When time is misused or misjudged, as seen in Leontes’ hasty accusations and also in Antigonus’ tardiness in returning to the ship, Time can lead to utter destruction. Works CitedGomez, Michelle. “A History of Clocks.” Online posting. 4 Mar. 2001.
Transgenerational Redemption in The Winter’s Tale
Shakespearean romances are characterized by conclusions in which all conflicts are happily resolved. It is easy to see these resolutions as humorous but unlikely contrivances which the author invents to neatly tie together loose ends. There is sometimes, though, a deeper structure of conflict and resolution than may at first be obvious; such is the case in The Winter’s Tale. The central conflict in The Winter’s Tale is the violation of Nature on the part of the patriarch of the old generation, Leontes. Nature in The Winter’s Tale is best understood as the ordered character of the universe. This is expressed in a three-tiered, hierarchically ordered structure with the divine at the apex, the monarch next, and the common man at the base. Nature is essentially static in a vertical direction, that is, an individual cannot rightly move from a lower level to a higher or vice-versa. Nonetheless, Nature does require a horizontal mobility demonstrated through the continuance of time. A violation of either vertical stability or horizontal perpetuation affronts Nature and will be punished. While Leontes’ first violation is vertical in nature, it is his horizontal violation which is the greater problem. Leontes, consumed by pride, dismisses the voice of the oracle when it challenges his conception of truth. He indignantly declares, “There is no truth at all i’th’ oracle.This is mere falsehood” (III.ii.138). This declaration marks a vertical infraction against Nature. Leontes, as monarch, ignores the voice of heaven and Apollo strikes down his son in response. This loss of a son and heir is Leontes’ more important transgression, the violation of the horizontal continuity of nature. The monarch, the second level of ordered nature, cannot continue forward in time. This is the essence of Leontes’ tragedy.Redemption from this tragedy can only occur through the stabilization of the natural order. The vertical transgression against the divine requires only recognition of the transgression for it to be overcome. In The Winter’s Tale this recognition comes directly after the death of Mammilius. Leontes says, “Apollo, pardon my great profaneness gainst thine oracle” (III.ii.152). With these words and his proposed visitation to the graves of his family, Leontes has done what he can to personally reconcile himself with the god. He has not, however, been redeemed from his second, more profound, transgression, his lack of children. This infraction is not personal; it can only be overcome by reinitiating the halted horizontal movement. In other words, it can only be accomplished through another person, an heir to Leontes’ throne. Only a second, new generation can resolve this problem, redeem Leontes, and set the natural order aright.There is much evidence for such a transgenerational redemption in The Winter’s Tale. The structure of the play demonstrates this clearly. The play is organized into two distinct sections based upon scene and theme. Sicilia, the locale for the first three acts, is a land dominated by court life, the self-constructed realm of man as demonstrated by the consistent location of each scene (‘The Palace of Leontes’). The emphasis here is decidedly on man and his action; the external world is summarily ignored. This is the home of the old generation and is appropriately the land of the manmade tragedy. Bohemia, the scene in act four, on the other hand, is a land of resplendent abundance and fertility, populated by shepherds and other rustic folk. The court is shown only once. Moreover, Bohemia is associated with the new generationsixteen years have passed when the play first shifts to Bohemia. Tragedy is the legacy of the sterile land of the old generation, Sicilia, whereas the next generation is bred in Bohemia. The move to Bohemia places the emphasis on the new and leads ineluctably to the play’s happy conclusion.Further evidence of the importance of the second generation is found in the prominence of the children of the two estranged rulers in the final resolution of the play. It is not until Perdita returns to Sicilia that the play can successfully end. The two lovers flee to Sicilia, the site of the original transgression, from an inhospitable Bohemia where their relationship is “opposed, as it must be, by th’ power of the King” (IV.iv.37). The fifth and final act takes place in the same, stained land as Leontes’ initial sin. The new generation reunites with the old in order to stabilize the twisted axes of the natural order.The decisive acts of the second generation are not, however, made independently. The servants of the old generation, Antigonus and Camillo, serve as intermediaries between the old and the new. Antigonus, charged by Leontes to abandon the infant Perdita, leaves a scroll indicating her royal heritage along with a chest of jewels, clearly intending for the child to be rescued. As he says, “There these, which may, if fortune please, both breed thee, pretty, and still rest thine” (III.iii.47-49). Antigonus refuses the extreme imperatives of his enraged sovereign and thereby ensures the survival of the next generation without which there could be no redemption. Camillo also plays a vital role in facilitating the old generation’s redemption by the new. Early in the play Camillo recognizes the absurdity of Leontes’ action and flees to Bohemia with Polixenes rather than remain subject to the irrational mandates of his king. In addition to this, it is Camillo who convinces Florizel and Perdita to flee Bohemia when Polixenes denies their betrothal. Antigonus ensures the life of the second generation while Camillo reunites it with its predecessor.Besides the evidence offered by the larger plot, the words of the characters also demonstrate the second generation’s role in reinstating the natural order. At the beginning of Act 5, Leontes, Clomenes, Dion, and Paulina speak to each other about the monarch’s condition sixteen years after his original transgression. Cleomenes begins the act by saying, “Sir, you have done enough – No fault could you make which you have not redeemed” (V.i.2-3). Leontes, however, still suffers. He replies to Cleomenes, “I cannot forget my blemishes – and so still think of the wrongs I did myself” (V.i.8). His penance has absolved him from his vertical infraction against the god, but this is obviously not enough. Dion later refers to the “dangers, by his highness’ fail of issue, [that] may drop upon his kingdom” (V.i.27-28). Paulina characterizes the situation best in referring to the “tenor of the oracle.” She says, “King Leontes will not have an heir till his lost child be found” (V.i.37-40). This preoccupation with Leontes’ lack of issue provides the response to Clomenes’ original concern. Leontes has done enough for his personal redemption, but the situation cannot be fully righted until the future of the monarchy, it horizontal perpetuation, is assured through an heir.In the next scene three gentlemen discuss the reunion of Leontes with Polixenes and his daughter. The second gentleman declares that “the oracle is fulfilled. The king’s daughter is found” (V.ii.21). The monarchy has been saved and the natural order is thus restored. Leontes’ response to this discovery indicates a clear change of mood. According to the third gentleman, “our king [was] ready to leap out of himself for joy of his found daughter” (V.ii.44). The dramatic shift in Leontes’ character testifies to the profundity of this event in redeeming both the king and Nature.The above demonstrates that the tragic first generation is redeemed by a second generation, stabilizing the natural order which their parents contravened. A close examination of the natural model of the play and the transgenerational redemption yields interesting and important observations as to the philosophical underpinnings of Shakespeare’s drama. The kind of regeneration/renewal schema invoked by the play is largely naturalistic and deterministic. The new generation does not actively seek to reconcile the problems of their father’s generation. This is underscored by the fact that the children do not know their true identity and, hence, do not understand the problems of the old generation which they must address. They fulfill their objective function, renewing the natural order, simply by satisfying their subjective, personal egos; by turning to their individual concerns, love in this case, the new generation unwittingly acts to ameliorate the tragedies and conflicts of the past. What is at stake in this play is not so much a reconciliation of man by manLeontes’ redemption from the vertical transgressionbut a reconciliation of Nature by Nature itself with man as an agent of natural will. Man ignores Nature, contradicts the directionality of its model, and then Nature asserts itself by ensuring that the next generation will rectify the mistakes of their predecessors. What I am here proposing is that Shakespeare injects a distinctively religious world view into his drama. Nature, the divinely ordained order of the cosmos, remains supreme over the individual agency of man. Providential will is independent and above man’s will. Disrupt the natural order, and Nature will utilize people, usually those with some relation to the offender, in correcting itself. This is the world view implicit in The Winter’s Tale.
The Significance of Time and Place: Comparing ‘The Tempest’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale’
The utilisation of time and place is of great consequence in the late plays, The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale. In the former, Shakespeare creates unity of both time and place in order to explore his central concerns, whereas the latter is disparate in both elements, with the action taking place between two settings – namely Sicilia and Bohemia – and over a time span of sixteen years. Despite such differences, time and place function in both plays to communicate Shakespeare’s concerns; in particular, the idea of regeneration is highlighted through the dramatic significance of each of these elements.
In The Tempest, there is a unity of time and place which reminds us that Prospero, as a symbolic rendering of the playwright himself, is in control of much of the action, especially at the start as he lays out his plans to Miranda:
“Hast thou, spirit, Perform’d to point the tempest that I bade thee?”
In this way, we see that Prospero is in control of time within the play in that he will utilise it to bring his enemies to justice while they remain on the island. There are regular references to time within the play, even the shipwreck itself is not solely the result of Prospero’s magical abilities, but also:
“depend[s] upon / A most auspicious star, whose influence/If now I court not, but omit / My fortunes will ever after droop.”
Here, we see that time is working together with fate, personified in “a most auspicious star” to allow Prospero to take control of events. By bringing his brother and company to the island, it becomes clear how important place is to his revenge: if he is unable to bring his enemies into his pseudo-kingdom, he will not be able to bring his plans to fruition. In this way, the unity of time and place are essential to Prospero’s success as they both serve to make him the more powerful player in the tale.
Shakespeare saw through time, it has been argued, a possibility of renewal. In The Tempest, we see this in the timing of Prospero’s planning: although the play takes place in real time (Alonso makes reference to audience time being parallel to that of the play when he mentions, at the end, that it has been “only three hours since” the shipwreck), the events that the play centres on have been a long time in the making. In Prospero’s discourse to Miranda at the start, his preoccupation with past injustices suggests that his timing is not random:
“Twelve year since, Miranda, twelve year since, Thy father was the Duke of Milan and A prince of power.”
