The Winter's Tale

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,...

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