Theme: Analyse the function of the women in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale”
There can be no doubt: after having read “The Win- ter’s Tale” by William Shakespeare one is enthusiastic about the three women in the play. But there seems to be more about them, the purpose of these char- acters is not only to be liked. So one has to look more closely to their appear- ance in combination with other characters and with the structure of this ro- mance.
Paulina characterize other characters indirectly by her actions -when the other characters do not dare to do anything. She serves to emphasise the weak features of the other loyal servants by her courage. She proves that she is brave when she is the only one who gives Leontes a piece of her mind. The other characters -lords of Leontes- do not dare saying anything against the king, because they are too scared.
Hermione is a lovely wife to Leontes and contrasts Leontes’ hate and jealousy by her dignity. Hermione is a witty, faithful and beautiful woman -a minor character- up to the point when she is accused of adultery. She becomes a woman of deep grace and her dignity affects every- body except Leontes. She is the very contrast of Leontes whose character also rises, but to the tragic climax. Hermione’s good features strengthen the unbe- lievable hate of Leontes.
Hermione’s dignity strengthens the climax of the tragic part of the play as well as Perdita strengthens the tragic relief of the comic part. This tragic climax is the reading of the Oracle and its disregard by Leontes. Having impressed right before this climax it seems to be worse be- cause one does respect Hermione. In the comic part, Perdita takes a similar part: her charm impresses everybody including Polixenes, but still he bursts out. This strengthens the tragic relief of the comic part.
The other function of Perdita, Hermione’s daughter, is to be beautiful and charming in order to remind the audience of Hermione. She is a “goodly” baby, she grows “in grace” and is a woman of “rare note” and she seems to be the likeness of her mother. Through her we do not forget Hermione, who is off-stage for seven scenes and only reappears in the final scene.
This final scene is stage-managed by Paulina. And she is a good stage-manager because she does everything possible to heighten this scene. Her tactlessness at the beginning of Act V seems to be unnecessary and exaggerated, but it is a clever move. Everyone is remembered of the tragic death of Hermione and everyone suffers with Leontes. Like the heavens we can forgive Leontes because we see that he has suffered enough. This is a necessary condition for the recognition scene.
The function of all the three women is impor- tant to the structure of the whole play as well as to characterize other characters on stage. In every case they emphasize a tragic part or a weak point by their goodness. This is one of many good reasons to read this play: at least here, all women are lovely.
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- hermione; Paulina; Perdita