Although revenge is at the forefront of Prospero’s thoughts, the fact that he has waited twelve years to act upon his intentions implies that regeneration – the return of his daughter to a place of power (as is her birth rite) and, by extension, a reclaiming of his stolen Dukedom – is a key goal for Prospero. Consequently, he manipulates time as if it were another character under his spell in order to regain his former life. The ambiguous “Now I arise” of that same opening soliloquy implies how the time is now right for such regeneration.
Furthermore, place is significant as a dramatic device in The Tempest as the unity of the island setting from start to finish acts as a microcosm for the wider world, thus mirroring the real world outwith the play with its deceptions and twists of fate that were (and are) inherent in everyday life. In contrast with The Winter’s Tale, which takes place between two juxtaposed settings, Shakespeare emphasises regeneration through the intensity of a small island which reflects society as a whole. At the time of writing, Renaissance England was still mourning the death of Elizabeth I; the succession of James VI as king, it can be argued, would have been at the forefront of Shakespeare’s mind, thus influencing the subject matter of Prospero’s usurpation (“The King of Naples, being an enemy …Should presently extirpate me and mine/Out of the dukedom and confer fair Milan/With all the honours on my brother…”). In addition, the often argued idea of Prospero being a fictional manifestation of Shakespeare himself lends further credence to the role of place as a microcosm: like the playwright, Prospero ultimately relinquishes his power to control the fate of others, leaving the island and breaking unity of place only after the play ends.
In setting the play within an uninhabited island Shakespeare creates a distance that opens up the collective audience’s realms of possibility and their imaginative involvement from the outset. This pastoral setting meant that the audience would expect action to be more symbolic than real. Therefore, Shakespeare’s choice in location opens up an abstract setting wherein a more philosophical message about forgiveness as opposed to vengeance is displayed. This idea is personified in the character of Miranda who, upon seeing the “strangers” on her heretofore deserted island exclaims, “O, brave new world!” At once naïve and joyful, Miranda’s words here reflect how place has been utilised by Shakespeare to show how, by our actions, humanity has the power to change the nature of a place. The entry of these new people to Miranda’s personal, pastoral reality may also symbolise the expansion of the world through exploration. In this way, regeneration is at the forefront of the playwright’s thoughts as he evokes a newfound sense of possibility in the magic of the island and the people within, as well as a fear of what the new might bring – a fear in line with the growing trend towards colonialism:
“O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such people in’t!”
The ambiguity of Miranda’s words here convey the duplicitous nature of island life now, as well as the world outside of the play: her words are tainted by a darkness caused by her ignorance of what these men really are and what some of them are capable of. Nonetheless, her youthful joy and new marriage to Ferdinand bring us back to the consideration that the island – their place of meeting – has regeneration at its heart.
Similarly, the pastoral setting of The Winter’s Tale is significant in its juxtaposition with the highly dramatic Sicilia, making place dramatically significant once again. Like Miranda, Perdita is ignorant of the past; however, Perdita’s past lies within the boundaries of the play itself and is remembered by the audience. Though there in less unity of time and place in this play, the thematic regeneration could be considered more potent than in its counterpart: the distance of time from the tragic goings-on of Sicilia allows the audience to invest more authentically in the idea of this renewal of life through the kings’ respective offspring:
“Thou dearest Perdita, With these forced thoughts, I prithee, darken not The mirth o’ the feast… Your guests are coming: Lift up your countenance, as it were the day Of celebration of that nuptial which We two have sworn shall come.”
This gap in time and place from sixteen years previous allow for a purer sense of regeneration and renewal than we ever feel in The Tempest: in this, Prospero’s regeneration ironically means death for him as he concedes to his daughter and Ferdinand’s youth, yet the older generation, flawed and wizened as they are, are buoyed up by the new life that the youngsters bring. It can be argued that time and place play a significant role in this: time’s passage (although atypical of Shakespeare’s canon and criticised in his day) make it easier to believe that true regeneration has taken place and that Leontes has repented and suffered waiting for this to come about.
Moreover, the direct contrast between time in The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale is significant in its effect. By creating a gap of sixteen years in the play, unlike the real time of the island setting, the playwright allows for a certain pathos to be felt for our fallen hero: his pain and regret are made real to us in their longevity, thereby making Shakespeare’s defiance of the unity of time, place and action (a Greek idea that all action of a play must span 24 hours) a worthwhile one in allowing for rights to be wronged organically, rather than through the magic of The Tempest.
Ironically, until the final scenes of reunion, any regeneration is muted as we realise that the sixteen years of lost time in which the young Perdita and Florizel were growing up in spring-time Bohemia has, in fact, been time that stood still in Sicilia:
“Whilst I remember Her and her virtues, I cannot forget My blemishes in them, and so still think of The wrong I did myself; which was so much, That heirless it hath made my kingdom and Destroy’d the sweet’st companion that e’er man Bred his hopes out of.”
Leontes, it seems, is living as though frozen in time – too guilty to move on from such heinous crimes. Prospero, too, is reluctant to move forward, not due to his own sins but those of others. Consequently, the titular winter always looms over Sicilia, giving this place a desolate and hopeless symbolism. Conversely, Bohemia with its youth and lust for life is depicted as pastoral and spring-like:
“Come, take your flowers: Methinks I play as I have seen them do In Whitsun pastorals: sure this robe of mine Does change my disposition.”
Perdita’s words here convey life as a celebration: the time of the year and the implied meadow where the aforementioned flowers are plucked are clearly significant in creating an overt juxtaposition between mourning Sicilia, steeped in winter and Bohemia, a place that “Does change [the] disposition”. This master stroke from Shakespeare strengthens the central concern of regeneration as, by the apposition of the two kingdoms of the play and the symbolic details therein, the far-reaching consequences of one man’s actions resonate in both place and time.
The use of place is also key in Prospero’s regeneration with the pastoral setting once again foreshadowing the hero’s renewal of spirit. If the island, with all its “Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not” is analogous with the biblical Garden of Eden, then Prospero is an Adam who has repented his wrongs, namely the temptations of magic, to be reborn in this paradisiac setting. Additionally, the parallel of the play with real time is integral in helping us to understand Prospero’s need for forgiveness: we are aware that he has been on the island for many years and that he has, as a result, grown old; so, by this logic, it can be argued that the approaching demise and death of the character has left him looking for a new life of the spirit before his body succumbs to the march of time:
“Now my charms are all o’erthrown, And what strength I have’s mine own, Which is most faint: now, ’tis true, I must be here confined by you, Or sent to Naples… And my ending is despair, Unless I be relieved by prayer… As you from crimes would pardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free.”
Here, the dramatic significance of time and place are both felt in Prospero’s plea: neither of these entities are on his side as he moves towards his final days. He no longer has power over time and place – he is, in fact, “most faint”. From this, we see that he must gain renewal from the audience and its forgiveness if he is to escape the island and the binds of time (“set me free”); this is an extension of the Eden analogy with the audience being cast in the role of God/Shakespeare/creator, a role once filled by Prospero himself. If he is not forgiven, he must remain “confined” on this island as penance for his sins, thus reminding us of the significance of place within the play as almost another character who swings the final sword of justice.
Place, as discussed, is also dramatically significant in The Winter’s Tale, acting as a paradise of regeneration in Bohemia and a sixteen-year purgatory in Sicilia. Time, however, is given the final word as Hermione, “dead” for sixteen years, transcends time’s boundaries to return to life at the end in an act of resurrection that results in new life both physically (or so it appears) and symbolically in the reunion of husband, wife and child. With the exception of the tragic Mamillius, time has played the role of the proverbial healer for the three remaining members of the royal family:
“’Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach; Strike all that look upon with marvel. Come, I’ll fill your grave up: stir, nay, come away, Bequeath to death your numbness, for from him Dear life redeems you.”
Herein lies the dramatic significance of time within the play: Paulina’s words – in her final duty to King and Queen – convey an unnatural reversal of time’s work as Hermione shakes off death’s grasp to bring about the ultimate reconciliation and exoneration of Leontes. The last sixteen years melt away (as if by the magic of Prospero) as Hermione is instructed to “Bequeath to death [her] numbness”; this command can be directed to both husband and wife here as Leontes has paralleled Hermione in a living death from which he has now been redeemed. Sicilia, in this last scene, retains its solemnity; however, the hushed atmosphere is now a mark of holy awe as opposed to the despair and grief of the past. Sicilia therefore retains its independence from pastoral Bohemia and remains dramatically significant until the very end.
Time and place are both integral to the late romances of Shakespeare. In the tragicomedies of The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, we are presented with two tales whereby the heroes go in search of reconciliation and regeneration. In The Tempest, we are privy to a story told using the classical unities of time and place; the action takes place in real time, as opposed to the atypical gap of sixteen years in The Winter’s Tale which provides the possibility for the “magic” of resurrection and reunion. Having one concentrated setting intensifies the action as Prospero – once a master of said time and place – moves ever closer to his ultimate goal and gives up his power to the will of the audience. Conversely, we have seen that, for Leontes, time has served as both a gaoler and a redeemer: the years of penance have brought him to true repentance and finally reunited him with those he failed so long ago. Finally, place is significant when considered through the juxtaposition of the two settings: Sicilia highlights sin and death, while Bohemia is unencumbered by such woes and, in counterpoint to the former, provides a sense of innocence and hope for renewal. This being said, it is clear that time and place, tools of great dramatic significance, are utilised by Shakespeare in a skilled and thoughtful manner to convey the inherent theme of regeneration in each play. After consideration of both tales, it cannot be denied that these elements are key to moving the journeys of both characters forward and, finally, leading them to redemption. It may not, then, be far from the mark to suggest that Prospero’s closing lines are not a plea to the audience, but are, indeed, a heartfelt request to Time and Place personified:
“As you from crimes would pardon’d be, Let your indulgence set me free.”
