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The way that Shakespeare uses female characters in The Winter’s Tale

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‘The Winter’s Tale’ written by Shakespeare was one of his four last plays or ‘late romances’ that he wrote. It has been categorised in the four last plays because it shares similar features to ‘The Tempest,’ , ‘Pericles, Prince of Tyre,’ and, ‘Cymbeline,’ as they have a redemptive plotline with a happy ending involving the reuniting of long separated family members, magical and other fantastical elements, a mixture of civilized and pastoral scenes and a young virginal character who restores happiness.

Although, the late romances share commonalities with Shakespeare’s earlier plays like ‘Twelfth Night,’ they are considered to have a unique style with elements of tragicomedy and masques integrated with comedy, romance and pastoral that although they are contrasting emotions create a sense of balance and moderation. They have therefore become coherent, appealing and dramatically effective plays. ‘The Winter’s Tale’ was one of the Four last plays that Shakespeare wrote and like most of his plays, it contains a range of themes.

Entertainment, humour, comedy, drama, love, tragedy all play some part in this play making the play overall a success and appealing to a large audience. It is also the representation of women that make it such a success. In ‘The Winter’s Tale,’ the various female characters’ representations are significant for the plot. More importantly, with the exception of Paulina, they are portrayed as being passive, obedient characters who are inferior to the male characters.

Hermione for example, is the central female character of the play and the cause of Leontes obsessive jealousy. She is also the one who suffers the most. At the same time, she is the character who I think has the greatest amount of strength because of the way she copes with the public humiliation and the betrayal cause by In the play, Hermione is accused of infidelity by her husband, something that must hurt her deeply. However, even when her husband accuses her, she remains calm.

When Leontes first calls Hermione an adulteress she denies it calmly and elegantly saying, “should a villain say so, the most replenish’d villain in the world, he were as much more villain: you, my Lord, do but mistake. ” For the audience, the calmness that Hermione possesses is emphasized by the contrast with her husband. Shakespeare does this using different sounding words. For example, during the first accusation, Shakespeare uses harsh, insulting and angry words for Leontes, “… barbarism… she’s a traitor… er most vile principle – that she’s a bed-swerver, even as bad as those that vulgars give bolds’t titles.. ” Shakespeare uses alliteration to emphasize the harshness of the words using ‘s’ sounds.

However, continues to reply in a dignified manner and speaks in a calm, rhythmical and balanced speech, “Should a villain say so, the most replenished villain in the world, He were as much more villain. You, my lord, do but mistake. ” Her speech makes the reader speak in a slow and calm manner and also suggesting sophistication whereas, Leontes appears to be immature and out of control.

Shakespeare also makes her role dramatic because she is not angry at Leontes, she feels sorry for him. Shakespeare also presents her role as dramatically effective partly because to do with the attitude of the other characters also being testimony to Hermione’s character. The words of a minor character, a Lord, are typical: “For her, my lord… I dare lay my life down, and will do’t, sir,” he says to Leontes. No one other than Leontes has a bad word to say about Hermione, and Paulina is moved to defend her with all the energy she has.

The fact that the other characters react so emotionally to defend Hermione proves her character to be so gracious. Leonte’s reacts with extreme jealousy and over-the-top and erratic behaviour because he believes that Hermione has been unfaithful and this shocks even himself. He reacts in the way he does because to him she is perfect and he loves her so much and for her to do this to him is unexplainable, a shock (even though he has made a mistake, but he believes it to be the truth).

This shows the affect and the significance that a woman as on such a powerful man that is Leontes, King of Bohemia who could possibly have any woman he wanted. However, a modern-day audience would perhaps disagree with the cruelty of women evident within this play, but in the cultural context of Shakespeare’s society, women were inferior to men. Women were forbidden, by law, to perform in the Elizabethan theatre, therefore there were no actresses at the Globe Theatre.

Therefore, this meant that during the time which Shakespeare wrote and performed most of his plays, the parts of female characters were played by young boys whilst their voices were still high-pitched, yet in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ Shakespeare focuses on the strength of women. Another similarity of ‘The Winter’s Tale’ being one of the late romances, and with that of his earlier plays, is the use of strong women, for example, Lady Macbeth. What is unusual however, is the success of these plays in a male dominated society, a society that saw women as inferior and had adopted a negative attitude towards females of strength.

The character of Paulina, is probably welcomed by the modern audience as being a more modern character who defends the rights of women and is the character who does show the most strength, for example for defending Hermione and the abandoning of Perdita. She acts as Hermione’s defendant and as Leontes’ conscience, through which she demonstrates great courage and loyalty, two of her most important characteristics. When Shakespeare first introduces Paulina to the audience, she is attempting to visit Hermione in prison.

Her great power is demonstrated as she intimidates the guard who eventually defers to her authority and allows her entry to see her “gracious queen. ” Perdita provides the romance in the play and is the subject of Florizel’s affections. Shakespeare gives him a number of speeches to direct towards Perdita, including, “When you speak, sweet… I’d have you do it ever: when you sing,… I’d have you buy and sell so, so give alms, … Pray so, and, for the ord’ring of your affairs… to sing them too: when you do dance, I wish you…

A wave o’ the sea, that you might ever do… Nothing but that, move still, still so… And own no other function. ” Perdita is compared to Proserpina (a mythical God) who represents spring. Perdita is like Proserpina in that she, too, brings the spring, she is crowned with flowers, and dispenses them to all the guests, and the audience feels that with the introduction of Perdita “The Winter’s Tale” takes a turn from the black and white ruins of Bohemia to the colourful, pastoral countryside introduced in Act 4.

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