• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

How does Shakespeare present relationships between men and women in The Winter's Tale and how would these relationships be perceived by both a Shakespearian and a contemporary audience?

Extracts from this document...


English Literature Coursework How does Shakespeare present relationships between men and women in The Winter's Tale and how would these relationships be perceived by both a Shakespearian and a contemporary audience? The Winter's Tale was written in 1611, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The play is one of Shakespeare's romance titles, though it could be more justly referred to as a 'tragi-comedy' due to the instances of accusation, death, repentance and reunion. To successfully study how Shakespeare presents relationships between men and women in The Winter's Tale there are four main relationships to examine - Hermione and Leontes, Paulina and Antigonus, Perdita and Florizel, and Leontes and Paulina. Shakespeare's view of women, and generally the Elizabethan view, suggested that women had less capability for evil - can only assist in a man's corruption or downfall, evidence for this can be found by examining particular types of literature from this period, such as T.E. (?)'s didactic 'The Law's Resolution of Women's Rights'. Likewise in The Winter's Tale, only to a lesser extent, women can be seen as temptresses. Hermione was the supposed adulteress in The Winter's Tale. Many would argue that Shakespeare depicted the condition of women within a patriarchal system and created female characters, which in their richness transcend the limitations of his time. Shapiro, for example, goes so far as to claim that Shakespeare was 'the noblest feminist of them all.' Though Shakespeare pays more attention to the roles that men play in society and many of the female characters are constricted in their experiences. They do not have the same ability to be as fully human as the men. They do not learn by their experiences, except Paulina who is eventually chastised and pacified for her actions. The Winter's Tale would actually have presented three very different women as its strongest characters were it not for Leontes. If we wished to discuss the base treatment of women in Elizabethan literature there would be more productive areas to look than in The Winter's Tale. ...read more.


It is therefore worth noting that women's roles could often have been influenced by the way in which they are portrayed by literary authorities. In the Old Testament, in the Book of Genesis we can find the following example of how a woman brought shame unto mankind and caused the first humans to be extradited from paradise: "And the Lord God said unto Eve - I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." This idea of women being ruled by men is reflected in The Winter's Tale through the battle of wills between Leontes and Paulina when Leontes is presented with his newborn child: "LEONTES What, canst not rule her? PAULINA From all dishonesty he can: in this, Unless he take the course that you have done, Commit me for committing honour, trust it, He shall not rule me." (Act Two, Scene Three) Shakespeare and his audience were clearly influenced by these ancient ideas. We can see this clearly from the way in which women are seemingly treated as subservient to men. In general, women are considered to be passive, while men are expected to be more active and aggressive. In The Winter's Tale most men at some point are aggressive, even the once bland and colourless Polixenes demonstrates his aggression when he confronts Florizel and Perdita. "POLIXENES Mark your divorce, young sir, Discovering himself Whom son I dare not call; thou art too base To be acknowledged: thou a sceptre's heir, That thus affect'st a sheep-hook! Thou old traitor, I am sorry that by hanging thee I can But shorten thy life one week. And thou, fresh piece Of excellent witchcraft, who of force must know The royal fool thou copest with,--" (Act Four, Scene Four) When we first see Paulina she is presented as somewhat aggressive in her manner, her tone and her language - what could be considered to be male characteristics - but later she is silenced or effectively 'feminised' by way of her arbitrary betrothal to Camillo. ...read more.


"LEONTES Is whispering nothing? Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career Of laughing with a sigh?--a note infallible Of breaking honesty--horsing foot on foot? Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift? Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only, That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing? Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing; The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing; My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings, If this be nothing." (Act One, Scene Two) This could be said to be indicative of his nihilism - the alliance of misogyny and nihilism is one of the greater Shakespearean insights into male nature. Throughout the works of Shakespeare there are countless insights into human nature to be discovered, it is likely that Shakespeare was more interested or simply more apt in providing insights into male nature. This can help to explain the structure of The Winter's Tale - although the play presents three women as very strong characters, we receive more insights into male nature than female nature, hence the lack of 'asides' during the play from the female characters. So because of Leontes' overwhelming nihilism, his character is to a degree ambivalent - that is we feel alternating attraction and repulsion. It could be argued that Shakespeare only goes so far with the gender roles - the women are eventually silenced or pacified - because the suspension of disbelief can only be maintained so far - the traditional view of women was confined within rigid boundaries. In The Winter's Tale all the women are badly treated - incidentally, at the hands of men. Our perspective of the actions of the men we believe to be harsh, though to Shakespeare's contemporaries they were likely to be justified - in fact chastisement would probably be justified to a more brutal extent. There is however little authentic evidence in the plays, that Shakespeare strove either to uphold or to subvert, however covertly, the established order. Word Count: 2650 Mark S. Rowland ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE The Winters Tale section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related GCSE The Winters Tale essays

  1. How does Shakespeare present relationships between men and women in The Winter's Tale, ...

    We see Leontes' paranoia has not started yet. It is clear that Hermione loves Leontes, and she does not quantify her love: "I love thee not a jar o'th'clock behind / What lady she her lord." Leontes says bluntly "Stay your thanks a while, / And pay them when you part."

  2. “A sad tale’s best for winter. What then is the value of the ...

    Shakespeare seems to mock the lower classes here, as he does implicitly in the fourth act, just as Leontes is belittling and even scornful to Florizel when he believes that Perdita is a peasant. Acting as a link between Sicilia and Bohemia, Time as a mechanism to move the play

  1. Discuss the roles and dramatic significance of the three main female characters in the ...

    Hermione has qualities which make her character flawless, as she is gracious, loyal and virtuous in the eyes of everyone. These characteristics symbolize purity, which runs through to her daughter Perdita; these are the same virtues, which emphasize the baseness of Leontes false accusations.

  2. "The Winters Tale is not so much about the triumph of time but the ...

    It has been suggested that Shakespeare used this to analyse the suppression of female articulacy in the 17th century, something which Shakespeare considered a triumph for females as a collective gender In the same scene, Hermione's strength is contrasted with the weaknesses of men - the weakness ironically being women.

  1. Explore the role of women in 'The Winters Tale'

    We see this happen again at the end of the play. The supposed climax and focus of the play was the reuniting of Leontes and his lost daughter Perdita, however it is revealed that Hermione is alive and so we see the attention of the play shift to Hermione and she regains control of the play.

  2. How are women represented in "The Winter's Tale"? How might a modern audience react ...

    Although her father is powerful, she is weak and defenseless, creating a form of irony. Also, Shakespeare is showing that Hermione hails from an honourable family. However, although it is admirable that Hermione manages to remain calm even during this traumatic time, with the way Leontes has been treating her

  1. It has been said that in "The Winter's Tale" Shakespeare dramatises the contemporary struggle ...

    the same God-given order in human relations that gave the monarch the right to rule over the country "According to God's Ordnance". Paulina, fails to do this, with courage and conviction she defends Hermione against a chauvinistic paranoia and enshrines female virtues.

  2. Discuss The Presentation Of Women In The Winter’s Tale.

    This is re-enforced by the fact that Hermione continues to show respect to Leontes ("you, my lord, do but mistake" - "the king's will be performed"), and not get angry, which gains her respect from the audience. The braveness of Hermione is mirrored throughout the play by Paulina, who shows

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work