The Relationships Between Fathers and Daughters in ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘The Winter’s Tale’
Explore the relationship between fathers and sons, or fathers and daughters, in two of the plays we have studied. Freud hypothesized that, “The earliest affection of the girl-child is lavished on the father” Shakespeare seems to explore the father-daughter dynamic in intimate detail, perhaps as a way of emphasising the themes of gender and generation, and how these thing impact individuals within a family setting, particularly in the context of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. In both Titus Andronicus and The Winter’s Tale, we see the father-daughter dynamic exemplified and thrown into the spotlight. In Titus Andronicus, it is the titular character’s relationship with his only daughter Lavinia which allows the audience to empathise with both Lavinia and her distraught father, Titus. In The Winter’s Tale, we see a far more complex relationship between Perdita and her biological father, King Leontes, and in contrast a more nurturing relationship between Perdita and the shepherd who raised her.
The Winter’s Tale, first listed as a comedy by Shakespeare, is now considered to be in fact a Romantic play, as it portrays the key themes of love, separation and reunion, all of which can be seen in the relationship between Leontes and his daughter Perdita. The relationship between King Leontes and Perdita is perhaps one of the most complex father-daughter relationships in Shakespeare’s works. This is because Leontes refuses to accept the fact that Perdita is his daughter when she is first born, and instead chooses to believe that she is the product of his wife’s adultery with the King of Bohemia, Polixenes. His disgust towards his daughter is shown when he states, “This brat is none of mine” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 2.3.94), showing his utter contempt for his daughter, which therefore justifies his decision to have her banished from the kingdom. However, when Leontes is informed by the Oracle that his wife has been faithful, and the Oracle’s words are proven true by the deaths of his wife and son, Leontes immediately becomes remorseful and grief-stricken, “I have deserved all tongues to talk their bitt’rest.” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 3.2.213-214), mourning the loss of his son and wife, but also the abandonment of his last remaining heir, “is’t not the tenor of his oracle that King Leontes shall not have an heir till his lost child be found?” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 5.1.38-40). The idea that Shakespeare, “employed this one metaphor- the father-daughter relationship with all its variation – to interrogate gender, generational and familial issues” is further highlighted when Leontes is reunited with Perdita; he fails to realise that he is in the presence of his lost heir, stating to Florizel, “O, alas, I lost a couple that ‘twixt heaven and earth might have stood, begetting wonder, as you.” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 5.1.130-133), referencing his late son and lost daughter. He then continues to insult Perdita, claiming to Florizel, “your choice is not so rich in worth as in beauty, that you might well enjoy her” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 5.1.213-214), showing his complete naivety and inability to recognize Perdita as his own daughter, and adding a further level of complication to the already complex relationship between the two. However, we later hear that upon the news of his daughter returning, the “King being ready to leap out of himself for joy of his found daughter, as if that joy were now a loss cries, ‘O, thy mother, thy mother!’” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 5.2.49-52), showing not only the joy at his rekindled relationship with his daughter, but also his utter remorse and self-reproach for what he has done to Hermione. Lenker states that, “The father-daughter relationship…served as a vehicle for dramatizing inherently oppositional themes and ideas”4, and here we see the father-daughter dynamic portraying conflicting ideas or both joy and regret. Overall then, the relationship between Leontes and Perdita is shown by Shakespeare to be complicated and the cause of opposition within Leontes’ reaction to the reunion of himself and his daughter.
The other father-daughter relationship in The Winter’s Tale is that of Perdita and the Old Shepherd who raises her. As soon as the shepherd finds Perdita, he immediately accepts her and is willing to raise her as his own, with the help of his son, “They were warmer that got this than the poor thing is here. I’ll take it up for pity; yet I’ll tarry till my son come” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 3.3.73-75). This therefore shows the shepherds ability to look past biology and simply nurture the child and show it some pity, something that the King could not do. This is perhaps Shakespeare’s way of suggesting that the lower classes are kinder and more loving, while those in power are fueled by jealousy and bitterness and are unable to show compassion toward something as innocent as a baby. It would seem then, that Shakespeare uses the shepherd to embody a sense of the pastoral- the idea that life in the countryside is an ideal in comparison to the harder life of more urban settings, and a type of simplicity and emotion that the characters of Sicily seem to be lacking. It is portrayed that Perdita’s relationship with her non-biological father is extremely close, with him speaking very highly of her to Polixenes, “If young Doricles do light upon her she shall bring him that which he not dreams of” (Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, 4.4.179-181), which shows the shepherd’s own admiration for his adoptive daughter and his thoughts that she can make any man happier than they can dream of being. It is interesting that Perdita chooses to be with Florizel, especially when he is dressed as the countryman Doricles, because as stated by Boose, “the daughter’s association of father with husband is so strong that even when a woman… thinks about the man she will eventually marry, her thoughts immediately call to mind her father.”, and therefore Perdita’s choice to marry Doricles proves this theory correct as her supposed father is a man of the country, and it remains correct even as Doricles reveals himself as Prince Florizel, as Perdita’s biological father is in fact royalty. On the whole, Perdita’s relationship with her supposed father, the shepherd, is one of closeness, compassion and love. He selflessly takes Perdita under his wing as a child, perhaps suggesting the ability of the working class to put emotion and love before anger and bitterness as the higher classes do.
Another father-daughter relationship which seems to show themes of compassion and love, is that between Titus and Lavinia in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Lavinia is presented by Shakespeare as the ideal woman of his time, as she obeys her father, apart from when it comes to who she wishes to marry, she maintains her chastity and she is relatively powerless in her relationships with the male characters of the play. Lavinia’s relationship with her father could be a result of the fact that Lavinia’s mother is not around, “fathers and daughter and sons performing their familial roles are frequently represented throughout the canon. In contrast very few mothers appear in…the more major plays”. This therefore suggests that the lack of a mother is common practice in Shakespeare’s plays and could perhaps account for Lavinia’s close relationship with her father. The closeness of their relationship is portrayed by Shakespeare when Titus first sees Lavinia after her mutilation and states, “he that wounded her hath hurt me more than had he killed me dead”. (Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, 3.1.91-92). This therefore seems to suggest that Titus views Lavinia’s suffering as his own, and perhaps suggests that their feelings are so intertwined that Titus cannot seem to separate her emotions and pain from his own. Such a pained emotional response from Titus is rare and therefore allows the audience to empathise with him, and to see him on a more human level than we have perhaps seen him up to this point, whereby he has been murderous and unforgiving, showing the real importance of the father-daughter dynamic, and the difference this can make to a characters’ portrayal. Titus’ level of empathy for his daughter is further shown when he takes it upon himself to end her suffering by murdering her, “Die, die, Lavinia, and thy shame with thee, and with thy shame thy father’s sorrow die.” (Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, 5.3.45-46). The father-daughter relationship between Lavinia and Titus is one of mutual respect and a seemingly tight bond, shown particularly through Titus’ reaction to his daughters mutilation and perhaps brought on by Lavinia’s lack of female guidance through her life.
Overall, Shakespeare’s decision to focus particularly on the relationship between fathers and daughters in the context of the renaissance period, is interesting, as this rather uncommon dynamic allows for a different type of insight into the personalities of both the father and the daughter, and the affect they have on one another. Leontes’ immediate dismissal of Perdita shows the audience his overwhelming lack of compassion and sympathy, while his conflicting reaction at their reunion seems to suggest his guilt and remorse for his actions. Perdita’s relationship with her non-biological father the shepherd, portrays a level of humanity, kindness and tolerance from the shepherd as he takes pity on the infant and raises her as his own, something that Leontes could not do. Titus’ relationship with his daughter also shows a level of empathy and humanity as he reacts to her attack as if he himself has been attacked, and eventually sacrifices her to end her shame and suffering. These relationships all portray a different type of dynamic, but seem to all explore the key themes of gender, generation and family.
 Diane Elizabeth Draher, Domination and Defiance: Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare (Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2015), p. 1.  William Shakespeare, ‘Titus Andronicus’ in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 1998), pp. 127-152. Further references (to this work), are given after quotations in the text  William Shakespeare, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ in The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (New York: Oxford University Press Inc, 1998), pp. 1103-1130. Further references (to this work), are given after quotations in the text  Lagretta Tallent Lenker, Fathers and Daughters in Shakespeare and Shaw (Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001), p.2.  Lynda E. Boose, ‘The Father and Bride in Shakespeare’, PMLA, Vol. 97, No. 3, (1982), p. 327  Mary Beth Rose, ‘Where are the Mothers in Shakespeare? Options for Gender Representation in the English Renaissance.’, Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 3 (1991), p. 292.
Different Forms, Meanings, and Roles of ‘Faith’ in The Winter’s Tale
In The Winter’s Tale, by William Shakespeare, the concept of ‘faith’, both in a religious and social sense, plays a pivotal role in the interactions between major figures in the play, and which underpins and re-affirms the consistent theme of betrayal, and what constitutes either within the overarching framework of the narrative. Faith, as a communal and collaborative phenomenon, can encompass a belief in oneself, or in others, human or divine; or, faith can be interpreted to mean loyalty or trust. Specifically, concentrating one’s faith in a single object, whether it’s in divine providence or on an individual level, is portrayed in the story as a fruitless effort, leading to the pain, suffering, and misery of the faithful as a result. Consequently, the faithful are stuck between a rock and a hard place; either they heed the object of their faith and still wind up in a difficult position, or they deafen themselves to their words and find themselves worse off still. A larger question arises on whether faith, or the breaking thereof, is inherently good or bad; and to what extent does ‘just punishment’ for betrayal of one’s faith stray from being a corrective measure to a purely vengeful one? On account of all this, faith plays a very distinct part in weaving the drama of the plot together.
