Paulina’s Feministic Role in in The Winter’s Tale

May 24, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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