The Winter's Tale

Leontes' Jealousy in The Winter's Tale

The opening act of The Winter's Tale is atypical among Shakespeare's late romances. Cymbeline, The Tempest, Pericles, King Lear, and Othello all open by unfolding the plays' major, and most dramatic, crises. The Winter's Tale, however, offers the audience a casual discussion between two courtiers, suggesting total harmony between the kingdoms of Sicilia and Bohemia and their kings Leontes and Polixenes. Thus, the friendship was cut short when they were married to their respective wives, the suggestion is purely humorous; the men's friendship remains genuine. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Leontes begs his friend to stay longer. Upon Polixenes' refusal, he asks his wife to speak; Hermione, his kind and nine months pregnant queen, declares Polixenes must stay. Polixenes relents and says that he will remain their guest a short while longer, while Leontes congratulates his wife on speaking so well. The scene, like the first, seems peaceful. Yet it gives the roots of jealousy that lead to the play's central conflict and climax.

As Hermione clasps the hands of Polixenes, Leontes' jealousy makes its first appearance. Leontes exclaims, "Too hot, too hot!" (1.2.109)--the obvious...

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