Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Marginal Female Roles and the Development of Plot in "The Winter's Tale" and "Gawain and the Green Knight"

In Shakespeare’s <i>Winter’s Tale</i>, the “death” of Hermione catalyzes the narrative development. Quantitatively, she plays little role beyond the first three acts, but the play revolves and eventually unites around her. It is, initially, her perceived flirting with Polixenes that begins Leontes’s jealous rage and sets into motion the play’s main chain of events. Hermione’s rhetorical wordplay and her use of the word “Prisoner” (1.2.52) present a familiar and possibly even slightly flirtatious character. The sense of Hermione wooing Polixenes into staying is picked up by Leontes and juxtaposed with Leontes’s attempts of “three crabbed months” (1.2.103) to woo Hermione. We can almost sense the bitterness creeping into Leontes’s words, emphasized by the plosive sound and implicit meaning of “crabbed.” Furthermore, his three-month time scale is contrasted against the relative speed with which Hermione persuades Polixenes to stay.

Later, as she about to be imprisoned, her vivacity is diminished, but Shakespeare exposes her resolve, spirit, and strength of character. She repeatedly refuses to condemn Leontes as a villain, stating instead with absolute fidelity: “You, my lord, / Do but mistake...” (2.1.80-81), and later,...

Join Now to View Premium Content

GradeSaver provides access to 741 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 4445 literature essays, 1450 sample college application essays, 183 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.

Join Now

Already a member? Log in