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Forces Of Nature In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

1725 words - 7 pages

Forces of Nature in The Winter's Tale

    "A sad tale's best for winter," young Mamillius declares (2.1, 25). So ominously begins Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, a story that the audience is immediately tempted to deem a tragedy. However, unlike many of Shakespeare's other later works, which accrue more and more tragedy as the play progresses, The Winter's Tale begins tragically, but concludes happily. The play contains strong elements of both comedy and tragedy, and the course appears to be dictated by the character's relationship with Nature or her representatives.

The first few scenes of the play immediately unfold in tragedy with Leontes' unwarranted suspicions of Hermione's infidelity with his long-time friend Polixenes. His initial suspicions stem from the trivial observation that "at [his] request [Polixenes] would not (visit their kingdom longer)," yet with Hermione's, he would (1.2, 87). This iota of jealously erupts into a full fledged and frantic explanation for why his friend would give into his wife's pleading, and not his own. Leontes' decides that the reason must be that "[his] wife is slippery" (1.2, 273). In a flagrant abuse of power, Leontes deals with his own jealousies by indicting his wife and publically slandering her. Again, the charge is completely ridiculous and unfounded, for even Leontes' advisors insist that "the Queen is spotless in the eyes of heaven" (2.1, 131). However, Leontes' false accusations and tyrannical behavior resembles hubris, and is certain to not be viewed favorably by higher forces.

Apollo's oracle also belongs under Nature's protection, and any offense taken against it is punishable by Nature. During Hermione's trial, the oracle is brought in and reads: "Hermione is chaste . . .[Leontes'] innocent babe truly begotten, and the King shall live without an heir, if that which is lost be not found" (3.2, 130). After the reading, Leontes denies the truth of the oracle, and immediately the court discovers that his sole heir, Mamillius, has died. Leontes, recognizing his foolishness and consequent punishment for it, says "Apollo's angry, and the heavens themselves do strike at my injustice" (3.2, 141). The false accusation of Hermione compounded with the discrediting of the sacred oracle leaves Leontes in a tragic state: the wrongful deaths of both his son and wife, and the subsequent guilt left to torture him.

Any action taken against an innocent child is also considered to be an act directly taken against Nature. During Paulina's presentation of Perdita to Leontes, she warns her husband Antigonus, "Forever unvenerable be thy hands, if thou tak'st up the Princess" (2.3, 75). Yet it is Antigonus who Leontes charges to rid of the baby. On their journey to the shores of Bohemia, Antigonus' mariner acknowledges the ominous conditions, noting that "the skies look grimly . . . the heavens with that we have in hand are angry and frown upon's" (3.3, 3). Antigonus replies "Their sacred wills...

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