Introduction to Shakespeare
Final Paper Assignment
Defiance in The Winters Tale
From Shakespeare’s work The Winters Tale, the audience is given a vivid representation of gender politics. Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, the character development of the women is particularly profound, specifically Hermione and Paulina. These characters are arguably the most discerning characters Shakespeare has every created, and when they are faced with such tremendous adversity; they exemplify a virtuous and genuine defiance, of the tyranny of Leontes. The consequences that result from their patience, ultimately provides a certain level of spiritual atonement for themselves, and later for Leontes. The actions of their defiance cannot be fully understood until the end of act five when Leontes himself undergoes a personal catharsis, and Hermione is resurrected. Hermione is particularly virtuous with her embodiment of candor, and Paulina is equally as profound with her sense of directness and the wisdom that she provides Leontes.
At the beginning of the play Hermione is wrongly accused of infidelity by her husband Leontes. Paulina acts in the defense of Hermione and fiercely tries to protect her Queen. The vindication of Hermione comes directly from Leontes, and she is only found to be innocent after her alleged death. Leontes also learns of his son Mamillius’s death, which is presumed to be caused by grief, after his father wrongly imprisoned his mother. Leontes is struck with unbearable remorse and he chooses to confide himself to Paulina for spiritual guidance. Paulina serves as the ancillary voice of reason towards Leontes during his apprehensive jealousy. She continues her spiritual condemnation for the next sixteen years. “Our shame perpetual. Once a day I’ll visit the chapel where they lie, and tears shed there shall be my recreation. So long as nature will bear up with this exercise, so long I daily vow to use it. Come, and lead me to these sorrows”(III.ii.236-241). From this line we understand that Leontes submits himself to Paulina’s council because he finally understands that her defiance was the protection of his misguided tyranny.
It is clearly Shakespeare’s intentions to give contrast to Hermione and Paulina, with other characters in the play. The character Antigonus is Paulina’s husband who is given the unfortunate task of abandoning the newborn baby of Hermione and Leontes, on the Bohemian coast. Antigonus is originally introduced as a loyal defender of Hermione however he ennobles himself as a more submissive character especially when Paulina is trying to defend Hermione. Leontes asks him “canst not rule her?"(II.iii.46). Leontes is referring to the traditional submissive nature, and the role of women during this time period; and that Leontes cannot even control his own wife. Another contrasting character is Camillo. Camillo is a nobleman and the most trusted councilor to King Leontes. The King confides his suspicions that Herminone and Polixenes have made a cuckold out of him. After Camillo hears this, he tells Leontes that his suspicions have poisoned him. Camillo is faced with similar adversity to that of Hermione and Paulina, however when Leontes gives him the order to poison Polixenes, he decides to avoid the conflict by fleeing to Sicily with Polixenes. From these actions the reader can now draw a contrast between the protest of Camillo, and the more virtuous and genuine defiance that Hermione and Paulina use. Much to their dismay Hermione defends the actions of Camillo and Polixenes "With whom I am accused, I do confess I loved him as in honor he required with such a kind of love a might become a lady like me, with a love even such, so and no other, as yourself commanded"(III.ii.62). Hermione expresses outrage and grief but she also defends herself eloquently by saying that Camillio is an honest man. When Leontes declares that she is guilty, and that her punishment...
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