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Romance and Tragedy in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

Romance and Tragedy in The Winter’s Tale

In The Winter’s Tale, the line between romance and tragedy runs thin and almost blends together. The romantic ending would not be possible without the tragic beginning. For example, how could the romance between Leontes and Hermione take place in the end without the almost tragic mistake that Leontes makes in the first three acts of the play? Specific characters are responsible for the way the play turns out, with or without the help of the Fates. Paulina, for example, understands her role and mission as Hermione’s friend, and uses her manipulative abilities to influence Leontes. Her faith in the oracle and her vision of the romantic possibilities fuels this responsibility. Perdita’s return to Sicilia and her original family may have been influenced by lucky coincidence, yet the shepherd takes on the responsibility of ensuring Perdita’s survival. In addition, the unexpected kindness of Autolycus is also responsible for the happy ending. Furthermore, Hermione’s representation as a woman of strength and honor is portrayed through her ability to sacrifice sixteen years of her life due to her faith in the oracle’s prediction. The agency for the play’s romantic outcome lies within the characters involved and their determination to do what is morally right, resulting in a romantic climax.

Paulina takes advantage of the time she’s given to understand Leontes and become his trusted advisor. In the space of sixteen years, she comes to be able to influence Leontes’ perception of Hermione in his mind so that when she returns from the dead, he will be in a state of desperation for her and ecstasy at seeing her again. Paulina says, “Sir, my liege, / Your eye hath too much youth in ‘t; no…

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…nsibility to bring about the romantic climax. Every character is responsible for a piece of the puzzle, willingly avoiding conflict, misunderstanding, and tragedy, which ultimately results in the happy ending that characterizes the romance story.

Works Cited and Consulted

Clarke, Charles Cowden. Shakespeare-Characters; Chiefly those Subordinate. London: Smith

Feminist Reading of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

A Feminist Reading of The Winter’s Tale

In the Shakespearean tragedies we have studied, we have been exposed to tragic male protagonists who create their own downfall. Within these tragedies, Shakespeare’s female characters are vested with varying degrees of power in relation to the tragic heroes. In looking back at Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, The Winter’s Tale can be seen as an extension of the exploration into the nature of women and power broached in his earlier tragedies, as well as an amendment for the misogynistic attitudes they contain.

In our class discussions, we were vexed by a condition we found prevalent in both Othello and King Lear; both of these plays end with the deaths of two innocent women: Desdemona and Cordelia. Not only are these women innocent, they are by far the most benevolent and forgiving female characters in the play, little deserving their violent ends. During this discussion, we also added Ophelia to the list of innocent women who die at Shakespeare’s hand and questioned whether the playwright was rewarding, punishing, or martyring these women. Although the question was raised, we were not able to come up with a satisfactory answer.

In examining the “evil” female characters we have encountered in Shakespeare’s tragedies — Regan, Goneril, and Lady Macbeth, the primary corrupting factor that links these women is their desire for or exercise of power. When comparing these women with Desdemona and Cordelia, who relinquish their power to men, the concept of “good” and “bad” women in Shakespeare’s tragedies becomes overly simplified.

But tragedy, itself, seems to contribute to this over simplification. In a genre that must end with the deaths of its principle characters, the…

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…y, Mary and Jane Caputi. Webster’s First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.

Dash, Irene. Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare’s Plays. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.

McLuskie, Kathleen. “The Patriarchal Bard: Feminist Criticism and Shakespeare.” Political Shakespeare: New Essays in Cultural Materialism. Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield, editors. London: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985.

Neeley, Carol Thomas. “The Winter’s Tale: Women and Issue” (1985). Reprinted in the Signet Classic Edition of The Winter’s Tale. New York: Penguin, 1988.

Pyle, Fitzroy. The Winter’s Tale: A Commentary on the Structure. New York: Routledge

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