Sample Questions

1. Is "The Winter's Tale" a sexist play?

The reasons for calling the play sexist are the reasons for arguing that it is, on the contrary, a feminist play. Hermione and Perdita are both central characters, and the audience and the other characters focus their attention on them. Furthermore, unlike Leontes or Florizel, the two main women of the play are scrutinised as objects of a male gaze, for their physical and poetic beauty in the case of Perdita, for their truth or falsity in the case of Hermione. All eyes are on Hermione twice in the play, in the trial scene, and in the statue scene, where she is literally an object. While Perdita is celebrated and Hermione is vindicated, their part seems to be dependant on their place in a male consciousness.

On the other hand, men are presented as much weaker than women. The strongest woman in the play is Paulina who asserts her voice against Leontes' patriarchal rule, against his stupidity and tyranny. Instead of being condemned, her protest is vindicated and like Camillo she is a figure of integrity and fidelity. Even more than Camillo, she is a stage-manager, a priestess, who presides over the magical resolution of the play.

Nevertheless, one has to admit that even if Paulina is shown as a strong character who ministers to Leontes' weak and deluded mind, in this play, as in the other romances, it is women who are recognised by men, not the other way round. Women in Early Modern society, and in our society too, were too often constituted by the male imagination. The evil that Leontes' jealous imagination wrecks on his country, and on his son, suggests that the play could be a protest against this state of affairs, rather than complicit in it.

2. Does "The Winter's Tale" demonstrate 'the triumph of time'?

Greene's Pandosto has as its motto Temporis filia veritas - "truth is the daughter of time". The triumph of time in the novel is the discovery of Fawnia, Pandosto's lost daughter, despite the ill fortune that lead to her father's jealousy, her mother's death and her own loss. Shakespeare's play follows the same structure, and even personifies time, who appears before Act 4 to explain the passing of sixteen years. However, time is not in control in the play. The miraculous ending is not the result of the passage of time but of an unexplained and unbelievable stratagem of Paulina. The recovery of Perdita is the work of Autolycus and the good luck that made Florizel's falcon stray onto the Shepherd's land (once seen, Perdita deserved his love). Time does not control the plot or ensure its happy outcome, providence and grace do.

However, there are two ways of considering time with respect to the play's action. First, within the play its own events are compared to old tales. This primarily means they are unbelievable, fairy-tale, but the comparison also has the paradoxical effect of sanctioning the implausible events by linking them to a tradition of stories that goes back to the very depths of time and tradition. Second, Act 4, in particular scene 4, lays stress on the present, in the presentation of Perdita and in the elements of spectacle and festival. As a result, the "present deeds" become a source of renewal as they bring the play's attention to youth and love. Perdita and Florizel arrive in Sicily like the spring, and their arrival marks the beginning of the play's conclusion. They act as an injection of the present into an old and faded court. The result is that the play's action is pulled in two opposite directions, into the mists of time, tradition and old tales and onto the present, and the stage. The play is, therefore, the triumph of time, because it manages to maintain two very different notions of time simultaneously, asserting the particularity of the present and also its involvement in the rest of human time, the past, and the seasons.

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