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"What do we learn about Leontes in Act 1? How does Shakespeare dramatically portray his character?"

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Introduction

"What do we learn about Leontes in Act 1? How does Shakespeare dramatically portray his character?" James De Vile - 2/10/01 Leontes is King of Sicilia and the main character of the play. However, as always in Shakespeare's tragedies, the would-be hero has a fatal flaw which leads to his downfall. This often takes a long time to surface and be obvious to the reader. But this play differs from other such plays, for example 'Romeo and Juliet' and 'Othello'. Othello's fatal flaw is not truly apparent until act IV, when his jealousy first begins to surface, yet in a Winter's Tale, Leontes' paranoia is plain from the outset. We first notice something is amiss when Leontes enters for the second time in act I scene II, enquiring whether Polixenes is "won yet", and will stay. Leontes' wife, the Queen Hermione, proclaims that she has managed to win him over, something Polixenes dismissed earlier by saying "there is no tongue that moves, none, none i'th'world, So soon as yours could win me" (I.2.20-21) to Leontes. Leontes notices this and bluntly states "At my request he would not." This could well be the first sign of Leontes' paranoia. It shows that he sees a bonding between Hermione and Polixenes that enables her to persuade him to stay, where Leontes is powerless. The main blow for Leontes comes when Hermione offers Polixenes her hand: "...I have spoke to th'purpose twice: The one for ever earned a royal husband; Th'other for some while a friend." ...read more.

Middle

Leontes' sudden paranoid jealousy causes him to talk incoherently about anything that seems to enter his head, giving us snippets of information as to how he is feeling ("I have tremor cordis in me, my heart dances"). He asks his child, Mamillius, "Art thou my boy?". This proves his paranoia, and shows that he has immediately jumped to the possible conclusion that his son was actually Polixenes'. He also seems to pay less attention to what others are saying, or answer and then break off on a tangent. After he directs the aforementioned question at his son, he begins, somewhat metaphorically, to talk of cows: "And yet the steer, the heifer, the calf Are all called neat. Still virginalling Upon his palm?-How now, you wanton calf! Art thou my calf?" After his hectic talk of animals, he turns his speech back to the same question he asked moments ago; whether Mamillius is his son. From this we learn that he is very erratic, and is thinking faster than he can talk. The fact that he asks the same question twice shows us that he is not in a fit mental state to take any information in, and although he seeks and receives reassurance, does not listen to it. One may notice that Leontes' animal metaphors are a recurring theme. He exclaims that "my wife is a hobby horse", obviously in belief that his wife is easily unfaithful sexually. ...read more.

Conclusion

Camillo, on the other hand, thinks that it is his master, Leontes that has the disease, and, refers to Leontes' Paranoia as if it were a illness that he had contracted, and one that is dangerous to Leontes' sanity. He is extremely shocked at the idea that Hermione is being unfaithful to Leontes, and pleads: "Good my lord, be cured Of this diseased opinion, and betimes, For 'tis most dangerous" Camillo is polite, clear, direct, everything one would expect of a courtier, whilst Leontes is, at first, tangled up: "For to vision so apparent rumour Cannot be mute - or thought - for cogitation Resides not in that man that does not think - My wife is slippery?" and then suddenly frantic: "Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip?" The final blow for the audience and the point that really makes us doubt whether Leontes is totally sane is his ordering of Camillo to prepare a poisoned drink for his lifelong friend Polixenes. He says, clearly, that: "To give mine enemy a lasting wink; Which draught to me were cordial." We learn here, that the poisoning of Polixenes would be the medicine of Leontes - this shows how much Leontes' sudden hate has already grown. Shakespeare uses his unrefined and uncalled for bitterness to hint that he may not have been in a fit mental state from the outset. -oOo- ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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