On the receiving end of having been lost faith in, there are far-reaching implications seen in the story that result in the character undergoing immense hardship and the inevitable quietus that follows soon after. An example of this is Hermione, whom is subjected to intense scrutiny and punitive measures by her own husband, Leontes’, and which consequently leads to her untimely death. After accusing her of infidelity and further equating it with treason, Leontes then succumbs to his paranoid delusions and perhaps in a rash decision, throws Hermione in a jail cell: “I have said she’s an adulteress, I have said with whom. More she’s a traitor, and Camillo is a federary with her…” (2.1.87-90) Here, Leontes essentially calls his wife a whore, and his trusted cupbearer, Camillo, an accomplice. Despite Hermione’s efforts in asserting that she did not have an extramarital affair, Leontes’ hardheadedness led him to stick to his fantasy up until his queen’s death from the shock of losing her son, the heir to the throne. He then comes to his senses, realizes everything he’s done was for naught, and falls to his knees in sorrow and regret for all he’s done, but his apology comes too little too late as the damage has been done. Here, Leontes’ false assumption in thinking that Hermione broke faith with him sets in motion a series of events that lead to the death of Hermione, and the heartbreaking grief of Leontes when he snaps out of his delusion. Having no cause to break faith with his wife, and because of this, he goes to the lengths that he does to corroborate his beliefs.
When Hermione asserts her innocence, she cites the gods as bearing witness to her faithfulness with the hope they might look on her with pity: “There’s some ill planet reigns. I must be patient till the heavens look with an aspect more favourable.” (2.1.105-106), Hermione’s under the assumption that all this is transpiring due to a misalignment of the planets, hinting at her belief in astrology, and in the influence of the gods within the mortal world. Leontes, in attempt to prove his fantasy, accepts the challenge and calls for the Oracle to be consulted on the matter. However, in an unexpected turn of events, the Oracle delivers an unusually simple statement vindicating all those who’ve been wronged in the story, yet Leontes calls ‘fake news’ on the matter and remains steadfast in his fantasy, up until news of his son’s death reaches his ears and Hermione dies from the shock of it: “(Leontes) There is no truth at all i’th’ oracle. The sessions shall proceed – this is mere falsehood… (Servant) O sir, I shall be hated to report it. The prince your son, with mere conceit and fear of the queen’s speed, is gone.” (3.2. 137-138, 140-142) Traditionally, the Oracle is seen as the interpretive mouthpiece of the gods, and so by completely disregarding her and her message from the divine, Leontes is seen as committing a heresy and breaks faith with the divine, which is but one in a chain of events that inevitably tear his household apart. All hope is lost for him to regain his sanity before things continue to spiral out of control, and so Leontes sees the error of his ways just when everything falls apart.
Meanwhile, there’s Camillo; nobleman and former servant to Leontes whom fled Sicilia after disobeying the king’s orders to poison his rival, Polixenes, and garnered safe passage with the latter back to Bohemia, far from the wrath of Leontes at such a betrayal: “(Camillo) I am appointed him to murder… (Polixenes) Come, Camillo, I will respect thee as a father if thou bear’st my life off. Hence! Let us avoid.” (1.2.406, 456-468) Camillo makes the difficult decision to break faith with Leontes, understanding that doing so would mean he could never return home without facing up to his treason. But he does so with the knowledge that saving Polixenes from a terrible fate is the morally right thing to do, and that committing murder on behalf of the king, without so much as a shred of evidence that any wrongdoing took place, is not something he’s willing to participate in no matter who makes the request. Succinctly, Camillo breaks faith with Leontes out of a sense of moral duty, with murder a cardinal sin and all. But also, it could’ve been politically-motivated; Camillo is very much aware that Leontes is delusional and that poisoning the king of another land could lead to war between the two states of Sicilia and Bohemia. Arguably, Camillo did the right thing in not carrying out the murder and preventing a potential conflict with mass casualties on both sides. However, he is forced to flee from his home in disgrace, unable to return for what seems like ages to come.
He later faithfully serves Leontes, up until he reaches a crossroads and has to choose between his continued exile in Bohemia, far from his family and friends, but in the good graces of Polixenes; and returning home to Sicilia, against the wishes of Polixenes: “(Polixenes) As thou lov’st me, Camillo, wipe not out the rest of thy services by leaving me now. The need I have of thee thine own goodness hath made.” (4.2.10-12) Polixenes begs Camillo to stay on as his attendant, as he needs him now more than ever, but Camillo’s heart lies with his country and family, and so he must weigh the cons of each hard choice. So, to avoid the awkward confrontation of bidding farewell after a long time served, Camillo puts an escape plan into place. He convinces Florizel and Perdita, son of Polixenes and daughter of Leontes respectively, to make haste to Sicilia so while Leontes would be preoccupied with that, Camillo would no longer be under Polixenes’ watchful eye and could make his own run for it. Once more does Camillo break faith, but instead of doing so because of some sort of moral imperative, this time it’s more out of his own self-interest and his prerogative of returning to his homeland. Throughout the narrative as Camillo becomes the go-to-guy for both Leontes and Polixenes, and ultimately breaking faith with both in the process, he becomes more selfish and less eager to please both kings as he’s been desperate to do at every chance he gets. Every time around, he also resorts to betraying the trust and confidence of Leontes and Polixenes in order to break away from their impossible choices and decides what course of action will maximize his own happiness, not that of the others.
Thus, the larger question on whether or not faith, or the breaking of it, are two options that are inherently good or bad. Breaking faith with the wrong person or an object of one’s worship could lead to disastrous results, as was the case with Leontes when he pursued his dangerous delusion of his wife’s infidelity and which had cost him his son, wife, and nearly his sanity. However, should Camillo breaking faith with those that have little regard for his life and treat him as if you were a pawn to be toyed with and tossed around deserve punishment? Does he owe either Leontes or Polixenes an apology or restitution for simply looking out for himself after having been put in difficult positions by both parties? Faith becomes somewhat complicated as having a strong trust in somebody or something might lead to the same disillusionment Hermione experienced when she suffered and died at the fault of her husband, or Camillo’s mistreatment during his servitude. Faith alone might seem to be motivational and/or inspirational concept, but when applied in the context of faith in others or in oneself, then it becomes much more centered on the dichotomy of loyalty and betrayal, which down the road can only lead to tragedy.
Irrefutably, the concept of faith and its absence have proven integral to the story and the interactions between major figures in the story. Faith is shown in the narrative as a force to be reckoned with, either raising up those who need it the most, or wreaking havoc on the lives of those that lose it. Hermione and Camillo, the faithful and faithless, both have different points-of-view on what faith means to them, how they managed to get on with or without it, and how it had changed their lives for better or worse.
Exit, Pursued by Bear: The Implications of an Infamous Stage Direction
In 1611, William Shakespeare, tired of convention and determined to write a play that was both new and bold, wrote A Winter’s Tale. Today the show is most famous not for its dialogue or story, but for a single stage direction in Act III Scene iii that has baffled critics and scholars for centuries: “Exit, pursued by a bear” (III.iii.64). This stage direction is not only strange, and like most of Shakespeare’s writing, it’s subject to a great deal of scrutiny and debate. Scholars wonder if Shakespeare used a real bear, critics have widely differing opinions on how the bear should be treated, and audiences can’t figure out why a man in a bear costume just killed Antigonus. The only matter that everyone can agree upon is that the line is, in many ways, atypical – and they’re right. What happens on stage during in Act III Scene iii is not normal. It is extraordinary. Act III Scene iii not only marks a tonal shift from tragedy to comedy rarely seen in 17th century play writing, but also does away with the categories of tragedy and comedy altogether and breaks with convention in a way that is truly revolutionary.
The scene opens tragically, as the Delphic oracle has just revealed that Hermione is chaste, but Antigonus has no way of knowing this information and is about to kill Perdita. The tragic scene is set by the Mariner, who describes their surroundings and says to Antigonus, “Ay, my lord, and fear / We have landed in ill time. The skies look grimly / And threaten present blusters. In my conscience, / The heavens with that we have in hand are angry / And frown upon ’s” (III.iii.3-7). This series of lines serves a couple purposes. It chiefly sets up the physical surroundings of the characters on stage as Shakespeare’s plays often could not have actual sets. More importantly however, the lines convey a general air of negativity that is emblematic of the entire first three acts. The skies are gray, the heavens are angry, and life frowns upon them on the island as much as it does back at the castle with the false accusations of infidelity against Hermione. The entire show up to this point is relentlessly depressing, and the audience now has to prepare to watch a baby be murdered. The traditional tone one would expect to see in a tragedy is firmly established by Act III Scene iii, but Shakespeare works even harder to convey a sense of tragedy through the rest of the first half of the scene. As Act III Scene iii continues, Antigonus recounts a dream he had which seems to be prophetic and certainly spells bad news. He begins the retelling of his dream by describing his encounter with Hermione: “To me comes a creature, / Sometimes her head on one side, some another. / I never saw a vessel of like sorrow” (23-25). Through these lines, Hermione is described as being absolutely miserable, and understandably so. What’s noteworthy is that the audience is already very aware of how sad Hermione is. There really isn’t a need for Shakespeare to recount her sadness, and as a masterful playwright, he would know this.
