Romance And Tragedy In Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

1644 words - 7 pages

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; not a month/ 'Fore your queen died, she was more worth such/ Gazes / Than what you look on now," (5.1.225). Having Leontes believe that Hermione is dead and raising her esteem in the eyes of Leontes is manipulated by Paulina because she sees herself as responsible for how the romance between the two will eventually work out. Paulina manipulates Leontes by making him aware of the mistake he made and to regret it. "Were I the ghost that walked, I'd bid you mark/ Her eye, and tell me for what dull part in 't/ You chose her; then I'd shriek, that even your ears/ Should rift to hear me, and the words that followed/ Should be, 'Remember Mine.'" (5.1.65) She does not mince words with him, and lets him know exactly what a horrid thing he has done, even sixteen years after the fact. She punishes him by not letting him marry, even to produce an heir, until Hermione rises from the dead, which logically would never happen. Yet, through her power of persuasion, Leontes comes to believe her and trust her wholeheartedly.

Furthermore, Paulina's faith in the Oracle gives her strength to do what she knows is right. She says: "There is one worth, / Respecting her that's gone; besides, the gods/ will have fulfilled their secret...

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