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"The true interest of 'The Winter's Tale' lies not with Leontes but rather with the female characters - abused Hermione, faithful and tenacious Paulina and the beautiful, chaste and innocent Perdita."

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Introduction

"The true interest of 'The Winter's Tale' lies not with Leontes but rather with the female characters - abused Hermione, faithful and tenacious Paulina and the beautiful, chaste and innocent Perdita." To what extent do you agree with this view of the play? In my opinion 'The Winter's Tale' is a play about human error. It is about the mistakes that people can make and how hard it is to forgive oneself for making them. Most of all it about how time can bring healing change. Leontes is the character who best exemplifies all of these themes throughout the play. He is the character whose personality changes most and he is the one who is "resolved". However, the question asks whether the true interest of the play lies not with Leontes but rather with the leading women. It is certainly true that Hermione, Paulina and Perdita are not just predictable stereotypes of women but they are very similar to other female characters from the plays of Shakespeare. The best comparison of these is "abused" Hermione. She has a similar situation to Desdemona from 'Othello'. She is falsely accused and treated unfairly, though the obvious difference is that Hermione does not actually die whereas Desdemona does. The situation of being thought dead however does occur with Hermione. Also, Hermione can be compared to Cordelia from 'King Lear'. Cordelia is honest and true and yet bluntly abused and cast out by Lear, for no reason, throughout the majority of the play. ...read more.

Middle

All these women are vital to the movement of the play but just do not have the same intricacies of character as can be seen in the character of Leontes. Leontes is the King of Sicilia. He is an autocratic king. He talks about Hermione as though she were merely one of his "subjects". At the time that this later Romance was written James I was on the throne. This King believed in the Divine Right and that there was no other way to run a country than autocracy. Some critics suggest that the character of Leontes is written with the king in mind. He has been friends with Polixenes, the King of Bohemia, since childhood and is obviously very close to him. In the opening of the play Leontes talks to him about how much he wants him to stay at the court. But it is not he, but Hermione, who is able to persuade Polixenes to stay in Sicilia. Leontes' jealousy, comprising only his own suspicion, is aimed entirely at Hermione. He accuses women in general of being guilty of "corrupting" men and making "cuckolds" out of them. "There have been or I am much deceived, cuckolds ere now and many a man there is, even at this present." (Act 1, Scene 2) All his anger is aimed towards Hermione and thence womankind. He says that he feels better because he knows that he is not the only man that women have done this to: "Nay, there's comfort in't, whiles other men have gates, and those gates opened as mine, against their will. ...read more.

Conclusion

I feel that Leontes is more important than that. He is recognisably human. He is the king and still he makes so many terrible, even fatal mistakes. This leads me to believe that the play's true interest stems from a warning against human error and pointing towards redemption. The play is clearly structured into three different sections. The first is Leontes' decent into madness, the second his sorrow-filled redemption/pastoral scenes and the final the resolution. In this sense Leontes is a "vehicle" that shows us how time can change people's lives whether they be king or commoner. Shakespeare clearly detaches the character from the rest of drama in general so that we are able to examine his tortured mind. He gives him the language to create a strong and yet wracked character who becomes remorseful and repentant. His character is riddled with irony. He says to Hermione, "Tis a pity that she's not honest" when clearly she is truthful and honest. It is intentional that we should see Leontes as the most important character in the play as he himself represents the passage of time and how it changes. He clearly represents human error. I therefore disagree with the given view of the play. The female characters are vital to the play. Each of them brings a separate aspect of womankind to the play. However, I feel that it is Leontes, the tortured, insecure King, who holds the true interest of the play. ...read more.

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