That being the case, it seems as if the description of Hermione is inserted into Antigonus’ dream specifically to push the level of tragedy over the edge, or to be melodramatic. Melodrama is evident later on as well as Antigonus talks about the part of the vision that pertains to him: “‘There weep, and leave it crying. And, for the babe / Is counted lost forever, Perdita / I prithee call ’t. For this ungentle business / Put on thee by my lord, thou ne’er shalt see / Thy wife Paulina more’” (III.iii.36-40). As if it wasn’t already bad enough that Perdita is supposedly about to die and Hermione is in prison because of false accusations of infidelity, the dream says that the person tasked with abandoning the child will never see his wife again. This is again an unnecessary amount of tragedy for one play, and seems to indicate that Shakespeare was being purposefully melodramatic. However, the melodrama in Act III Scene iii makes sense because it allows Shakespeare to make the shift from tragedy to comedy seem much more significant. By playing up the tragic events of the first three acts, the shift to comedy that follows becomes more sudden, more powerful, and more true to life. After Antigonus’ abrupt and admittedly humorous demise, the tone of the scene, and the play itself, shifts to comedy. A Shepherd and his son (a clown) enter the scene, and the clown sees a ship on the horizon and makes a comment to the effect that it isn’t faring well.
Before Antigonus’ death, the state of the ship would have probably been dwelled upon and bemoaned, but instead the Shepherd comments, “Heavy matters, heavy matters. But look / thee here, boy. Now bless thyself. Thou met’st with / things dying, I with things newborn” (III.iii.118-120). Through these lines, the Shepherd not only brushes off what his son said about the boat, trivializing it as “heavy matters” but he also takes the focus off of the dead and onto the newborn. The change in the Shepherd’s focus is symbolic of the change in tone occurring within the play, and the fact that the tragedy on the horizon is going largely ignored serves to show the tragedy is no longer the focal point of the show as well. The focal point shifts further away from tragedy as the two talk about where to bury Antigonus’ body. Instead of dwelling on the body, or weeping over the man’s death, the Clown simply says “Marry, will I, and you shall help to / put him i’ th’ ground” (III.iii.142-143), and happily goes about his business of burying a body. The scene could easily be played as tragedy, but it is instead used to evoke laughter from the audience. The scene concludes with the shepherd telling his son “’Tis a lucky day, boy, and we’ll do good / deeds on ’t” (III.iii.144-145), which is a refreshing spot of optimism in a play that has been otherwise dour, signifying that not only will the Shepherd’s fortunes improve, but the tone of the play will become more positive as well. The stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” marks a shift in tone so great it is still talked about to this day. To many, the transition is odd, as typically in plays the audience doesn’t suffer whiplash from the abrupt transition from tragedy to comedy; but though the transition may seem odd from a theatrical convention point of view, it is in fact more realistic than people give it credit for, because life works exactly the same way.
Historians and critics may argue over the interpretation of the stage direction, but the tonal shift is about so much more than the stage direction itself. The bear is random and scary just as life can be random and scary. One moment all seems stable, but in the very next moment it may seem like everything has been turned upside down. It’s silly to even begin to categorize events into tragedy and comedy as they blend together so often. It’s difficult for the bereaved not to laugh in a funeral home when recalling a fond memory with a loved one, and it can be difficult not to weep at a joke that rings particularly true. In life, there is horror, there is laughter, and there is sorrow, but they seldom travel alone. They come together as a package deal in nearly every situation, and it is up to the individual to devote time and energy to the emotion of their choosing. There is no event or emotion that can be put into a box unless the label on the box simply reads “life.”
Paulina’s Feministic Role in in The Winter’s Tale
Paulina’s participation in The Winter’s Tale offers a strong sense of feminism to the play, as her outstanding character stands out to men with high power like Leontes and she is the only character in the play that is not afraid to stand up for Hermione for the way he treats her. Not only she stands up for Hermione, she also claims the role of a guardian angel towards Hermione, Mamillius and little Perdita. It is well known that Shakespeare has strong and independent female characters in if not all, most of his plays. Cordelia in King Lear, Viola in Twelfth Night; One could easily see the correlation between Paulina and these outstanding characters from the other Shakespearean plays. Just like them, Paulina is an authoritative liberated woman who stands up for other women and generally for what is morally correct.
Even though Leontes is the king of Sicilia, Paulina seems superior towards him due to her strong character and the constant provoking and stripping of his masculinity. In Act 2, when Paulina confronts Leontes for claiming that Perdita is not his daughter, it is obvious that Leontes feels emasculated by Paulina and seeks to take it out to Antigonus to prove his power by making him heinous, as he is unable to make Paulina obey him. “Thou traitor, hast set on thy wife to this. My child? Away with’t!” This being a shocking line for an Elizabethan audience, this is an instant recognition of his madness and Paulina provoking him just adds to the awful image of a mad ruler that the audience forms for Leontes. Paulina’s presence in the play could also be characterised as an attack to the patriarchy that exists within the play dominated by Leontes and his control over his wife, children and his kingdom. Paulina is the only one actually standing up to this atrocity, Leontes locking up Hermione and demanding his own daughter being thrown out of the kingdom. One could assume that a liberated woman from the 21st century would admire and even relate to Paulina and her authoritative power she maintains over Leontes.
Throughout the play, Paulina is constantly in defence for her queen and beloved friend, even if that means standing up and confronting the king. Her respect and affection for Hermione is most visible when after her supposed death she confronts him and ridicules him for what he has done to her, hyperbolically stating that “(a) thousand knees, ten thousand years together, naked, fasting, upon a barren mountain and still winter in storm perpetual, could not move the gods to look that way thou wert”. She transits into a full on vindictive deux ex machina and provokes Leontes expressing her anger towards him, utterly careless of the consequences of addressing threateningly a king. Having attention seeking clues in her character, hence the hyperbolic statements, the paganist connotations she uses in her speech would draw further attention as the play is set in the paganist perspective, purposely to make Leontes realise the damage he has caused to his whole kingdom and most importantly his wife and his own children. Frustrated with Leontes’ attitude, she bombards Leontes with a listing of his actions having the urgency to make him realise that he is a madman and how awful the consequences of his actions. “O thou tyrant”. The use of the informal ‘thou’ strips Leontes of authority and honour. She reappears as deux ex machina towards the end of the play where she is about to reveal Hermione’s statue, “for the stone is mine”, as if claiming ownership of Hermione. The constant urgency of her ownership Hermione is another attack towards Leontes as she seems to have more power over him than he has over her emotionally and she is able to defend her and stand up for her whenever she feels like she has to. She confirms her authority once again towards the end where she is about to reveal Hermione’s statue, “’Tis time: descend;”. This allows this commanding tone to rise, sounding like casting a spell. It appears as she always has this urgency to show who is ‘the boss’ and even acts as if she is the one who resurrected Hermione.
Paulina both defends Hermione and stands up for little Perdita and Mamillius, confronting him by listing what he has done to them and to make him realise how much of a horrible individual he is. “The casting fort to crows thy baby daughter to be or none or little” and referring to “the death to the young prince”. It seems as if she is putting him to trial and makes him confess his sins by listing them one by one. One could say that this is the peak of her recklessness as she is not by any means afraid to make him feel guilty and regret the moment he started acting on his madness. Unlike Antigonus who agrees to abandon a little young girl in the woods instead of standing up for little Perdita he seems like a cowardly sheep compared to Paulina. Paulina in a sense stresses how Leontes affects the microcosm and the macrocosm of Sicilia. She is the only character in the play that dares to address him as a “tyrant”; “Thy tyranny”, “Thou tyrant”, as if poking him provocatively and aiming where it hurts the most, attacking his egoism and judging how he rules his kingdom.
During the reign of James I, he re-wrote the bible and banished the word “tyrant” from it, being more offensive both for Leontes as well as for a Jacobean audience, giving emphasis to how tyrannical Leontes’ actions are. Paulina’s confronting Leontes imposes the damage he has done to Hermione by supposedly killing her, actually killing Mamillius and throwing away his daughter. This microcosmic sense of illness spread to his wife and children and later to the rest of Sicilia, causing the kingdom and the macrocosm to fall apart. “The love I bore your queen—lo, fool again!”. Paulina constantly and deliberately reminding Leontes of his mistakes and most significantly standing up for his victims, innocent Hermione, Mamillius and Perdita when no one else does makes one realise how important a role like hers is in a play full of corruption and madness as she seems to be the sanest and down to earth person that honours and respects the people who deserve it.
Mythology In Shakespeare
Many of Shakespeare’s plays contain the structural and symbolic elements of mythology. The inheritance of mythological conventions, which shall be explored in this essay, create an effect that is ritualistic and leads to Nietzsche’s observation of ‘an overpowering feeling of unity which leads back to the heart of nature’. This essay is not claiming that Shakespeare applied mythic elements to his plays consciously but that Shakespeare’s plays demonstrate a strong level of acquaintance with ancient myths and folklore. This level of acquaintance is perhaps so deeply imbedded as part of the universal imagination that arguing whether or not the plays’ mythic elements were consciously applied is unnecessary. The aim here is to identify strong mythological strains in order to place Shakespeare in a wider historical and human context, and speculate as to the effects achieved by inclusion of these elements. Through a consideration of Frazer’s canonical anthropological text, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion (1890), primarily, this essay will assert that the effect of Shakespeare’s mythological aspects is one that communicates in a symbolic language that is universal.
