The Winter's Tale

Trial by Ire: Hermione’s Inquisition

The trial of Hermione (Act III, Scene 2), Queen of Sicily is the pivotal moment in William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. It effectively closes the tragic chapter of the play, making way for the short comedy that follows. It sets up the unbelievably improbable ending, and leads into the scene that establishes the basis for the action in the following acts. Perhaps most important of all, it is in this scene that we are shown the full extent of King Leontes’ degeneration, which brings the very identity of the play into question.

The Winter’s Tale is effectively two plays in one. The first three acts comprise a mini-tragedy, for which the trial scene is the climax. The two following acts appear to belong to one of Shakespeare’s comedies. It is this dual-nature that requires such a monumental event to take place so early in the play. Structurally, this scene gives the play a sense of cohesion when it would otherwise be a jumbled, polarized mess.

However, this scene does more than successfully separate two contrasting portions of the same story. The deaths of Hermione and Mamillius set up the action that fills the rest of the play, as well as the play’s joyous, yet impossible conclusion. After Mamillius dies, Leontes is forced to...

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