Although Michael Levenson claimed that ‘Vague terms still signify’, it is best for the purposes here to elucidate what is meant by the term ‘myth’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘myth’ as ‘A traditional story, typically involving supernatural beings or forces, which embodies and provides an explanation, aetiology, or justification for something such as the early history of a society, a religious belief or ritual, or a natural phenomenon’. This is an apt definition for the elements in Shakespeare that can be termed ‘mythological’ as parallels can be observed between them and those that occur in societies in history and the ritualistic practices of those societies.
Sir James Frazer, in The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, writes that ‘even the savage cannot fail to perceive how intimately his own life is bound up with the life of nature, and how the same processes which freeze the stream and strip the earth of vegetation menace him with extinction. At a certain stage of development men seem to have imagined that the means of averting the threatened calamity were in their own hands, and that they could hasten or retard the flight of the seasons by magic art’. In The Tempest, Prospero is the archetypal sorcerer; a figure that is evocative of the shamans of ancient cultures. He talks of his ability in magic as ‘mine art’ (I. ii. 291) and controls spirits, such as Ariel, to govern natural ‘calamity’ by invoking the gods: ‘Jove’s lightning’ (I. ii. 201) and the ‘dread trident’ of ‘the most mighty Neptune’ are both summoned. In creating Prospero as a sorcerer, controlling nature, Shakespeare is alluding to the idea of the playwright as sorcerer. As well as the several instances where Propsero refers to his ‘so potent art’ (V. i. 50), there are other indications that the audience is supposed to infer a similarity between Prospero and playwright, playwright and shaman. Prospero states that the other protagonists ‘now are in my power’ (III. iii. 90) and sees this as a demonstration that his ‘high charms work’ (88). Later in the play, as if speaking the words of the playwright anticipating the fiction’s narrative arc and resolution, Prospero informs Ariel that ‘Shortly shall all my labours end’ (IV. i. 264). In drawing parallels between the sorcerer figure and the playwright, Shakespeare shows that, in the same way that the ancient priest exerted control over his environment through magic, the playwright exerts control over his audience through the magic and illusion of the stage.
The magic and illusion of the stage can be seen metaphorically, in The Tempest, through the recurring motif of sleeping and dreaming, whilst Shakespeare points to the artifice that creates the illusion of the stage through placing a play-within-a-play in works such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is significant, in The Tempest, that Ariel’s first appearance comes directly after Prospero has induced sleep in his daughter, Miranda. He tells her that ‘Thou art inclined to sleep; ‘tis a good dullness, | And give it way. I know thou canst not choose’ (I. ii. 185-6). Prospero’s power to induce sleep contains the playwright’s self-conscious aim to, in the words of Coleridge, solicit the audience it ‘yield’ itself ‘to a dream’. This is reinforced by Artaud’s assertion that the ‘audience will believe in the illusion of theatre on condition they really take it for a dream, not for a servile imitation of reality’. Once Miranda is asleep, Prospero can call his spirit to ‘Approach’ (188), in the same way that Shakespeare can construct the siege at Harfleur, in Henry V, once the Chorus has instructed the audience to ‘work your thoughts, and therein see a siege’ (III. 25). These are self-conscious elements, like the recitation of charms, that preceed, and then induce, the dream-like state.
The connection between dreams and myth is one that simultaneously shows both to evoke a symbolic language and infer a primitive past, which used ritual to celebrate the death and rebirth of a god. Northrop Frye sees a connection between the two, in his Anatomy of Criticism (1957), and talks about ‘a rhythmic movement from normal world to green world and back again […] The green world has analogies, not only to the fertile world of ritual, but to the dream world that we create out of our own desires’. The idea of descending into a dream state, like one does in the theatre, or like the protagonists of The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream do, recalls the death of an ancient god because the descension into a dream is similar to the god’s descension into death. The god’s death is dreamlike due to the fact that he has the ability to rise again, or ‘Awake’ (306), to use Prospero’s instruction to Miranda. The god awakes because of a ritual controlled by a priest, who needs the god’s rebirth in order for the environment to be fertilised. Frazer recalls that ‘every year Tammuz was believed to die, passing away from the cheerful earth to the gloomy subterranean world’ (326). In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the protagonists also pass into a ‘subterranean world’. To call Shakespeare’s other-world ‘gloomy’, however, would be incorrect. Instead, Shakespeare constructs a world that is vibrant and colourful in order to make the idea of his play’s function as ritual for fertility more overt. The aim of descension in order to return revitalised is implicit in Demetrius’ comment to Helena, that he is ‘wode within this wood’ (II. i. 192). In the word ‘wood’ the idea of fertility is conjured, whilst ‘wode’ is a play on words suggesting both ‘wooed’, further suggesting the attempt to attain fertility, and the idea of ‘frenzy’, as the word derives from the Old English ‘wÓd’. The ‘subterranean world’ of A Midsummer Night’s Dream may not be ‘gloomy’ but there is a sense of frenzy as the protagonists attempt to fulfill their sexual desires.
The idea of descension into another world as reminiscent of the rivival rituals of primitive societies is one that manifests itself not only in Shakespeare’s plays. Literature has used the convention of dreaming as a means for its protagonists to learn and change as early as the Breton Lays and romantic poetry of the Medieval era in British history. This can be seen in the dreaming that preceeds the hero’s adventure in Sir Orfeo and the change of the dreamer’s perspective in Pearl, to name just two. The link between sleep and death is also one that has been well established by Shakespeare’s time of writing; a level of knowledge about the synonymous nature of sleep with death can be inferred in The Tempest in one of Ariel’s songs. The spirit sings, ‘Full fathom five thy father lies, | Of his bones are coral made; | Those are pearls that were his eyes, | Nothing of him that doth fade | But doth suffer a sea-change | Into something rich and strange’ (I. ii. 397-402). Implicit in this song is the idea that death, like sleep, is not a finite point. It is a point for ‘change’. The influence of mythology on Shakespeare’s writing is apparent here not only in the philosophy that is evoked but in the application of water imagery; death is not just a change, but a ‘sea-change’. Shakespeare uses imagery of water that abounds in Frazer’s depiction of rituals celebrating Adonis and Osiris, among others, which then became common currency in the mythological stories of Christianity; the stories of water into wine and the ritual of water used in baptism are just two that show the symbol to be used to convey the idea of transmutation. The philosophy that is implicit in Ariel’s song, of one’s ‘bones’ becoming ‘coral’ and one’s ‘eyes’ becoming ‘pearls’ after death, is one that extends across historical cultures as vast as Egyptian to Roman to Oriental. The mythology of ancient Oriental cultures, in particular, would have been difficult for Shakespeare to have had access to. He would have known something of the Roman belief system from reading Plutarch’s Lives, but the philosophy of the Buddha would, most likely, have been inaccessible. Yet the Buddha’s idea of the one containing the many, and the many containing the one, is alluded to strongly in Ariel’s song. The symbolic mutability of death and sleep is further conveyed in Hamlet. Contemplating suicide, Hamlet repeats the phrase ‘To die, to sleep’ (III. i. 59) and wonders ‘what dreams may come’ ‘in that sleep of death’ (65). In focusing on two, of many possible, examples, it can be ascertained that Shakespeare’s mythology was one drawn from a universal pool, whether he knew it or not.
Whilst the act of descending into a ‘subterranean world’, along with lexical and symbolic comparisons of sleep and death, aid the inferrence of a debt to the ancient mythologies of the dying god, it is in The Winter’s Tale that this idea is even more implicit. Hermione’s death and rebirth is both literal and symbolic. Literal in the sense, like in the myth of Adonis or the myth of Jesus, she really does die and she really does come to life again. Symbolic in the sense that this idea is portrayed in her body’s transmutation into a statue. This symbol recalls, and reinforces, the idea of the death of the father, in The Tempest, as a ‘sea-change’; like the ‘bones’ which have become ‘coral’, Hermione’s body has become marble. The expectation of Hermione’s revival is created in Paulina’s words: ‘I say she’s dead […] If you can bring | Tincture or lustre in her lip, her eye, | Heat outwardly or breath within, I’ll serve you | As I would do the gods’ (III. ii. 203-7). In The Winter’s Tale, like in the myth of Adonis, anticipation of Hermione’s revival is inherent in her death. In Paulina’s words, Shakespeare alludes to the idea that this death and rebirth are entwined with the act of ritual and prayer; Paulina will serve the person who revives Hermione in the same way that she would serve the gods. The statue of Hermione is a means of symbolically encapsulating the idea of transformation; death and rebirth conglomerating together in one visually representative fixture. The statue is reminiscent of the effigies of gods that would be burnt or thrown out to sea as part of the fertility ritual.
The idea for the effect of Shakespeare’s mythology as being one that communicates in a universal language arose from a reading of Lévi-Strauss’ essay, ‘The Structural Study of Myth’. In seeing the contradictory nature of mythology, and therefore suggesting its difficulty to define, Lévi-Strauss asked, ‘If the content of a myth is contingent, how are we going to explain the fact that myths throughout the world are so similar?’ He proceeds, in his essay, to analyze the semiotics of mythology on a linguistic level (‘sounds’ and ‘meaning’) in order to answer his own question: ‘Myth is language – to be known, myth has to be told; it is a part of human speech’. The Tempest, in demonstrating its visually and philosophically mythological elements, also shows, within its narrative, the idea that myth itself is language. The mythological elements of sleep and magic are juxtaposed with the recurring theme of language. Prospero instructs his earth spirit, Caliban, ‘Thou earth, thou: speak!’ (I. ii. 314), in a way that is reminiscent of the primitive priest invoking his environment to communicate with him. Interaction can be seen, among the protagonists who are not equipped with magic, to take place within the mythic framework. Ferdinand, in speaking with Miranda, exclaims, ‘My language? Heavens! | I am the best of them that speak this speech, | Were I but where ‘tis spoken’ (I. ii. 429-431); speech, here, is seen as a valuable tool in which to communicate with one’s environment. Removed from the environment in which his language is understood, Ferdinand is powerless. Further on in the play, once more time has been spent on the island and in Miranda’s company, Ferdinand learns to speak the language of mythology; he speaks from his ‘soul’ (III. i. 63) and implores ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ to ‘bear witness to this sound’ (68). In the microcosm of the island, speech is intricately bound with mythology; Sebastian observes, for example, that Antonio speaks a ‘sleepy language’ (II. i. 211). On a metatheatrical level, words are used by both playwright and sorcerer. Words are used to induce stage illusion and to construct myth. They are used to invoke spirits and gods. Caliban suggests all of this when he informs Stephano that ‘voices, | That if I then had waked after long sleep, | Will make me sleep again’ (III. ii. 138-40). Prospero, too, makes an inference between the illusion of mythology and the illusion of the stage as created by words: ‘These our actors, | As I foretold you, were all spirits and | Are melted into air, into thin air […] We are such stuff | As dreams are made on, and our little life | Is rounded with a sleep’ (IV. i. 148-158).
Freud saw dreams as arising from a need to sublimate desires. Dreams and myth coexist closely in Shakespeare’s plays and the idea of desire is added to this existence in statements such as Northrop Frye’s, in which the ‘dream world’ is created out of ‘our own desires’. Freud’s studies, particularly in The Interpretation of Dreams (1890), suggest that there are common desires in everyone and sees them manifested in dreams, mythological stories, and Shakespeare’s plays. A famous example is that of the ‘Oedipus Complex’. The complex takes its name, and what it designates, from Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex, which itself is influenced by a mythological background. Freud defines it , in ‘Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego’, as a ‘straightforward sexual object-cathexis towards his mother and an identification with his father which takes him as the model’. Freud saw this particular desire as sublimated in dreams, mythology, and plays such as Hamlet. What mythology does, in a psychoanalytical sense, is give a language to universal desires. Lacan’s definition of a language, in ‘The Symbolic Order’ (The Function and Field of Speech and Language in Psychoanalysis), compounds the idea that mythology itself is a language: ‘What defines any element of a language as belonging to language, is that, for all the users of this language, this element is distinguished as such in the ensemble supposedly constituted of homologous elements’. The language of mythology in Shakespeare’s plays, that of dying and rebirth, speaks to the common desire of man to progress and for the seasons to continue their cycle. Jung, in the written format of his lecture ‘The Psychology of Rebirth’, confirms this: ‘The mere fact that people talk about rebirth, and that there is such a concept at all, means that a store of psychic experiences designated by that term must actually exist’.
Shakespeare’s plays are at once indebted to the ritualistic practices of primitive times and at the same time use them as a means of communication. Shakespeare, like mythology, speaks in a language that is common to all of us.
Artaud, Antonin, The Theatre and its Double, Calder (2005)
Frazer, Sir James George, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Wordsworth (1993)
Frye, Northrop, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Princeton (2000)
Heller, Janet Ruth, Coleridge, Lamb, Hazlitt, and the Reader of Drama (1984)
Jung, Carl, Four Archetypes, Routledge (2007)
Rivkin, Julie, & Michael Ryan, Literary Theory: An Anthology, Blackwell (1998)
Shakespeare, William, The Riverside Shakespeare: Second Edition, 1997
Florizel and Perdita’s Relationship: Analyzing Act IV, Scene IV
Florizel and Perdita are depicted in The Winter’s Tale as the epitome of young love. Whilst the majority of the play is surrounded by heartache, pessimism and paranoia, Florizel and Perdita’s relationship serves as a reminder of hope and happiness as they are seen as a breath of fresh air against a backdrop of hate and jealousy. Within Shakespeare’s play, it is clear to see that both characters deeply love each other as they openly talk about it together and the audience get to see how Florizel views Perdita through his endless and poetic compliments.
Whilst Perdita is dressed in ‘unusual weeds’, adorned with flowers and dressed as Queen of the Feast, Florizel, who is dressed as a young shepherd named Doricles, remarks that she looks like ‘no shepherdess, but Flora’. So although both of them are fully aware of the class difference and the implications a love like theirs could bring, Florizel tells her that she no longer looks like a shepherdess of a lower class but instead looks like a goddess. Interestingly, the goddess Flora, whom he refers to, in Roman mythology is the deity of flowers and the season of spring so not only is Shakespeare showing that in Florizel’s eyes Perdita is a goddess but he is also emphasising their youth through the connotation of spring. We get the sense that the pair are truly a breath of fresh air as their innocent, youthful love is most likely rather endearing to the audience. Furthermore Florizel continues his compliments associated with divinities as he says ‘this your sheep-shearing is as a meeting of the petty gods’, so he is effectively saying that she is so beautiful that even the gods are below her and are ‘petty’ in comparison. Whilst some may argue that the complements are over-the-top and exaggerated this shows an aspect of love that relates to perception. The audience clearly see from the start that Perdita is the light of his life and he views her as so beautiful that even divine beings cannot compete with her. Their youth and young love could be seen as rather charming.
Shakespeare continues to emphasise the charming and likeable nature through Perdita’s responses as she has such an appealing quality of humility that the audience begins to see why Florizel fell in love with her in the first place. After Florizel’s poetic lines Perdita responds by saying ‘to chide at your extremes it not becomes me: O, pardon, that I name them’ so she isn’t going to argue but does tell him that she is far less than the complements gives her, she even goes as far as to call them ‘extremes’ showing how modest she is. Her modesty is further emphasised by the way she refers to him as ‘my gracious lord’, ‘your high self’, and ‘the gracious mark on the land’ and through doing so she shows that she is conscious of the fact that he is of a higher social class than she is, and of course there is dramatic irony because the audience knows that there would be no need for her to give him these titles if she only knew her background. In fact, Perdita refuses to accept the high praise given to her, and even makes a joke about how Florizel is dressed with ‘a swain’s wearing’ and she ‘most goddess-like pranked up’ so it’s as if they have swapped position. Therefore although she obviously is very aware of the circumstance, she feels no trepidation towards making light of it and further shows how comfortable she is around Florizel. However all her self-deprecating comments make it clear to see how her perception of herself as a ‘poor lowly maid’ is juxtaposed with Florizel’s view of her being better than goddesses, especially as she becomes embarrassed at the constant praise from someone who she thinks is above giving such lovely compliments as says ‘I should blush to see you so attired’.
Despite their sweet exchange of compliments they also show the side of love that involves fear because Perdita is petrified of what Polixenes will think if he caught his ‘noble’ son ‘vilely bound up’ to someone as lowly as she is, in fact she even says ‘I tremble’ showing the extent of her fear. This fear was not at all unfounded because in Shakespearean times someone of nobility marrying a commoner for love was completely unheard of. The majority of royal marriages were arranged and it was not uncommon for those of noble rank to be betrothed very early on in their childhood due to the fact that royal marriages were not about love but instead had economic, social and political reasons as its motive. Hence why someone like Perdita who is completely unaware of her nobility, is very apprehensive about them being together because she feels as though she does not fit the part of a princess, rather she refers to her clothes as ‘borrowed flaunts’ as if they are a façade to cover over her reality of not being someone of nobility and that although she looks beautiful in them they don’t change the fact that others will not view her as good enough to marry the prince. Later on she shows how scared she is of the consequences of the relationship when she considers the sacrifices they may have to make, Florizel ‘must change this position’ and possibly abdicate as heir to the throne, or as she say, she would have to pay with ‘my life’. So her conclusions of abdication or even death are a strong example of the complexity and uncertainty that comes from love.
But Florizel also demonstrates the romanticism that comes from love as he takes Perdita’s cynical outlook and uses it to reassure her by taking the roman gods as an example. He says that ‘the gods themselves, humbling their deities to love, have taken the shapes of beasts upon them’ so if Jupiter, Neptune and Apollo (all who were very prominent and powerful gods in mythology) could change their form and adapt themselves for the sake of love, then why can’t he do the same, especially considering that he is far more lowly that the deities. In fact Florizel views these transformations as a ‘piece of beauty’ because of the motivations behind it. He continues to try to instil confidence in Perdita by saying that they are better than those gods because he has better virtues, and is ‘so chaste’ that he doesn’t want to just sleep with her, on the contrary he says ‘my desires run not before mine honour, nor my lusts burn hotter than my faith.’ What really shows the romanticism of the couple is the fact that he as a prince could have any woman he wanted without marrying her because he is in the position of authority to do so, but in stark contrast he shows that he is devoted to their relationship and wants to marry her first even if it means making sacrifices. When the context is considered, we can see that Florizel views her somewhat as his equal and treats her with respect which could be seen as a foil for Leontes as he did not give Hermione the respect and dignity she deserved and also he previously made a disparaging comment about being a ‘flax-wench’ inferring that all country women had loose morals. However, from Florizel’s words we see that he is looking past the class difference, treats the woman he loves well as he promises to be ‘most constant’ and faithful to her and as a couple they are proving Leontes’ stereotype wrong.
Towards the end of the passage Florizel’s hopefulness and resolve is seen further. After Perdita has aired her concerns and pessimistic conclusions, he says not to think these ‘forced thoughts’ that to him feel unnatural, so as not to ruin the happy occasion. He also states ‘I cannot be mine own nor anything to any if I be not thine’ making it very clear to Perdita that she is the only one for him and that he is useless without her, which shows how humble he is (just like Perdita). He then leaves the conversation on an optimistic note when he tells Perdita to ‘lift up your countenance as it were the day of celebration of that nuptial which we too have sworn to come’, in effect saying that she should look as happy as she would if it were their wedding day that he has promised will come. This assurance and unwavering resolve to make Perdita his wife is actually very similar to the tenacious attitude of Leontes because both men were dead set on a certain path and refused to be persuaded off of it. So his desire to stay ‘constant’ to Perdita no matter what obstacles will inevitably face them makes the young lovers hopeful and quite resilient, thus bringing hope to the audience after the previously depressing and dramatic events.
Some may say that their relationship serves as an idealised form of love, and that it’s what others strive for. It’s not hard to see why many would agree with this because their relationship is like a breath of fresh air in the context of the rest of the play. This is clearly seen when the couple arrive in Sicilia, Leontes says that they are like ‘the spring to th’earth’ after such a long ‘winter’ of pain, suffering and regret. In fact he goes even further as he says that they ‘purge all infection from our air’ as if they renew everything, ridding the hate from the story. They appear to have a symbolic value as they are seen as the genesis of a new era of love and at the very least; the previous distress and misery can be partially put aside to make room for the hope of a new chapter. So not only does their relationship make them, and those around them happy but they also serve as a symbol of hope, as if no bad can come of their marriage. This type of pure and innocent love that radiates from the couple makes their relationship idealised because in reality no relationship is ever flawless and the joy that is spread simply from being in the couple’s presence could easily make the relationship seem fanciful and not feasible from a more pragmatic viewpoint.
The other remarkable thing about their relationship is the constancy that comes from Florizel’s unwavering resolve to marry Perdita. We have seen a demonstration of how passionate he is about the woman he loves from the passage, but his steadfastness is carried on even when disaster strikes for the pair. When he is forced to reveal that they are not married and Leontes asks if she is ‘the daughter of a king’, Florizel’s staunch resolve to marry her is visibly seen in his direct reply of ‘she is, once she is my wife’. Once again showing how little he cares about her status in society. Furthermore, when Leontes questions if their marriage is a good idea and begins to side with Polixenes, Florizel yet again makes the claim that ‘power no jot… to change our loves’ clearly showing Leontes that he will not be changing his mind which of course strikes a chord with the king, especially since the two men have shown a similar unswerving devotion to an idea before. However, it is worth noting that Florizel is not the only one constantly defending their relationship but Perdita has her say too. Camillo shows his cynicism towards love when he states that ‘affliction changes’ it, she responds by saying ‘I think affliction subdues the cheek but not take in the mind’. So she too shows a similar devotion to Florizel when she explains that true love does not alter when in the face of challenges, although may suppress happiness for a while, it wouldn’t change ‘the mind’ or in other words their dedication to each other. Clearly this is no mere fling, but instead they show that they are both wholeheartedly devoted to the marriage despite any opposition that may come their way. Some might say that this optimism and steadfastness is not realistic, at least in the long term. So whilst many may yearn to be with someone forever, it is not always possible, hence why the couple could be seen as idealised because their idea of eternal love is what the majority of couples strive for.
Their relationship also defies expectation, politics and class difference throughout all the time the two are seen as a couple. As stated before, in reality a Prince wouldn’t have been allowed to even comprehend marrying someone of a lower class but because Shakespeare portrays them as a foil to Hermione and Leontes’ relationship in a somewhat idealised fashion, Florizel states his eternal love for her before knowing her real background and the revelation of who her actual parents were, is made just in time for them to get married and so that Polixenes can no longer object. Following this line of thought, the way their relationship works out seems almost too perfect. Granted they have encountered difficulties but after the gentlemen explain that Perdita has been verified as Leontes’ lost daughter, not only can they eliminate the issue of nobility from their relationship but if they got married it would also consolidate a political alliance between both Sicilia and Bohemia making them a perfect match. Their fathers would be able to reunite and ignite an old friendship once again, making the couple and their families happy as Leontes and Polixenes’ reunion was said to be very emotional ‘for their joy waded in tears’. Leontes could now freely ‘embrace his son-in-law’. As moving as the gentlemen’s poetic recollection of the encounter is, it does emphasise the unattainable aspect of their relationship as the phrase you can’t please everyone springs to mind. Their union seems to do the exact opposite and tick the boxes from the secular/political point of view, sentimental issues aside, which really shows how idealised their circumstances turn out to be because after all of their anxiety absolutely everything eventually works in their favour.
On the other hand, other critics may feel that to call them ‘idealised’ is a bold claim. After all they have to contend with a lot of terrible things and a completely ideal relationship is often portrayed as somewhat paradisiacal. Shakespeare would have wanted the audience to perceive not only the individual characters as complicated but also their interactions and relationships with others as complex rather than completely cliché or two-dimensional. An example of this is seen when Polixenes breaks his disguise and reacts to the couple getting engaged without his blessing. Polixenes’ rage mars the couple’s previously blissful relationship as he calls Perdita’s adopted father an ‘old traitor’ and threatens to hang him whilst he hurls the accusation at her that she is a ‘fresh piece of excellent witchcraft’. His anger crescendos as he makes the claim that he will ‘have thy beauty scratched with briars’ as he wishes to destroy her good looks and inflict pain on her for making his son fall in love with her. This theme of witchcraft and enchantment is taken further when he calls her a ‘knack’ meaning that she is nothing more than a little trinket but the word also has connotations with deceitfulness, so in effect he is saying that she has almost tricked Florizel into wanting to marry her as if she has put a spell on him. So this scene, despite being followed by Florizel’s poetic declarations of unwavering love for Perdita, shows that their relationship was far from ideal. Granted everything works out in the end, but not before Florizel’s father can threaten innocent people with death and hurl derogatory names and accusations towards his son’s future bride saying that she is ‘unworthy’ of him. The union of the two actually causes them so many problems and results in Polixenes forewarning her that he will ‘devise a death as cruel for thee as thou art tender to’t’. So the constant intimidation condemnation from Polixenes hardly makes the couple’s lives easy, in fact it makes them resort to running away to Sicilia in order to be together.
Moreover, we see from the passage that there is a lot of fear and apprehension in their relationship. Of course, the two are devoted to each other but that doesn’t stop Perdita from being very scared about their future. After Polixenes’ outburst, Perdita is forced to tell Florizel to ‘be gone’ because she knew ‘what would come of this’. It’s as if the experience has shaken her out of the fantasy she was living in and she states that she’ll ‘queen it no inch farther, but milk my ewes and sheep’. Her dream starts to crumble around her and she now has to stop pretending that their relationship would have ever worked out. In the passage also, we have seen her show this kind of trepidation when she doubts Florizel’s ability to keep to his word and says ‘Your resolution cannot hold when ‘tis opposed, as it must be, by th’power of the King’ so once again her realistic outlook shows as she acknowledges that no matter how strong their love is, nor Florizel’s resolve, neither of them are really any match for the King. Due to the divine right of Kings Polixenes would be free to act in whichever way he pleased and do whatever he wanted to Perdita (and her family) if he found out about her relationship with his son. Therefore they seem to, at least partially, live in this fear that they will be outed so that would have taken a toll on them, highlighting another reason why their relationship may not have been perfect. Perdita is the prime example of showing feelings that any other normal human would have in her situation, she is frightened of what Polixenes would do but also frightened of losing Florizel. Being caught between this dilemma allows Shakespeare to highlight her humanity and fear, so she too has her weaknesses and isn’t always as valiant as you may expect from a typical idealised relationship.
The problems with their relationship are also highlighted through what Florizel says to her. We have seen how romantic he is and the extent of his love for her, however there are a few things he says that have a second connotation or different meaning that may show a different side to their ‘idealised’ relationship. An example of this is found when he calls her ‘good falcon’. Falconry was often associated with royalty so he may just be making a sweet comment about the inevitability of her becoming his wife and thus becoming royalty through marriage. This of course shows his ever strong resolve to look past her lower status and marry her. However, whilst Falcons are graceful, beautiful and powerful, which could be all the qualities her is attributing to Perdita, they also have the connotation of being restrained creatures. Falconry involves training and control which could be alluding to his own views that she would be somewhat subservient to him and he would have dominance over her. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to see this quote without context because in Shakespearean times there was a distinct inequality between sexes so you could write this comment off as Florizel being a victim of his era and this ideology may have been ingrained in him from an early age, however due to the fact that Shakespeare is seen by many experts as somewhat of a proto-feminist you could argue that the link with falconry was intentional and is a hint that despite the love they have there will always be underlying problems in a relationship, even if that is inherent sexism. Therefore Shakespeare may be showing that the lovers are not as idealised as one may think they are on first glance.
In the crucial scenes of Act IV, Shakespeare paints a complex picture of Florizel and Perdita’s love, highlighting romanticism, perception, humility, fear and the staunch resolve they have to get married no matter what comes their way. Whilst their relationship is idealised in many ways as has been discussed there is no doubt that there are problematic elements. It is true that there are many perfect aspects that many people strive for with their love but in my opinion, it is no accident that Shakespeare adds death threats, terror, distress and underlying issues into the mix. One could argue that the issues they have to face makes them even more idealised because it showcases in the way in which they deal with them and the manner in which everything eventually works out perfectly; however, while Shakespeare may use the couple as a bit of relief from the drama before, he also would likely have wanted them to be viewed as complicated characters with an interesting relationship, thus justifying why difficulties are added to their story.